Braving the Modern: Georg Jensen Jewelry, 1925-1970

Summation of the text by Toni Greenbaum as appeared in "Georg Jensen Jewelry"

During the 20's and into the 30's styles began to change once again, as industrialization took hold, and sleeker, more streamlined forms suited the machine operations of the new world, and the industrialization processes began to promise more of the democratization of goods, which suited the ideals of the populace. In France, Art Deco began to develop, taking its forms and idioms from the artistic movements of Cubism and Futurism of the times. Originally called “Art Moderne” the “art Deco” name came from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes (International Exposition of Modern Industrial Decorative Arts) of Paris 1925, and which, although a style of French origin, caught on quickly worldwide, particularly in the US and throughout the rest of Europe.

Denmark, and the rest of the Scandinavian countries, however, were slow to pick up on the trend, having a rich history of handmade craftsmanship, established guilds, and a strong class system. The firms that worked within the Art Deco style in Denmark were primarily Evald Nielsen, Anton Michelsen, and Aage Dragsted, though certain artists within Georg Jensen had developed similar if not strictly Art Deco styles. Johan Rhode's preference for minimal decoration and pared down forms was quite ahead of its time, though it did not have the strictly geometrical forms of Art Deco and his naturalistic motifs placed him more in line with the previously mentioned Art Nouveau. Harald Nielsen, whom adopted a style similar to Johan Rhode, on the other hand, developed the flatware patterns, Pyramid in 1927, was very telling in its sparse geometric pattern of his Art Deco leanings, as was Gudolph Albertus's Cactus and later Bittersweet patterns. Oscar Gundelach Pedersen's pieces, including both the Parallel flatware and notably his jewelry, as well as Arno Malinowski's  blend of naturalistic themes rendered in a minimalist fashion, were also more typical of Art Deco. During the mid-20's, Georg Jensen himself had opened up a workshop in Paris where he also dabbled into the stylistic leanings of Art Deco, creating more restrained, less decorated pieces during this time, although still firmly in the Art Nouveau style.

It wasn't until 1929, with the combination of the Crash of the New York Stock Exchange and resulting Depression which pushed for a need for even less expensive manufactured goods, and the switch in Denmark to a socialist government (perhaps ironically in lieu of the failure of the Arts and Crafts movement), that the democratic ideals of Art Deco would start to take hold in Denmark and generate a new iteration of the industrial arts. A stronger focus on function over form, and with minimal decoration and almost stark design started to develop in the Scandinavian countries, in particular, Sweden, During the Stockholm Exhibition of 1930, the transition was perhaps most apparent, where the Danish representatives still had a strong focus on handmade crafts, were as the Swedish designers had produced goods which focused on industrialization and designs easily produced by machines. This “International Style” which Functionalism was originally known as, eventually spread, however, oddly enough it became a term for the style itself, regardless of its manufactury, and represented also handmade goods made to look machined, which was sometimes the case in Denmark, where the machined goods were still taken with distrust and a general distaste as it seemed to have no respect for the craftsmanship of the individual or the materials used, especially in the more rural countries like Denmark. Functionalism's stress on only the necessary, it's distaste for ornamentation, lead to a rather interesting conflict once it began to affect the realm of jewelry, which paradoxically, is ornamentation of the self, and exists as purely ornamental in its nature and purpose. It also conflicted with cultural ideas, as more functionalist pieces had a definitively stronger and more masculine rationality behind it, despite women being its primary consumer, and overall promoted a boyish look for women. Arno Malinowski, designer for Georg Jensen, perhaps would put the best answer forward to this in 1943 when he said, “This “useless jewelry has probably always been of the greatest importance because it fulfills the mission to sate the soul's appetite for beauty. And therefore a lovely piece of jewelry is perhaps, after all, more useful than any other single thing for which we might all long.”

