A woman looks to her left while posing for camera
 Finnish jewellery is as much about design as it is storytelling. Image: Chao & Eero/Iiro Muttilainen
Lifestyle/Design

Finnish contemporary jewellery finds inspiration naturally

Finnish jewellery designers have inherited a deep tradition of craftsmanship and long-term dedication that puts storytelling at the core of their eye-catching designs.

Tsui-Shan Tu

01.06.2021

The excellent reputation of Finnish design internationally has been cultivated over a long period of time. It is widely recognised for integrating beauty into all aspects of daily life and a human-centric approach that can be found in everything from architecture to interior design and jewellery. Jewellery designers are among the many Finnish creatives to have made the world sit up and pay attention, taking an unhurried route to condense their meticulous craftsmanship into art and integrating stories into each unique design created with their hands.

Chief among them is Finland’s grandmaster of jewellery design, Tapio Wirkkala, who has designed several unique necklaces and earrings. Kaija Aarikka, the founder of Finnish design brand Aarikka, designed four necklaces for Christan Dior in 1955, and the necklace and bracelet designed by master jeweller Björn Weckström were worn by Carrie Fisher‘s character Princess Leia in the film Star Wars.

Carrie Fisher

Some of the most famous pieces of Finnish jewellery are the necklace and bracelet worn by Carrie Fisher in the movie Star Wars, which were designed by Björn Weckström. Image: Alamy

Finnish jewellery artists often explore the relationship between people and the natural environment in their works. In addition to traditional precious metals, the materials used in contemporary jewellery include all kinds of materials at hand, such as paper, plastic and fabrics.

For Coruu, the focus is on silicone jewellery, creating earrings, necklaces and bracelets that are light to wear, soft to the touch and suitable for people with allergies. AIDA impact, meanwhile includes silk and pearls, along with social impact, in its recipe for success. Finnish birch and recycled acrylic are the source of Mine Güngör‘s designs and ethically sourced gemstones and recycled precious metals form the basis of Korus Design.

A woman modelling jewellery

Mine Güngör creates bold and showy jewellery for conscious consumers who are fed up with low-quality items lacking personality. Image: Mine Güngör/Facebook

Some even incorporate a variety of technologies in their design. Last year, Lumoava partnered with fellow Finnish company Heart2Save to create a necklace that enables anyone to monitor their heart rhythm and have the AI-analysed results accessible via their smartphone in seconds. 

Designing an innovative approach

Elsewhere among the most well-known contemporary Finnish jewellery designers is Kirsti Doukas, who was the chief designer of Kalevala jewellery for an extended period of time. She was awarded the State Prize for Design in 2006 and the Order of the Lion of Finland – the Pro Finlandia Medal in 2014.

Doukas grew up on a farm in western Finland, and the tradition of farming work taught her that to do anything, she must do her best with a down-to-earth approach. She has devoted herself to jewellery design to a great extent, sometimes working for as long as 12 hours a day to pursue continuous innovation and progress.

Woman wearing a necklace posing for the camera

According to Kirsti Doukas, jewellery is like a small work of art that travels with a person. Image: GAo ShAn Gallery/Heidi Strengell

In more recent years, she has combined jewellery design and new technology to break boundaries and create a new wearable concept that takes both beauty and function into account. For example, by using nylon, amethyst, lemon citrine and peridot, combined with hand inlay and 3D printing, she created the necklace Butterfly Ecological Night, which is both delicate and beautiful. “Jewellery is like a small work of art that travels with a person,” she said in an interview with YLE.

Some Finnish jewellery designers tap into other design fields and reflect such experiences and characteristics in their work. One example is Inni Pärnänen. In addition to jewellery design, she extends her capabilities to space and three-dimensional design. Therefore, her jewellery art often boasts designs that emphasise three-dimensional space and geometric figures. One of the most popular works is the Summer flower wall.

Inni Pärnänen's summer wall

Inni Pärnänen’s Summer wall has turned many a head. Image: GAo ShAn gallery

Pärnänen uses sustainable birch plywood as material, and each pentagonal birch flowers can interlock with another to form different shapes, giving more possibilities for use, be it partition for an indoor space or an art decoration.

“It is interesting to see what happens when the material or scale of the work changes and whether the same structure works, for example in a piece of jewellery or a wall-sized space work,” she said in an interview with Lumoava.

Every piece tells a story

Every jewellery artwork is a story of life. For design artist Matti Mattsson, the material itself is full of stories. Since the 1970s, he has transformed the discarded materials he encounters on different journeys into jewellery or works of art. Pot lids have been turned into wall clocks, feathers into clock pointers. Every old object has a story, and Mattsson uses unlimited imagination and humour to give new life to objects.

Mattsson’s work also exudes a breath of slowness, as he once said: “The slowness is fast. If you do it in a hurry, you will have to do the same job point again.”

A hand holding a necklace

Harri Syrjänen’s work is not devoid of humour. Image: GAo ShAn gallery/Heidi Strengell

His studio is open to the public, and people are welcome to take their recycled objects there for him to recreate something new. He was recognised as the Finnish Jewellery Artist of the Year 2020.

