By Charlotte Luxford
What attracts you to the Modernist Scandinavian jewellery of Tapio Wirkkala?
I discovered Tapio Wirkkala when I was working at an auction house in Stockholm in the 1990s. Wirkkala had the ability to see a material’s inherent qualities whether it was glass, wood or silver. He did not overwork the silver he used in his mid century jewellery; instead he created shapes that bring out the metal’s beauty. My favourite Tapio Wirkkala pieces are my ‘Crescent Moon’ earrings.
Mid century silver jewellery from the post-war era is still fairly underpriced, which makes it relatively affordable. It is just a question of time before pieces by Tapio Wirkkala and other silver designers become more sought after. Modernist jewellery makes for a practical collector’s piece, as it doesn’t take up much space. In the future I would love to own glass objects by Tapio Wirkkala, but since my four children are still young, fragile objects will have to wait to make their entrance into our home.
How prolific was Tapio Wirkkala as a mid century jewellery designer?
Tapio Wirkkala pieces in glass and wood are common in Sweden; the modernist pieces he created for Iittala are famous worldwide, but Wirkkala jewellery (made in gold and gold-plated metal and bronze, as well as the more prevalent sterling silver) is more rare. It was only produced for a short time and then went out of production for many years. There are Tapio Wirkkala pieces from the 1960s and 1970s that were unique or made in very limited editions and are now rarely seen, such as the ‘Devil’s Head’ pendant.
Does Tapio Wirkkala’s jewellery demonstrate a similar love of nature to that in his mid century modern wood and glass sculptures?
The connection between all of Tapio Wirkkala’s work is the reflection of nature. He shares this influence with many other patrons of Finnish design. Visit Finland, and you will immediately see why: the woods, the lakes, the snow and the ice – it is hard not to be affected by the force of Finnish nature.
Which of Tapio Wirkkala’s jewellery designs are most admired?
When it comes to modernist jewellery, I would say the ‘Silver Moon’, in Finnish ‘Hopeakuu’. Designed in 1970, the ‘Silver Moon’ is made of sterling silver. It was produced by Nils Westerback for just a couple of years in the early ’70s. Although nature was the primary source of inspiration for Tapio Wirkkala, he was perhaps also inspired by space travel at the time. Wirkkala’s ‘Silver Moon’ pendant was designed just a year after Armstrong’s first steps on the moon. Danish designer Verner Panton designed his ‘Moon Lamp’ in 1960 and it is interesting to note the similarity between these objects. This may well have provided a source of inspiration for Tapio Wirkkala. The ‘Silver Moon’ accurately captures the spirit of the time and yet has a timeless appeal – maybe this is why it is so widely admired.
Why do you think Tapio Wirkkala became such a prolific and versatile mid century designer?
He was headstrong and passionate and he did not try to consciously please his audience. He had an exceptional diversity and he was a real craftsman; his workshop functioned as his experimental alchemist’s chamber. He took an egalitarian approach to design: he designed everything from plastic ketchup bottles to unique wooden veneer sculptures with the same passion.
What would be your ultimate Tapio Wirkkala find?
I would love to stumble upon a ‘Crescent Moon’ or a full ‘Silver Moon’ necklace in a box of knick-knacks at a flea market.
Tapio Wirkkala: The Story
Finnish designer Tapio Wirkkala (1915-1985) is familiar to most Finns. As one of the most versatile Scandinavian modernist designers of the 20th century, Tapio Wirkkala produced a huge array of everyday objects for the home, from mass-produced furniture to cutlery. He is perhaps most famous for his working relationship with Iittala, which began in 1946, when he won his first design award in a competition organised by the company and was later made Artistic Director. He designed over 400 modernist art glass objects and glassware pieces for the firm. Among his other seminal mid century designs were the Finnish markka banknotes, introduced in 1955, and the Finlandia Vodka bottle. Recognised for his prolific output and undiscriminating nature, Tapio Wirkkala became an figurehead for Mid Century Modern Finnish design, winning three gold medals at the Triennale in Milan in 1951, followed by a further three in 1954 and numerous international awards since. Testament to the longevity of his designs, Wirkkala’s pieces are displayed in museums the world over.
Useful Links and Information
Check out our Buyer’s Guide to Tapio Wirkkala glassware, ceramics and furniture in MidCentury issue 05
For Tapio Wirkkala homeware, visit Skandium