Silversmith House of Jensen ready to open in Beijing
Big, bright, sparkling gems are not to everyone's taste. There are those who like their jewellery to transmit a subtler message, preferring the value to lie in their aesthetic composition rather than the carat weight of the gemstones used. This group of individuals is increasingly drawn to the work of the Copenhagen-based silversmith Georg Jensen, which has made refined modernist jewellery design its signature.
The Danish brand is well known in Hong Kong, but remains relatively unknown on the mainland, although that is about to change this week with the launch, during Beijing Design Week, of the first House of Jensen, a jewellery maison in the Chinese capital, near the Beijing Centre for the Arts.
The store, which will encompass jewellery, home silverware, a bespoke department, a restaurant and cafe, within a converted historic courtyard, is the brainchild of David Chu, CEO and creative director of Georg Jensen.
"It was incredibly important to create a completely new experience for our first store in China, as we are telling our story for the first time to the Chinese customer," says Chu. This opening, he says, is one of the biggest priorities since buying the jewellery brand with investment partner Investcorp in 2013. "I believe Scandinavian brands are relatively new to China, but the design language of Georg Jensen speaks to anyone who cares about beautiful, functional pieces."
The company was founded in 1904 by Jensen, who was renowned for his sculpted silverware, and especially his finely crafted art nouveau and art deco jewellery. When he died in 1935, Jensen was proclaimed to be "the greatest silversmith of the last 300 years" by the New York Herald Tribune.
Over the decades, through artistic collaborations with designers and artisans, the company has gained recognition for its unique approach to fine jewellery. In the 1970s and '80s, Vivianna Torun defined the Georg Jensen aesthetic with a refined linear look, which was sparingly suspended with gem beads, and her iconic Vivianna wristwatch. Her designs remain part of the collection.
From 1945 until 1981, master craftsman Henning Koppel designed pared-down elegant jewellery, hollowware and flatware (cutlery). There was already a big appetite for Jensen's handmade, artisanal hollowware and flatware in the country; last year a Chinese collector spent US$1 million on the Danish silverware.
During the 1980s, Koppel's daughter, Nina, was also an influential figure, creating the iconic Fusion jewellery range that remains an intrinsic part of the collection. The most recent addition is the New York-based jewellery sculptor Jordan Askill.
Collectively they've created the Georg Jensen style with jewellery that is modern, sculptural and strikingly innovative. "It is all about the line and the design, and not about how many carats I can add," explains Meeling Wong, the brand's managing director, who oversees the collections' development. "Most of our jewellery is for confident women. It does look different: it might not be for everybody, but I do feel it is time for Scandinavian design to be recognised for its very spare look."
Wong chose Askill because he is a combination of sculptor and jeweller: "He reminded me a little bit of what Georg Jensen did, and working with him has been a very organic, fluid process," she says. "He is fond of symbolism and has put his own abstract spin on the iconic butterfly motif in his debut for the brand. It references the annual mass migration of the monarch butterfly to the west coast of America."
However, this is not cute, whimsical design, but rather dark and moody. Using 3D printing technology before casting in silver, Askill sculpted butterfly rings, necklaces and earrings in oxidised silver set with gemstones such as amethyst and blue topaz. There are also a number of limited edition pieces in black rhodium with black diamonds.
Askill says the collection was inspired by the transient geometrical patterns found in nature. "I was fascinated by the idea of movement, flight and light," he says. "There is something so mathematical in that, that the idea of using design technology to explore this in jewellery was natural to me."
These designs will debut in Beijing along with the Vivianna Torun collection, some of Georg Jensen's best-known archive pieces and some special exclusives when the store officially opens during the National Day holidays.