Functionalism for Denmark came about out of necessity. Some jewelers, like Kay Bojesen and Poul Henningsen adopted the new functional style out of pragmatism for their manufacturing processes. In the '30's the post war depressions that struck various nations left the populations with little expendable money, which in turn, changed the markets to seek out the less expensive costume jewelry which was often manufactured inexpensively and by machine, as it was often all that could be afforded. This unfortunately would tarnish the style's reputation, however not all Functionalist pieces were poorly made or badly designed. The previously mentioned Arno Malinowski's brooches and other jewelry lent itself well to machine production without sacrificing quality and its attention to material and design did well to compete with inexpensive trinkets. His King's mark brooch, designed for the 70th birthday of Christian X, sold well over 1 million pieces in the 7 years of its production, and became a national symbol of Danish patriotism during the German occupation that would soon follow.

It was, however, Sigvaard Bernadotte, the Swedish prince, who joined the firm in 1930. Although he did not care for the “tassel style” of the more ornate (than his preference) Arts Nouveau inspired pieces the company created, he, like Johan Rohde before him, was greatly inspired by the company's high level of craftsmanship. The Swedish prince's designs were severely stark and geometric on their execution, which placed him firmly into the Functionalist movement, and lent the company a more international Swedish sensibility, although these designs were not initially well received. Of his designs, Bernadotte stayed good natured, having said once regarding his own design for a trophy, “ I cannot deny that it was typical of Functionalism. My oldest brother, Prince Gustav Adolf looked at it and exclaimed, 'I hope to god I won't win that!'”. Nevertheless, the silversmithy retained the Bernadotte designs which would later become another popular pattern in the Georg Jensen inventory.

Bernadotte's designs were also very uniform in their design. There's a continuity to them in such that even between his flatware and his jewelry pieces have a certain overlap in stylistic execution, with their clean lines and a hint of the Streamline style which was borne of the times and its fascination with air travel. Both Georg Jensen himself and other designers at the firm had delved slightly into these elements, including a bracelet with a tulip motif which featured a dramatic reductionist approach in its form, leaving only the most geometric outline of the flower, with the links themselves forming the hinges of the overall piece.

As time would proceed forward, biomorphism would end up getting more attention than functionalism within the silversmithy, and none more than with Henning Koppel. The fluidity and organic shapes that Biomorphism would create and embody started to develop during the 1930's, particularly with sculpture, though the American jewelry Art Smith would create dramatic pieces upon its principles, creating large fluid bracelets of copper and brass, such as “Lava”, a gorgeous piece with beautiful dark areas left visible from the heating and welding process. Other artists in the US, including cities like New York, San Francisco, and Chicago were decidedly interested this new artistic style, though by the 1940's Scandinavian artists began their involvement.

It was in fact, in the post World War II era that Henning Koppel was found by the silversmithy during his family's exile to Sweden to avoid the Nazi occupation. Perhaps no piece of jewelry epitomizes Henning Koppel's style or biomorphism within the silversmithy more than the Amoeba bracelet, which consists of 6 uniquely shaped amorphous outlined links. Even more unique to the bracelet is how it the curves and links have a three dimensional bends and varying widths giving it an amazing sculptural beauty on its own. Furthermore, each link joins directly to the next through the virtue of its three dimensional curves, emphasizing its fluid movement around the wrist.

Unfortunately, the complexity of his pieces gave rise to many disputes within the silversmithy. Koppel's designs pushed the envelope of what was possibly through the material, as well as the patience of the silversmiths that worked under him. His precision and perfection allowed and his unique stylistic vision, however would go on to inspire generations of other designers, and in some cases, even overshadow many of the US artists whom experimented before him. John Prip, a Danish American silversmith, would attribute the experimentation and success of biomorphism in this country to the lack of former training and conditioning that was in place in Denmark. Perhaps the same could be said of Henning Koppel, whom was originally a sculptor and painter. The other benefit that Georg Jensen and by extension Henning Koppel had been blessed with that helped with their overseas appeal is the large scale operations of the silversmithy which allowed for larger productions, greater advertising and more retail stores which allowed for the proliferation of the designs.  Nevertheless Koppel's designs would later be copied and “improved” upon by other silversmiths, such as Hans Christensen, whom also worked at Georg Jensen whom was head of the Model department in 1952, who although often loved Koppel's designs, criticized some of the practical aspects to the designs, such as with one of the pitchers he designed, which Christensen would later design a remarkably similar pitcher with a wooden handle, which would prevent the conduction properties of the silver from transferring to the hand of the holder, and a small guard in the spout to keep ice from splashing into the glass when poured. The aforementioned Prip would also design a small brooch with a remarkable similarity to a link in a Koppel bracelet. The stylistic borrowing would also carry on to Mexico and influence Taxco silver pieces and artists there.

