Georg Jensen: Godfather of Danish Modern Silver
In the realm of silversmithing, the name Georg Jensen is the epitome of the craft. Longtime collectors seek out Art Nouveau-influenced Jensen hollowware – the large tableware that is both highly decorative and functional. Younger consumers, on the other hand, tend to favor the modernist flatware and jewelry – the more-affordable pieces that still reflect the uncompromising quality long associated with the Jensen marque.
“It’s like the names Tiffany and Cartier,” said Michael Millea, co-owner of Millea Bros. Ltd., the Madison, N.J.-based auction house. “Jensen is the kind of thing that is always popular.”
The Georg Jensen name takes in more than just the creations of the artist himself. More than 90 craftsmen worked for the firm during the founder’s lifetime and beyond, covering some 95 years of production and an evolution of styles. Born in 1866 in Dyrehaven, Denmark, Jensen was trained as a goldsmith, sculptor and ceramicist.
His best-selling products in the early years, however, were silver rings, brooches, bracelets and hat pins, adorned with amber, malachite, moonstones and opals. They weren’t costly to make or purchase, and they appealed to middle-class shoppers. Jensen’s style reflected themes from nature, in tune with the Arts & Crafts movement in England and Art Nouveau in France. The pieces were all carefully, lovingly handmade, as if each were a work of art unto itself, as opposed to the machine-stamped, mass-produced lines of the Industrial Revolution.
The Jensen craftsmanship was then carried over to the production of flatware and hollowware. His teapot with a floral motif called Magnolia was expanded into a full tea or coffee service. His work in utilitarian pieces blossomed into bowls, boxes, pitchers, candelabra, chandeliers, clocks, dishes and trays.
Finding and being able to acquire those large pieces from the Jensen workshops has become increasingly difficult, according to Millea.
Robin Rice, silver specialist at Brunk Auctions in Asheville, N.C., said Jensen hollowware is still appearing on the market, often coming from the shelves of collectors who are downsizing. They tend to end up in the hands of other advanced collectors, though.
Younger customers tend to pay more attention to Jensen jewelry, such as brooches, cufflinks and tie clips, or to the flatware, said Michael Millea. His design-conscious peers are often more interested in the “clean-lined” designs. “The Pyramid-patterned flatware and the fluted patterns appeal to the modernist aesthetic that is so popular now.”
Rice said the most desirable, larger pieces are the trays, pitchers and bowls. Flatware designed by Georg Jensen himself, particularly in the Grapevine and Blossom patterns, are also highly sought after and remain among the more affordable Jensen products. While the Jensen artists intended their work to be beautiful objects that could and should be used, collectors of the hollowware and flatware don’t always concur. “Whether it’s Jensen or English silver or something else, there are certain collectors who like to surround themselves with antiques and feel that using them is part of owning them, and that they should be used,” Millea has found. “And there are certain people who feel just the opposite – that they should be looked at and admired but not used. That’s true in most collecting categories, whether it’s Jensen or other antiques.”
Interest in jewelry produced by the Jensen workshops is stronger than ever, according to Gloria Lieberman, director of Fine Jewelry at the Boston headquarters of auction and appraisal company Skinner Inc.
“I think the popularity is growing because there is a larger population looking at Jensen (through) the Internet,” Lieberman explained. And because Jensen pieces are easily identified by their name and number, the Internet is a reliable marketplace, she said. Web searchers are purchasing Jensen’s modernist styles, many of which were not as popular a mere 10 years ago. And the hottest trend in Jensen jewelry is the gold line. The name Jensen is primarily associated with silver, but at age 14 Georg Jensen apprenticed with a goldsmith in Copenhagen. So gold actually goes back to the designer’s roots, as well.
“It has been around for a while,” Lieberman said, “but nobody cared about it years ago…not until the last year or two.”
Collectors still chase after the larger silver pieces as well. “The bigger and drippier, the better,” Lieberman said. “But those pieces were not in large production, so they fetch a high price.” Past sales at Skinner have seen the sale of a large brooch and early necklace, each reaching the $10,000 range. “It is, of course, about rarity,” Lieberman added. Jensen’s jewelry was not always so dear in price. “He was part of the Art Nouveau movement, and that was not about using precious stones and precious materials. It was about handcrafted floral designs. It was about silver, and the look of jewelry forged by hand.” In Jensen pieces, the hammered work and markings are plainly visible, and the stones were not the principal concern.
“But customers loved his combination of amber and green stones. Collectors love the moonstones still.”
By Alan Jaffe
Adapted from original article appearing in Auction Central News