The Fashionable Rise of Danish Jewellery

Buoyed by a rich history and fashionable designs, Danish jewellery brands are expanding across Scandinavia and beyond.

Ole Lynggard | Source: Ole Lynggard

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — On a cold Friday morning during Copenhagen Fashion Week, editors were buzzing about The Jewellery Room as if it was one of the most sought-after shows in town. And it was.

Launched by two sisters, Pernille Møbjerg Knudsen, the former global PR director at Danish jewellery brand Ole Lynggaard, and Charlotte Møbjerg Ansel-Henry, a jewellery editor, the event premiered in August 2013, presenting a healthy mix of brands (some big, some small) and pieces (some craft-intensive, some mass manufactured). “We wanted to highlight the role of Copenhagen as a hub for jewellery in Scandinavia and create a bridge between fashion and jewellery,” explains Møbjerg Knudsen. “We didn’t want the show to be about ‘fashion jewellery.’ We simply believe jewels have come to play an important, and independent, role on the fashion scene.”

Founded in 2001 by brothers Mads and Mikkel Kornerup, Copenhagen-based Shamballa Jewels, one of the companies participating in The Jewellery Room, counts not only HRH Crown Princess Mary of Denmark and HRH Crown Princess Mette Mart of Norway as clients, but also Jay Z, Karl Lagerfeld, Carine Roitfeld, Gwyneth Paltrow, Diane von Furstenberg and Giorgio Armani. Indeed, the brand is stocked at some of the world’s most influential stores, including Lane Crawford, Barneys and Colette.

But although it has become decidedly trendy in recent years, Danish jewellery is deeply anchored in the country’s history. The Copenhagen Guild of Goldsmiths was established back in 1429. However, it was Queen Sophie Magdelene, crowned in 1746, who gave the country’s jewellers a major lift, when she decided, in a break with tradition, that she would appear “bejewelled,” starting her own personal jewellery collection and specifying, in her last testament, that a collection of crown jewels should always be at the disposal of the sitting Queen.

“Today, the Danish Crown Jewels consist primarily of four large jewellery sets, also known as garnitures: a brilliant-cut diamond set, an emerald set, a pearl-ruby set and a rose-cut diamond set. In addition to some priceless crowns and associated regalia, used for coronations,” says Nina Hald, editor of Danish goldsmiths trade magazine AuClock and curator of three royal jewellery exhibitions for Queen Margrethe II. “There aren’t a lot of Danish works in this collection — back then, France and Germany had all the gifted jewellers — yet, building a collection of crown jewels was the first step to Denmark becoming a nation that embraced its jewellers.”

“Many strong concepts have since been launched; and they have been extremely successful abroad, from Pandora’s mass market offering to Georg Jensen’s expanding silver legacy,” adds Hald. Founded in 1904 Georg Jensen’s elegant, Scandinavian design (the company was named after a renowned silversmith) is favoured by millions around the world, and is one of Denmark’s most widely recognised brands. “We don’t have a big home market and we can’t rely on finding precious stones and materials on our own soil (Denmark has little amber and a few freshwater pearls), so it required us to be creative,” continued Hald. “Diversity became a strength. Yet, the brands that truly made it internationally are those with a universal aesthetic — again, Georg Jensen, which is a prime example of a 1950s modern, Danish, minimalist vision.”

Another successful brand that has helped shape the global market for Danish jewellery is Ole Lynggard. An autodidact, Lynggard founded his atelier in 1964. His daughter Charlotte, a talented goldsmith and jewellery designer, joined the company in 1987. In 1994, his son Søren also came on board, becoming chief executive in 2003. Today, the brand continues to run the largest workshop in Denmark, employing 45 craftsmen and training two to three apprentices at a time, and has benefitted from its status as a purveyor to the royal family. “Charlotte [Lynggaard] handcrafted a unique ‘midnight tiara’ in our Copenhagen headquarters, which took 300 hours to finalise. The fine hand-engraved leaves and thin branches are made of 18-carat rose and white gold, as well as black oxidised silver. The many flower buds welcome special cut moonstones in different sizes and were further sprinkled with over 1,300 diamonds. When Crown Princess Mary saw the tiara, in 2009, at an exhibition at The Royal Palace in Copenhagen she fell in love with it and has worn it, since, on several occasions,” recounts Søren Lynggaard.

“Ole Lynggaard and Shamballa are definitely the two high-end jewellery brands that are growing internationally at a fast pace,” Jens R. Møller, chief executive of the Danish Jewellers Association explains. “But the Danish jewellery industry has over the past ten years seen dramatic changes: an evolution greatly influenced by charm-expert Pandora’s incredible success on the world market, which, even during years of crisis, when consumer spending was decreasing, supported the local supply-chain. During a period of local recession, the estimated global turnover of Danish jewellery suppliers went from approximately €700 million in 2007 to exceed €1.2 billion euros (about $1.6 billion, at current exchange rates) in 2013. The main reason behind this development was obviously Pandora and the sound international development of brands like Georg Jensen, Ole Lynggaard, Trollbeads and Shamballa.”

In 2012, Georg Jensen — which by then had 1,200 employees and 94 stores worldwide, including a presence in Australia, Japan and Hong Kong — was bought by Bahrain-based Investcorp for $140 million acquisition with the aim of turning the Danish jeweller into a global luxury brand name through expansion in Asia.

Ole Lynggaard has also set it sights on the international market. In 2008, exports beyond Scandinavia were negligible. Yet, today, global exports account for over 40 percent of turnover and the brand is currently sold in over 320 stores around the world. It operates flagships in Copenhagen, Stockholm and Sydney, and plans to open two more flagships in 2014 and 2015, in Düsseldorf and Paris, respectively — helping to pave the way for a new generation of Danish jewellery brands.

“Our aim is to put Danes on the map as creators of innovative, luxury jewellery, from small independent goldsmiths to well-established and veteran companies,” says Møbjerg Knudsen of The Jewellery Room. “The common denominator is high quality in design and great craftsmanship. With both expertise and creativity, famous Danish jewellery brands range from 110-year-old silversmith Georg Jensen or 50-year old, family-run Ole Lynggaard, to trendy, diamond-studded Shamballa Jewels worn by superstars around the world. We can also count on Sophie Bille-Brahe’s exquisite, understated pieces (which are sold at Colette), Griegst’s arty pieces or Orit Elhanati’s incredible way with gold.”

“We, Danes, are the bohemians of Scandinavia, while the Swedes are strict, business people. We mix and match; we use jewellery to add a personal touch of style. We believe jewellery is the new it-bag!”