Today, the name Georg Jensen is renowned worldwide as an iconic Danish design house, however it began as a humble enterprise by its namesake in 1904. Originally a ceramicist, graduating from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Georg Jensen struggled to earn a living from his craft and decided to retrain as a silversmith. He opened a small silversmith in Copenhagen where he combined metalsmithing with fine arts craftsmanship to design lifestyle products that embodied both functionality and beauty. Here Georg Jensen established his legacy, mentoring design and craftsmanship talent in his philosophy and artistry to produce works of exceptional quality and timeless appeal.
More than a century later, Tina Bentzen – master silversmith at Georg Jensen – continues to create iconic pieces from the brand’s archive, as well as newer designs that embody the same principals of function and beauty:
‘I’ve been working as a silversmith at Georg Jensen for 11 years and I have learnt how to make around 80 different styles of design during that time,’ says Bentzen. ‘Some of the designs date back to 1904, so we make objects in many different styles, ranging from Art Nouveau and Art Deco pieces right up to modern-day designs. The classic Georg Jensen pieces are very popular with our customers. Despite being old the pieces still look very modern and Scandinavian.’
Undoubtedly, Georg Jensen’s design philosophy has stood the test of time, but what is it about the precious metal itself that has proved so enduring as a material? ‘Silver is very soft, which makes it very easy and versatile to work with,’ explains Bentzen. That’s why it is used for hollowware. You can hammer it and bend it and heat it up to make it soft again once it has hardened.
Georg Jensen silverware is well-known for its hammer marks, and this part of the process is Bentzen’s favourite: ‘Every silversmith specialises in something they really like to do,’ she says. ‘Some prefer creating smooth and patterned pieces, but I really enjoy the hammering. The aim is for each hammer mark to be perfectly round, and to just touch the next one, so it’s important to hit in exactly the right place, and with the right strength so I don’t make a dent. Georg Jensen himself was very fond of it – he said the colour of the silver and all the hammer marks reminded him of the moonlight because of the way it softens the reflected light.’
The silversmith is the main person responsible for making a piece, but many people are involved in the process. There are 15 silversmiths, three chasers, three spinners and three polishers in the Georg Jensen workshop, as well as people doing 3D work on computers.
‘We work together using our different skills to create each piece, Bentzen explains. ‘The spinners make things that are perfectly round, but if an object is a different shape then I will make it all by hand with a hammer and a piece of wood. I take a piece of flat silver and bend it to the shape I want. Where the metal joins together there will be a small line, so the spinners have a tool that stretches it into a smooth, round shape. All the intricate parts and details are made by the chaser. They have small tools and they hammer the metal using special techniques to give it different textures. I then put the parts together by soldering them.
Each piece takes time and patience to create – some of the more complex designs can require up to 1,000 hours of craftsmanship. ‘Some designs have many little pieces to fit together,’ say Bentzen. ‘I use a lot of tools; we have around 300 different ones and over 150 hammers in various shapes and sizes.’
Georg Jensen takes on around one silversmith each year, and it takes four years to complete the training. Learning to create the iconic designs of the house is fundamental and must be executed flawlessly. ‘We work from pictures of the designs and very old notes that tell us what silver we should use and advise on the order of the making,’ Bentzen explains. ‘We have to create the same design, but every silversmith has their own way of making things, so we have total freedom over the process, although the final product must always look like the finished drawing. We all have our own notebooks where we write down how we did it, so we can remember which tools we used the next time we make the same piece.’
New collections bring further creative freedom for the silversmiths, and involve a collaborative process with the design team: ‘When we have new projects we’ll work together with the designer to figure out how to make it in real life. It’s amazing to work with new techniques to create a whole new look,’ says Bentzen. ‘We want to go out and tell our story to remind people how special silver is.’
From ornate Art Nouveau serving pieces, to decorative Art Deco accessories and contemporary homeware, Georg Jensen’s silverware designs showcase the allure and versatility of this precious metal, and why it has continued to capture the imagination and admiration of designers, craftspeople and collectors alike, throughout the ages.
In line with government guidelines, The Royal Exchange will be closed from Thursday 5 November until Wednesday 2 December. Until we can welcome you again, explore Georg Jensen’s timeless and imaginative silverware designs online at georgjensen.com