My mother may have worn faux Georg Jensen, but my late friend Juliette wore the real thing, and she was passionate about it. Not so much the graceful, naturalistic Jensen designs from the first few decades of the 20th Century, but the sleek, minimalist, aggressively modern pieces from the 50s, 60s and 70s. Hunky statement pieces with slabs of semiprecious stone. Resolutely un-girly pieces. I wanted so much to love them. The best I could do was to love how Juliette loved them. Their cool, clean lines suited her; so did their elegant engineering. For her, they were wearable art—the art of her lifetime.
Juliette was born in 1917, when the entire Western world was rethinking what it meant to be modern. Old orders were collapsing; new ones were struggling to arise. Modernity itself became a mission—in art, music, poetry, politics, everything. The giants of 20th Century art and design were all producing new work, and that work was part of Juliette’s conversation with the world. New Picasso! New Brancusi! And new designs in silver from the great modernists of the Jensen studio—Harald Nielsen, Henning Koppel, Nanna Ditzel and Bent Gabrielsen among others, all pushing the boundaries of form and function.
Which is a roundabout way of saying that modern Scandinavian silver had a much deeper meaning for Juliette than it did for me. For me, it was simply Too Big To Wear.
When Juliette died in 2013, I, as her executor, had the task of distributing her jewelry. She didn’t want me to sell it, but to find good homes for it with owners who would appreciate and wear it. So it was no longer the artistic value of the jewelry that mattered, but the personal value. Take the bangle below, which has a detachable center stone. Juliette wore it with enormous pleasure.
It was designed for Jensen in the 70s by Vivianna Torun Bülow-Hübe, and Juliette bought five stones for it: rutilated quartz, tiger eye, amethyst, moss agate and lapis lazuli. She could never decide which one she liked best, but then Juliette (like me) basically loved all stones. Jensen doesn’t sell this version anymore, though it has reissued the design with only one, non-detachable stone, completely missing the point of the piece.
Not everyone can wear this bracelet. That center stone is massive, 44 x 29 mm. But Juliette’s niece, who requested it, can carry it off. She loves the bracelet not just for the magic of its design, but for the magic Juliette saw in it, and for the magic of Juliette herself, because there was no one like Juliette.
As I found homes for Juliette’s Jensen silver, sighing little sighs of regret that her rings and bracelets were all too big for me, I began wanting a piece of my own—in her honor, so to speak. She owned a particularly striking moss agate cuff, pictured at the top of this post, by the Danish designer Bent Knudsen (hallmark: Bent K). I could have worn it. It was almost not too big for me. But it fit my jeweler friend Nan, who did yeoman service emptying Juliette’s apartment. She adored it, so it went to her. As you can see from the photo below, Knudsen found a way to make a window for light to pass through the stone. Ingenious.
I began searching for images of Knudsen’s designs online to see what he’s about. Most of his pieces are too modern for me—modern in a spiky, industrial, mid 20th Century sort of way. Modernity ain’t what it used to be. In the internet age, with merchandise from the past and present spread before us like a grand smorgasbord, being modern means partaking of everything that pleases us—grabbing ideas from different times and places with both fists. This is true, at least, for those of us who prefer not to be pinned down.
As it happened, I did find a Bent K bracelet I had to have. Each link is a one-inch circle of amber bezeled in silver (below). Knudsen used this design element with various stones in earrings, cufflinks and necklaces. It’s not the least bit spiky. I’d venture to call it timeless.
And I have to show you the ingenious clasp: the amber circle unscrews to form a safety closure when you hook the bracelet’s ends together. That’s what I call divine design.
There’s a postscript. While researching this post, I went back to the online shop where I bought the amber bracelet, Gallerie Salier in The Netherlands (www.galeriesalier.nl). There I found not one, but two pristine versions of Juliette’s moss agate cuff, which I’d never seen anywhere else. And one was just that crucial bit smaller in scale than Juliette’s.
Reader, I bought it.