‘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
‘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.