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Jensen celebrates silver centenary

These Harald Nielsen candalabra sold for $204,000 at Christie's Jensen sale.
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COPENHAGEN, Denmark (CNN) -- For a century the name Georg Jensen has been synonymous with silverware.

When the Danish silversmith opened his Copenhagen workshop in 1904 he was motivated by a belief that even functional objects should possess an aesthetic elegance.

Inspired by baroque, rococo and art nouveau styles, Jensen approached silverware with a sculptor's eye, creating flatware, hollowware, watches and jewellery that have become 20th century classics.

Jensen died in 1935, but in granting freedom of expression to visionary designers such as Johan Rohde and Henning Koppel, he ensured that his company and its creative vision lived on.

"It's clear that after 100 years of history, there are two things that everyone would say our craftsmanship is about," says Jensen CEO Kristian Hojsgaard.

"It's about quality and it's about a design language. People have a distinct impression of that as being a very under-stated elegance, very pure and very simple. Some would even say minimalist. But whether it's jewellery or watches, this design language is something that people perceive."

The appeal of that simplicity means that many of the company's most memorable designs, such as Rohde's 1915 acorn pattern, or Vivianna Torun Bulow-Hube's 1967 open-ended watch, remain just as popular today.

This week a Jensen collection consisting of around 800 objects sold at Christie's in New York for more than $8.8 million, nearly tripling its pre-sale estimate. A single Harald Nielsen-designed candelabra dating from around 1940 sold for $204,000.

"Georg Jensen was a gifted designer and the firm has had this magic touch of hiring these avant-garde designers all the way through the century," Jeanne Sloane, Head of Christie's Silver Department, told CNN.

"Tastes are different of course, but I believe there are objective standards of beauty and this silver really hits that mark."

But while collectors may be trading in Jensen's lucrative past, the company enters its second century focused on maintaining a contemporary edge.

Jensen now has more than 100 shops in 13 countries, including recently renovated flagship stores in London, New York, Paris, Beijing and Tokyo. More than 80 percent of its turnover comes from watches and jewellery.

"We see ourselves as very much in the niche of the contemporary relevant timeless design which makes us very different from our major competitors," says Hojsgaard.

"Our jewellery is really meant to underline the personality of the woman and not taking away her personality."

Collaboration between silversmiths and acclaimed designers remains crucial to Jensen's commitment to artistic expression.

"When I was approached by Georg Jensen I was very, very excited," says British-based designer Jacqueline Rabun, the creator of Jensen's recent Cave collection.

"For me it was an opportunity to collaborate with the best silversmiths in the world and also to allow my designs to live beyond my lifetime. They are very careful to express the essence of the artist."

For the first time in its history, Jensen is also moving into the lucrative diamond market, a sector it estimates could be worth $80 billion within a decade.

But Hojsgaard insists that decision is motivated by a need to compete as an international luxury brand rather than a change of style.

"What we are doing is we are re-editing our iconic products in silver and gold. We are not going out and saying, 'Let's create a new thing,' and loading it with diamonds," he says.

"We are really talking about the iconic products that actually do justice with the diamonds. That's why we call it the iconic range because it is so obviously Georg Jensen design.

"I think it fits in perfectly because it is about elegance and simplicity but in the haute couture range. I mean as a jeweller you absolutely need to add this aspirational part of the business. But you have to stay loyal to the design language and I think it fits in perfectly."

Jeanne Sloane has no doubts that the modern company is living up to its heritage.

"They've never let up on their quality standards, both in terms of the silver use, the weight and gauge of the silver, and in terms of hand workmanship," she said.

"The firm is still very committed to good design. People are as interested in the contemporary designs as Georg Jensen's own designs."

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