Ornamenting Scandinavian Gems With Asian Craft

Exhibiting at the 38th Gems & Jewelery Fair in September 2006 in Bangkok, a Norwegian company is in full swing with the international promotion of its own jewellery brand, gaining strong interest from many parts of the world.
Producing all jewellery by hand in their Indonesian-based factory, Arts & Crafts have in only two years reached 17 distributors in just as many countries and are steadily getting requests from various traders to take up their brand.
Having spent 28 years partly living in or collaborating with various part of Asia the owners see the brand as a fusion of inspiration taken from Asian culture and the Scandinavian way of life. Asian craftsmanship is mixed with a Scandinavian touch.
Meeting with Asian cultures, as well as each other on a beach in Sri Lanka, Asia functions as a strong inspiration for the partners moreover business partners Birgit Løitegaard and Franz Titulaer. Both were backpacking in Asia back then and continued travelling together.
And it was during their sojourn in Japan, partly living in a “crazy house with lots of crazy people”, that they started producing their own products to sell on the streets and starting to research about the art of jewellery production.
From there they continued to live on a small Philippines island and built a bamboo dream house on a beach, while working with handicraft and learning from collaborating with local craftsmen.
“We started a company but finally left as we loved the people but not the system. Though we learned a lot by working with craftsmen and instructing them how to adjust to European tastes,” says Franz while exhibiting in Thailand.
Back in Norway in 1984 they established Arts & Crafts, beginning as a wholesaler and already had a strong sense for how they wanted to work and express their creativity, strongly influenced from six years of travelling.
Their staff, packaging and marketing – everything is based on their long trip from in the beginning.
“From the travel came our concept: the freedom, respect for people and diversity. We like that the world is as beautiful as it is and not everybody being considered a barcode.”
“Making products we are proud of and to develop the quality to be as good as possible has always been an urge in Arts & Crafts further development,” continues Franz.
In comparison with most other companies within the industry Arts & Crafts differs, Franz claims, in their way of doing things on their own premises and sticking to that.
For Birgit and Franz creating jewellery is like searching for a soul: “Whatever you do you first have to find your soul: ‘Who are you?’ And if you know who you are then you are going to find out how to express this. Most people don’t, they look: ‘Oh, it’s a beautiful lady’ and then hangs something around her.” Then there is the risk the customer might not like it because of a “crash” between what the designer ought to say and what she really is expressing.
“What you are selling is not 25 grams, but beautiful things which people can feel proud of. ‘What is the story behind it and does that fit with me?’ This is much more important these days, and has to express something,” states Franz.
In Norway they partly started selling jewellery on the streets and found themselves in the situation where they had to defend the craftsmanship of the items sourced from Asia.
“Our breakthrough came when the economy collapsed in 1988 and the ethnical trend arose anew. We are specialists on such things.”
Suddenly Arts & Crafts came in focus totally as the new success story and their business grew strongly. Then in 1990 they decided to start their own shop which gradually became 20, spread out over Norway.
That all the collections are made entirely by hand, produced in limited quantities, also makes the brand stick out from the crowd.
Franz says they want keep this procedure because it gives their products higher quality and attractiveness.
“If you look here at this fair it’s an exception. There are not many people doing as us. People love that they can wear their product and say there is only one of them and not produced in China in 100 000 pieces.”
“We are going away from this society of overflow where everybody is using more and more and discarding lots of things – to more substance. I want products that I am proud of, instead of buying twelve, I buy one. Society is heading in that direction now,” predicts Franz.
“If there is too much of anything this world, it is machine-made things.”
As a consequence of  the ‘limited editions’ they turn down big orders, while at the same time having the capacity to be flexible regarding the quantities. If the demand grows they can thanks to a flexibility system expand the factory and number of workers in the Indonesian production unit, which opened in 2003 (having then already worked with skilful Indonesian craftsmen during eleven years).
Indeed since the international launch of their brand they are feeling that we are heading towards a different society with a much bigger interest for silver and their brand “because it’s not mass-produced and has the story of the Scandinavian and the whole thing of the concept and the brand.
Today has Arts & Crafts shops in exclusive department stores, for example at Ginza, Tokyo and 7 shops in shopping malls in Moscow, in collaboration with local distributors who know the market.
All designing and developing, meanwhile, takes place in Norway.
”We are in the roots and touch absolutely Nordic, but we have also the fashion as background. Our touch, the concept is one thing, the next is the fashion. What fashion is there going to be and how are we going to express this in our way. That is how we work,” explains Franz who admits this requires a lot of work in order to have the instinctive feeling for what comes next.
Expressing the personality and beauty of each individual, reflecting freedom, down to earth, modern, and natural all are distinctive tokens for Arts & Crafts.
One of the upcoming trends, folklore, shows how the brand is in sync with fashion, still making its own ‘simply Nordic’ interpretations.  And Scandinavian jewellery design is in general hot for the moment which makes the future looking extra bright.
One of the trend forecasts furthermore says that craftsmanship is coming back. And Franz finds no need to comment further on that.

About Joakim Persson

Freelance business and lifestyle photojournalist

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