Back to the future: the Finnish jewellery brand who adorned Star Wars’ Princess Leia

Left, ‘Shuttle’ ring, designed by Björn Weckström. Right, master craftsmen in the Helsinki workshops use traditional techniques, including hand-hammering silver directly onto tree trunks to shape it
Left, ‘Shuttle’ ring. Right, master craftsmen in the Helsinki workshops use traditional techniques, including hand-hammering silver directly onto tree trunks to shape it
(Image credit: Björn Weckström)

‘I always tell young artists, the first 82 years are the hardest,’ says an 83-year-old Björn Weckström wryly, while sitting on a sofa he has designed, in a home he built, overlooking a garden full of his monumental sculptures.

Weckström is one of Finland’s most recognised artists. His sculptures pepper the public squares and cobbled streets of his home town of Helsinki, with a new commission set to be unveiled next summer. But the prolific artist is best known for co-founding Lapponia, the jewellery house he established with entrepreneur Pekka Anttila the early 1960s. ‘I wanted to be a sculptor, but it was not considered a sensible career option when I was growing up,’ Weckström explains, ‘so I applied my artistic ideas to something more practical, and trained to become a goldsmith.’

In his early work, Weckström figuratively translated scenes of the wild Finnish terrain into precious metal, putting tiny figurines into his jewellery; intricate faces, hands and miniature machines fighting the elements. Ever the artist, he wanted to create ‘landscapes in silver and gold’.

By the late 70s, Weckström’s sculptural twist on art jewellery for Lapponia had gained an international following. No small thanks to his storied ‘Planetoid Valleys’ necklace, worn by one of the most iconic figures in pop culture – Carrie Fisher's Princess Leia in Star Wars (1977). This year, for the film’s 40th anniversary, Lapponia is re-releasing two pieces from the original ‘Space’ collection – the ‘Galactic Wind’ earrings and ‘Beira’ necklace.

Still from Star Wars, 1977, with Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia wearing the ‘Planetoid Valleys’ necklace, designed by Björn Weckström for Lapponia

Still from Star Wars, 1977, with Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia wearing the ‘Planetoid Valleys’ necklace, for Lapponia

(Image credit: Björn Weckström)

‘We are continually evolving, challenging ourselves to speak to new audiences,’ explains Riitta Huuhtanen, managing director of Kalevala Koru (Lapponia’s parent company). It’s part of a current rebranding process at the Helsinki HQ, which is imbuing the brand with a contemporary identity.

Still involved as head designer, Weckström is inviting new, innovative designers to collaborate, including young Dutch designer Liesbeth Busman – known for her forward-thinking take on the role of jewellery. While maintaining Weckström’s vision, and Lapponia’s commitment to local craftmen, Busman makes use of new technologies, while implementing more contemporary, minimalist lines. Her ‘Traces’ necklace, for example, references the raw, icy landscapes of Lapland, through sterling silver and subtle textured finishes.

At the sprawling Lapponia factory and workshops on the outskirts of Helsinki, the coming together of new techniques and traditional craftsmanship is the main focus. 3D printing techniques are integrated with handcraft, with hammers, magnifying glasses and moulds. The traditional craftsmen and goldsmiths, many of whom have worked with Lapponia for almost as long as Weckström, are revered sages of the workforce.

But then, Weckström is keen for the jewellery to remain imaginative and expressive. ‘When we first started in 1963, the industry found it difficult to appreciate our new, expressive designs,’ he remembers, ‘One of our clients summed it up by saying, “Come back in 100 years.”’ Fifty years on and Lapponia is more than half way there.

The necklace worn by Princess Leia in Star Wars being crafted

Making of the ‘Planetoid Valleys’ necklace, and worn by Princess Leia in Star Wars (1977)

(Image credit: Björn Weckström)

Pieces of moulded silver ready to be assembled

The silver is cast in moulds, before being assembled by hand

(Image credit: press)

Silver necklace and earrings in rough circles with textured finishes

‘Traces’ necklace and earrings, for Lapponia

(Image credit: Liesbeth Busman)

Left, each individual piece of jewellery is inspected be a team of people in booths, under high magnification. Right, silver earrings, designed by Björn Weckström

Left, each individual piece of jewellery is inspected be a team of people in booths, under high magnification. It must pass several individual inspections before moving along to the packaging department. Right, silver earrings

(Image credit: Björn Weckström)

INFORMATION

For more information, visit the Lapponia website (opens in new tab)

Elly Parsons is the Digital Editor of Wallpaper*, where she oversees Wallpaper.com and its social platforms. She has been with the brand since 2015 in various roles, spending time as digital writer – specialising in art, technology and contemporary culture – and as deputy digital editor. She was shortlisted for a PPA Award in 2017, has written extensively for many publications, and has contributed to three books. She is a guest lecturer in digital journalism at Goldsmiths University, London, where she also holds a masters degree in creative writing. Now, her main areas of expertise include content strategy, audience engagement, and social media.