Opening her fist, Tina Tillander reveals a handful of beautifully shining diamonds and pearls and lets them drop on the table. Some day, each of them will be set to a ring, a necklace, a bracelet, an earring – whatever its new rightful owner will ask for.
That owner is likely to be someone with a chunky wallet.
“This one is 3 000 euros,” Tillander says and points at one of the shiny stones. “And this… 25 000 euros.”
Tillander is the CEO and designer of Atelier Torbjörn Tillander, a family company selling handcrafted bespoken jewellery, gold items and gemstones. The first jewellery company run by a Tillander was founded by her grandfather’s grandfather back in the 1800s in St Petersburg, and now altogether six generations of Tillanders have been involved in the business.
The youngest, Jenny Tillander, has just finished her gemmology studies in London. For those who don’t know, a gemmologist is qualified to identify and evaluate gems, and gemmology is a branch of mineralogy.
Grandmother Paula, Tina and Jenny all recognise a 300-euro diamond from a 30 000-euro one. They can also tell a natural pearl from a farm-grown cultured pearl just by touching and looking.
“There’s no one thing that differentiates them,” Tina Tillander says. “With experience, you just learn to spot the smallest of things that give away the truth.”
Trust is everything
Behind a glass wall from the office lobby, four goldsmiths are working to make people’s jewellery dreams come true. As gems aren’t glued to rings or bracelets, setting them into gold or platinum takes sharp eyes and careful hands. There’s no room for an ‘oops!’ when a gem is worth a new family car – and valuables like this can’t be insured.
“Sometimes it happens: a stone just breaks, no matter how careful one is,” Tina Tillander explains. “They’re natural materials, so they can be unpredictable.”
Trust is at the core of the business. In purchasing pearls and gems, the Tillanders trust the firms they buy them from. In the making, Tina Tillander knows the goldsmiths do their utmost to deliver her vision. Lastly, the end customer relies on Tillander’s information when it comes to the value and origin of the gem or pearl: an average person wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a 25 000-euro and a 90 000-euro necklace.
For some, it makes all the difference. Hence there are customers who save up for years to be able to get a piece designed by Tina Tillander. They’re mostly women – or gift-buying partners.
“I always say jewellery is like calorie-free sweets for women,” Tina Tillander notes.
Employees that read minds
The majority of Atelier Torbjörn Tillander’s customers are Finnish and in Finland. However, the word has travelled, and Tina Tillander receives orders from abroad, too. Sometimes she travels overseas to show gems to buyers, but most of the time international designing is done over email.
When most pieces are bespoke, there are no collections or catalogues to pick favourites from. Regular customers often leave the creative process fully in Tillander’s hands.
“The world moves rapidly, and customers are always seeking something new,” she explains. “I travel a lot in search of new gems and pearls, as the ideas always stem from materials. The process needs a starting point.”
There have been talks about setting up a base somewhere like Stockholm or London. The biggest challenge would, according to Tina Tillander, lie in finding goldsmiths that have borderline psychic skills. The Tillander family trusts their goldsmiths more than a mere 100 per cent, and three out of five of them have worked with her for over two decades.
“Sometimes I feel like they read my mind!” Tina Tillander says laughingly. “I tell them to ‘make it a little chubbier’ and they know exactly what I mean.”