By the 1950's however, biomorphism would be replaced again with the synthesis of a new style born of the Nordic countries, Scandinavian Modern.

The synthesis of the previously mentioned emphasis on function from Functionism, and the natural elements of Biomorphism as well as other artistic movements of the time coalesced in Denmark and other Scandinavian countries after World War II, and began to epitomize what were considered the principles of Good Design. Although each country in the respective community had their own national perspective on design, there was an overall congruity and overseas in the US, consumers adored anything out of Scandinavia. Typified of an excellent marriage between materials and functional design, with graceful curves and lines, Scandinavian Modern became a movement in its own right. In 1960, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York held an exhibition entitled, Denmark: Viking to Modern, which was organized by the Danish Society of Arts and Crafts and Industrial Design in support with the Danish Government. It featured many well respected artists and designers, and of course, Georg Jensen was represented as well. In addition to pieces designed for the silversmithy, many of the artists that worked or would work for Georg Jensen had pieces designed for others present as well. Arje Griegst, Edvard Kindt Larsen, Bent Gabrielsen, as well as Arno Malinowski, Nanna Ditzel, and Erik Herlow were among those shown, and were indicative of just how synonymous the silversmithy was at the time with good jewelry design.

The lack of silver in wartime Denmark had helped to further the work of designers into other materials, and this versatility became apparent. Arno Malinowski had experimented with Japanese techniques of mixing silver and iron to create beautiful brooches and pendants during war times, which blended well with his artistic style. Henning Koppel and Nanna Ditzel's experiments with enamel yielded many beautiful brooches and bracelets.

Nanna Ditzel was the first woman to design for Georg Jensen, and with her husband (whom unfortunately died early in 1961), had created a number of popular pieces, starting in 1954 when Finn Juhl, who was designing the smithy's 50th anniversary celebration, had promoted their designs to Anders Holstrup-Pedersen in lieu of showing a historical perspective of the company. Nanna Ditzel had submitted 5 pieces to the exhibition, including a beautifully shaped “axe” bracelet, which held the profile of the historical Viking tool, and had a polished clean surface and hidden hinge. The size of the bracelet had caused a slight disagreement between Henry Pilstrup, who argued for a solid piece, and Harald Nielsen and the Ditzel's insistence that it was made to be hollow. Thankfully, the Ditzels won out, and the bracelet remained comfortably light upon the wrist due to its hollow form. She would later also pull from other areas of design, such as a necklace that acknowledged the ceiling pendant lamps of Poul Henningsen, lending the bracelet a delicate and graceful design.

It was also during the 50's that Bent Gabrielsen would design his necklace (#115) based on the seed pods of a sycamore tree. Beautifully rendered, each link would interlock wit the next, creating a beautiful repetition and fluidity of design. The “tails” of the pods create  soft fringe upon the neck of the wearer. The necklace won the 1960 Milan Triennale and Bent Gabrielsen would continue on to design a number of other beautiful  jewelry pieces, often characterized by the artist's restraint in decoration and method of building larger pieces from small repetitive themes. He also experimented frequently, throughout his career, incorporating designs and techniques gained from his travels, including the fire gilding technique he picked up during his Lunning Prize sponsored trip to Egypt, which he further expanded upon after opening his own business.

Also of mention is Torun Bulow-Hube, or “Torun”, as she was known, who was perhaps one of the most recognized names during the middle portion of the 20th century. As a young Swedish woman, she admired the works of Wiwen Nilssen and Sigurd Perssen, and studied at the national College of Art, Craft, and Design in Stockholm under Erik Fleming another notable silversmith. Torun had traveled extensively during her life, often acquainting herself with the local artists circles, and once met Picasso upon the beaches of the French Riviera while gathering pebbles for her jewelry, which she often did, carrying her silversmithing tools wherever she might go. The meeting resulted in Picasso's fascination with her work and later her showing at the Picasso Museum in Antibes. She also is known for designing jewelry for notable public figures of the time, including jazz singer Billie Holiday, as well as film actresses Ingrid Bergman and Brigitte Bardot.