Harri Syrjänen calls himself an artisan because his creations are not limited by materials, and he often designs jewellery of different materials including leather. He is good at integrating stories and narratives into his creations. Animal images are common in his works, and he has a deep sense of humour. He often creates designs based on the characteristics of materials and incorporates thinking about nature into the process. His Bee Wings (Mehiläisen siivet) series designed in ebony and silver was shortlisted for the Finland Jewellery 2021 prize (Vuoden Koru 2021).

woman posing whilse wearing earrings and a necklace

Heli Kauhanen draws inspiration from nature’s wind, light and movement. Image: GAo ShAn gallery/Heidi Strengell

The creative concept of designer Heli Kauhanen is to pursue sustainable high-level works and bring beauty into daily life. The materials she uses most often are silver, stone, titanium and glass, occasionally supplemented by some luxurious gem elements. For her, nature’s wind, light, and movement are sources of inspiration, so are stories: “In my design work, I am guided and inspired by the stories, feelings and the idea that the jewellery gets a new story with its wearer. I would like the jewellery I designed to be of a level of quality that lasts from mother to daughter.”

The level of clientele stretches up to Finland’s Presidential Palace. She was invited to design jewellery during Finland’s centennial year in 2017, and the necklace she cultivated for the First Lady of Finland, Jenni Haukio, was worn at the reception for Finland’s 100th birthday.

Craftsmanship inspired by nature

Finland’s vivid and rapidly changing nature over four seasons has often become a source of inspiration for designers. The two-person brand Chao & Eero, established in 2005, is one example. The works of Chao-Hsien Kuo and Eero Hintsanen are both deeply influenced by nature, but they have derived completely different styles.

an elaborately-designed ring

Chao’s delicate and feminine designs draw inspiration from each of the four seasons. Image: Chao & Eero/Chao-Hsien Kuo

Chao’s works are delicate and feminine. Every season brings her unlimited inspiration, allowing her to express the simple happiness in daily life through her works. Every piece of work that seems light and natural comes from her use of traditional techniques and dedication to quality.

“My creative process started from the moment I met nature, and then I started a journey of searching: how to capture and express the unique moment with jewellery,” she recalls. Chao was also the first female designer for the Finnish brand Lapponia.

woman with elaborate facial jewellery

Bold is just the tip of the iceberg for describing the striking work of Eero Hintsanen. Image: Chao & Eero/Lari Heikkilä

In contrast, Eero’s works express the original power of nature. Growing up surrounded by nature in the Finnish countryside, he has developed a style that is bold and direct, and is deeply inspired by ancient mysterious legends.

“I want to constantly challenge the boundaries of silver design,” he declared.

Eero is also good at creating jewellery art inspired by the structure of human body with his unique design language. His Spine necklace was worn by Finnish singer Saara Aalto when participating in the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest. Eero’s courage to reinterpret the tradition and break the boundaries of styles also won him the Finland Goldsmith of the Year 2019 title.

Sustainably natural or recycled

Many Finnish jewellery artists and designers transform natural materials into surprising and beautiful jewellery. Janna Syvänoja creates light-transmitting and sculptural works from hundreds of extremely thin papers, which are suitable for decoration and wear. For example, the feathers of a Canadian barnacle goose that she picked up during a walk near her home were made into large-scale decorative art.

hand holding jewellery made from paper

Janna Syvänoja creates light-transmitting and sculptural works from hundreds of extremely thin papers. Image: GAo ShAn gallery

Syvänoja described her creative process as being deeply integrated with the natural texture of the material: “When certain formed components start to follow each other and find their rhythm in my hands, the miracle happens.”

Her works can be seen in the collection of 30 museums around the world, and she has also won the Prince Eugene Medal of Sweden.

Another designer, Aino Favén, often tells the story of nature in her works and is good at transforming discarded plastic gloves and plastic bags into art and jewellery. One example is the work Blue, which is created from recyclable plastic bottles and indigo dyed silk yarn. She described the reasons for choosing to use waste plastic as the material: “It is not only the issue of recycling – I also like the material and its subtle expression in its own right.”

Carrie Fisher

Wiebke Pandiko has created plant designs from unorthodox materials. Image: GAo ShAn Gallery/Heidi Strengell

Meanwhile, artist Wiebke Pandiko combined driftwood from the ocean and white flowers made of plastic bags to create a series of necklaces in imitation of different plants.

Contemporary jewellery goes international

Some organisations and groups in Finland have been promoting Finnish art jewellery to the world. The Finnish Jewellery Art Association has organised exhibitions for Finnish jewellery artists since 2005 and will organise the seventh International Contemporary Jewellery Triennale (KORU7) in October this year in the Finnish city of Lappeenranta.

KORU5 exhibition space

KORU7 is being held in October 2021, offering a range of exhibitions, seminars and workshops. Image: KORU7/Facebook

In 2018, Ding Yi, a visual designer who has studied Finnish contemporary jewellery, with a particular focus on art jewellery for many years, established the GAo ShAn gallery as Finland’s first gallery dedicated to contemporary jewellery. In co-operation with the Finnish Jewellery Art Association, 18 Finnish designers’ jewellery art works will be brought to the exhibition venue of Design Shanghai in June 2021.

Ding studied fashion curation in London before settling down in Finland, using her own experience to inform the contents of the gallery.

woman modelling earrings and a necklace

Finnish design is heading to China for the Design Shanghai exhibition in June.

“I wanted to use my multicultural background and the perspective of an ‘outsider’ to conduct a practical study on this part of the Finnish handicraft culture that I’m interested in, and to demonstrate and promote Finnish handicrafts,” she says.

“I hope that by opening this gallery specialising in Finnish contemporary jewellery design, it will give more young jewellery designers and artists a platform for communication, so that both local Finnish and international people can see these precious handmade art designs.”

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