Though Scandinavia has produced distinctive jewelry at least since the time of the Vikings, the region’s unique industry didn’t come into its own until the late 19th century. Prior to this time, jewelry from the four Scandinavian countries—Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland—drew primarily on early Nordic traditions. Heavily embellished bracelets, rings, and pendants featured complex knotted designs showcasing symbolic animals and signs. These pieces emphasized their metal materials, particularly silver, with limited gemstone and pearl decoration.
Near the turn of the 20th century, Scandinavian artisans looked to indigenous craft-oriented arts to inform their designs. Norway distinguished itself in the enameled metal arts, and firms like J. Tostrup, Marius Hammer, and David-Andersen adapted the basse-taille and plique-à-jour techniques for jewelry production. Most of these enameled pieces reflected the reigning Art Nouveau trends of bright colors and densely layered floral shapes.
In Denmark, the Arts and Crafts movement was known as skønvirke, or “beautiful work,” and its jewelry makers relied heavily on a sculptural quality achieved through repoussage or chasing. Skønvirke pieces were typically made in silver, sometimes set with cabochons of precious stones, and relied on motifs of flowers or birds like the concurrent Art Nouveau style.
Danish designer Evald Nielsen fashioned stunning skønvirke pieces with jewels set into floral-shaped bezels, creating the illusion that the gems were emerging like the buds of flowers. Many major Danish manufacturers like Bernhard Hertz and Hans Hansen commissioned their designs from independent artists like Nielsen, using skilled silversmiths to reproduce original pieces on a larger scale.
Possibly the most famous Danish jewelry designer is Georg Jensen, who opened his own studio in 1904 in Copenhagen after working for silversmith Mogens Ballin. Jensen was highly influenced by the natural forms of the Arts and Crafts style, and his creations typically featured graceful silver shapes with limited ornamentation. Jensen hired other well-respected designers like Gabrielson Pederson, Sigvard Bernadotte, Nanna and Jørgen Ditzel, Harald Nielsen, Henning Koppel, and Arno Malinowski to create designs for his firm.
Material shortages during the two world wars pushed Scandinavian designers to experiment with other materials such as ceramics, glass, iron, and bronze, reserving silver and gold for inlays or settings. A popular style pioneered by Arno Malinowski for Jensen’s studio was the jernsølv or “iron silver” series, which involved silver inlay designs on a patinated iron background inspired by Japanese artwork. In Finland, Kalevala Koru developed replicas of jewelry designs unearthed in ancient tombs, and the combination of ornamental tradition and nationalist pride made the company an instant success. Kalevala Koru’s imitation of the Iron Age creations also reignited a Scandinavian interest in bronze jewelry.
As the ornate styling of the pre-war period waned, enameled silver was adapted for more contemporary purposes by Norwegian designers like Bjørn Sigurd Østern and Grete Prytz Kitt...
The shift towards affordable designs made for commercial consumption following World War II led Scandinavian designers to simplify forms and adopt the cleaner lines of modernism. Swede Wiwen Nilsson’s designs relied on basic geometry to create precise pieces, including earrings in flat silver hexagons or cufflinks made from rectangular crystals. Tapio Wirkkala, famous for his glassware sets produced by Finnish company Iittala during the '50s and '60s, also developed modernist jewelry with clean, geometric forms like the “Silver Moon Suite,” a demi-parure featuring dangling pendants made from concentric silver circles. Others like Tone Vigeland, one of Norway’s most famous designers, opted to work exclusively with metals to develop her gently curving silver bangles and curled “Sling” earrings.
Meanwhile, long-held Scandinavian ideals of social and economic democracy were brought in line with the region’s artistic production. The “H55” exhibition held in Hälsinborg, Sweden in 1955 represented the nexus of this thinking, as it focused on the role of applied arts in the individual home and its effects on wider egalitarianism. Like the earlier Arts and Crafts movement, modern Scandinavian style was characterized by a return to organic forms and an appreciation for the innate qualities of specific materials. For example, Elis Kauppi, founder of the Kupittaan Kulta company in Finland, began featuring regional materials like spectrolite (also known as labradorite) set into simple circle or square forms.
Increased exposure from the Italian Triennale exhibitions of the 1950s led other Finnish designers to experiment with more avant-garde styling. Björn Weckström helped establish the Lapponio workshop with his cast-metal jewelry, which sometimes incorporated plastics. Weckström’s popularity was cemented after Yoko Ono wore a silver and acrylic ring by the designer on the Dick Cavett show, and shortly thereafter his aptly named “Galactic Tops” necklace was chosen as part of Princess Leia’s costume in “Star Wars.”