Torun's jewelry was also very popular in the fact that it reflected the needs of the modern woman, in particular the need to switch from casual to formal with simple addition of small additions. She also designed her jewelry in relation to the female figure, believing that jewelry should be natural in its appearance and move freely with the body. In 1968, she began designing for Georg Jensen, a relationship that lasted until her death in 2004.

Soren Georg Jensen, the fifth son of the Silversmithy's founder, was artistic director during this time, having succeeded Harald Nielsen in 1962, and in addition to being a sculptor, also designed jewelry for the firm. His sculptural works and monuments which decorate parts of the Danish landscape, bear resemblance to his jewelry with incredible geometric shapes of delicate proportional balance. His bracelet, #97, is a fine example of his work, with asymmetrical links forming the band in such a way to convey movement while hiding the clasp and linkages. The hard edges and strict geometrical nature to his designs contrasted greatly with the trends of the time,  which utilized the silver's malleability to form graceful curves and softer figures. Other artists of the time began experimenting in a similar fashion at the company, including designers like Erik Herlow with his brooch #802, which with its use of stones and metal creates a relief pattern similar to bricks within a wall, and Othmar Zschaler, whom experimented with similar angular forms.

During this time period, Frederik Lunning, whom ran the New York location, would also employ American designers to create pieces in a similar vein under the label “Georg Jensen USA, Inc.”, which was partially due to the difficulty in supplying the US market with enough product post war. Although this would cause some confusion later on between the two separate entities, the New York shop was successful in bringing to light other notable designers both at home and abroad, including the works of Orrefors, Venini, and artists like Kaj Franck and Tapio Wirkkala.

The post war fascination with jewelry ad the revival of the metalworking arts in the US was astounding. Names like Allan Alder and Philip Paval were reknowned for their works for stars of the silver screen and in a post war setting, working with silver and other metals became a means to rehabilitate the post war veterans. Most of these American designers or promoters of the art were still finding their inspiration and their training in Denmark and other Scandinavian countries, as the US still did not have the skilled masters to further the arts. As such, the designs they produced (and their apprentices produced) still held close resemblance to their Nordic origins.

By the 1960's, however, artists and designers took to the challenge of pushing their materials and the concept of jewelry to its limits. Rings, bracelets, and necklaces all began to take on an almost sculptural design, primarily aiming at visual impact rather than functionality. Of the most avant garde designers for Georg Jensen was Arje Griegst, a goldsmith trained in Copenhagen and was noted for his organic yet gnarled and rough designs. His jewelry often also took on a larger scale and he experimented with different forms, including his “Face Tears” which was a gold chain worn across the bridge of the nose with dropped chains ending in precious stones suspended upon the cheek. He also is known for inventing rings which attached themselves to bracelets with chains, and other unique designs for the time. His freeform rings of the 1960's, designed for Georg Jensen, were almost reminiscent of turbulent  ocean waves or deep seascapes similar to Bjorn Weckstrom.

It was also during the 1960's that sterling silver flatware and hollowware lost its glamour for the modern household, and as such, jewelry became the focus for the silversmithy, and it was during this time that Astrid Fog began designing for the company, experimenting with much larger scale hollow forms and sculptural works. Both her works and those of Torun had increased sales for the silversmithy dramatically but retained a certain conservativism that prevented them from being truly “avant garde”. Ibe Dahlquist also experimented with forms and idioms of the time, utilizing interlocking links similar to the designs of woodworker Isamu Noguchi, as well as traditional Nordic elements, however, The lingering restraint in styles of Danish silversmiths allowed for them to fall behind as the United States and other countries forged ahead stylistically with the avant garde movement which mirrored the Abstract Expressionism of the 70's and 80's. Although unfortunate in some regards, it is also understandable, as the nature of Avant Garde design did not necessarily lend itself well to mass production or commercial methods. The styles were often unwieldy to customers' everyday demands, and the restrained nature of the Georg Jensen silversmithy remained in good taste and saleability while maintaining the high level of quality and artistic quality.

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