Georg Jensen: The name, the man.

In the globalised consumer world of the 21st century Georg Jensen is an international luxury brand with a reputation for excellence in design and quality. Their high end retail premises can be found on Bond Street and Madison Avenue, in Milan and Shanghai, from Qatar to its home country of Denmark.

The first chapter of this success story however, like so many similar tales, began humbly in 1904, with a small workshop and shop front at 36 Bredgade, Copenhagen and, of course, with the man who gave the brand his name, Georg Jensen himself.
He was born near Copenhagen in 1866 and was apprenticed to goldsmith, A. Andersen, in 1880. Despite this early introduction to precious metalworking Jensen's ambitions lay in the area of fine art, specifically sculpture. However, financial considerations won over artistic aspirations, and Jensen moved his full attention to silversmithing on the opening of his little shop in 1904.

This of course was the era of the Arts and Crafts, of Jungestil, Rennie Macintosh, of the social projects of men such as Charles Robert Ashbee and his Guild of Handicrafts. The Victorian era had, so the exponents of these movements argued, killed hand craft, drowned it in a deluge of klacking machines and in so doing alienated the skilled craftsperson from his honest work.
Indeed, The early days of Georg Jensen fit very firmly in to this context. Jensen was a silversmith, and his tiny workshop produced hand worked objects. The success of his product initially was due to a combination of fashionable design (in the style associated with the ideas of the time) and the sort of quality only hand work could achieve. Jensen however, did not share the lofty ideals of Ashbee and friends. Neither did he invent the style he worked in. His legacy is that where the idealists failed he succeeded. He is famous because he alone managed to hand craft silverware in a long term, commercially viable manner, and continued to do so long after his peers had gone bankrupt.
He did this, in fact, through compromise. Just like the silver and plate produced in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, before full mechanised production had taken hold, Jensen's workshop used labour saving technology where possible, and hand working where it was needed. This way the full benefit of hand craft was put to use, but not wasted where it was not.

The genius of Jensen the man, and later the firm, was that this approach to quality was rarely compromised. Jensen's own standards in quality and design held firm even when he was no longer in charge. Another reason for the success of his firm was the use of designers. Very early on Jensen's workshop produced pieces designed by others, and this tendency was a tradition within the firm long before it became a necessity in 1935, when Jensen died. The quality of these designers did much for the reputation of the firm, and ensured its survivability long after the death of its creator.

Article by James Baldwin

Additional Articles in Georg Jensen Category

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