Inside the warren of rooms that makes up the workshops, showrooms and offices of the Georg Jensen headquarters in Copenhagen, a simple, unassuming silver necklace hangs in a glass case on the wall. Amid the gleaming objects that dominate the glossy reception, the low lighting and impeccably dressed Danes, this pared-back piece of jewellery, with Art Nouveau curved lines and droplet stones, seems at odds with its space-station-like surroundings. As one of the first pieces that Georg Jensen designed in the early 1900s, it acts as a reminder of the company’s history. Today, highly skilled silversmiths continue his legacy, producing exquisite silver homeware, cutlery, watches and jewellery.
‘Georg Jensen has always been about timeless design,’ says CEO Ulrik Garde Due. ‘The designs have lasted through the ages because they are iconic and because they work as well today as they did, for example, in the 50s and 60s. They are still relevant and contemporary.’ During a recent exploration of the company’s archives, a design for a homeware item from the 1950s was unearthed. It had never gone into production, but it was so slick, so sharp and so contemporary that the company decided to give it its moment of glory.
The business began life in 1904 in Copenhagen, where Jensen trained. The young silversmith began experimenting with form and shape, soon infusing his pieces with the Art Nouveau fluidity that was prevalent in Europe at the time. A trip to Spain brought a fresh inspiration, and he incorporated element’s of Spain’s natural environment, in particular grape vines, into his work. Today, the grape emblem has been adapted into high-fashion rings that are designed to work together in clusters.
Despite taking a cue from southern Europe, Georg Jensen remains synonymous with impeccable Scandinavian design. According to Garde Due, Scandinavian culture is the central focus of the label. ‘It’s about quality of life, and linking beautiful, sleek design to our everyday lives. It’s important to Danish culture that things balance beauty with function.’
It is no surprise that Scandinavian design is at the forefront of homeware innovation, but what remains remarkable about Georg Jensen is that, as a heritage label dating back over 100 years, it sits shoulder to shoulder with the most cutting-edge and up-to-the-second brands. The Koppel pitcher, a curving piece, could have been crafted for a sci-fi film set in the future. Items of homeware are particularly important to Scandinavians, Due Garde explains: ‘The aesthetics of our lifestyle is very important to us. We’ve all grown up with an eye for detail and an appreciation of quality. Unlike some other countries where going out and entertaining is the norm, in Denmark we entertain in our homes. Therefore we invest more in them, we want the standard to be that little bit higher.’
Standard is clearly of paramount importance at Georg Jensen. Every single piece is entirely sculpted by hand by one craftsman; staff joke that the only machine they use at work is the coffee maker. There’s an adherence and respect for artisan craft and for the power and sensitivity of the human hand; one piece can take up to 300 hours to make. A Georg Jensen apprentice trains for four years to become a silversmith and each has a set of personalised tools, so that their kit becomes an extension of themselves. Watching them work, they seem to have an almost intuitive knowledge of how to manipulate the metal. If a piece isn’t made with a hammer, it is shaped using high pressure water.
‘Our customers love quality and craftsmanship, and appreciate sleek, elegant and contemporary design that they can work into their lifestyle,’ says Garde Due. A continuous link through history is important here: some of the members of staff in the workshop are following in the footsteps of family members going back a number of generations, and Garde Due recounts receiving a Georg Jensen silver letter opener when he was 13, handed down from his grandfather to his father. The company is so important in Denmark that the Danish royal family lent its patronage in 1954.
Fashion-conscious customers have recently taken notice of the brand, attracted by pieces such as the Moonlight rings; featuring clustered orbs which take inspiration from the original bunch of grapes design, they are intended to be worn with two or three rings side by side. The recent advertising campaign with Danish model-of-the-moment Freja Beha Erichsen has also added style kudos to the label. ‘The campaign was very in tune with our DNA. Freja is Danish, and it was very natural, very light, very relaxed.’ Which sounds exactly in line with Georg Jensen’s purist approach.