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【A Brief History of Scandinavian Jewelry】From the Ice and Fire of the Vikings to the Minimalism of Modern Scandinavia

Aug 26,2022 | Sulludd


Although I have traveled to many countries, Nordic is still my unfinished dream. The perennial gloom and occasional sound are intertwined, the magnificent scenery of Norway, the elegant and cold Sweden and the quiet and comfortable Denmark, the cold wonderland Iceland and the country of a thousand lakes are similar but completely different, making people more eager to examine them in detail. I've been fascinated by mysterious runes, metal music, and fantastical and unique Norse mythology.

Street scene in Denmark

Northern Europe's precious sunny days

If you first understand Nordic jewelry, the first reaction may be that it is not very delicate, and the second reaction is that it is expensive. This article will briefly talk about the historical evolution of Nordic jewelry style. It does lack the delicacy of Western European design and the old European look and feel in the minds of most people, but the pit that many old lovers finally enter is the Nordic style. This generous and timeless style is more in line with our pursuit of timeless and ultimate form.

The work of the century-old Danish brand Georg Jensen

The high price of Nordic jewelry is based on the high local prices, and the second is because of the sparse population. The population of each country is millions, so exquisite jewelry is also very rare. The third is because of the output and design, and only after experiencing the second-hand American jewelry sold by the jins did I realize the intentions of the Nordic people. I've been scouring the Danish antique market for months to find a dozen or so rings. A year later, it was found that the local supply in Denmark had been depleted, because the base quantity was small.

Nordic Vikings Popular Rings

The war-loving Vikings also loved jewelry

If I mention "Vikings", I believe that people who wield spears and swords and heavy shields and wear horned helmets slaughter plundering warriors, not jewelry. But the truth is that they also made beautiful and intricate ornaments, mainly in bronze, iron, gold and silver, amber and resin. Nordic jewellery dates back to the early Viking Age (around 800 AD) and has become more refined as the craft has developed. Ancient Vikings, men and women alike, wore multiple pieces of jewelry emblazoned with symbols ranging from Norse mythology to Thor's hammer. Viking jewelry was very polarized, either clumsy and heavy, to withstand the test of war, or extremely delicate, a manifestation of wealth and status.

The thousand-year-old Silverdale treasure known as the "Viking Hoard"

The function of jewelry in Viking culture is very unique, in addition to being a sign of wealth, it is often used as currency. The Vikings wore silver arm and neck ornaments, and when they needed to pay the bills, they cut off some fragments and paid for it as broken silver. Called "hack silver", this jewelry saves you the trouble of carrying a wallet. Businessmen therefore usually carry small scales with them.
Silver and bronze were the metals most commonly used by the Vikings, and brooches made of bronze were the most common jewelry among women of ancient Viking culture. Armbands and neckbands were very popular, but there was little tradition of wearing rings before the late Viking Age, and almost no earrings existed, even though the Vikings knew and snatched earrings through contact with people from other ethnic groups. The most common piece of jewelry from the Viking era in Scandinavia was a bronze oval brooch for women. Souvenirs (strange objects picked up/snatched from abroad) such as coins and rings are often hung on necklaces.

Ancient Nordic neckbands, armbands and necklaces on display at the Lancaster Museum

It is worth mentioning that the Vikings used the lost wax method to make jewelry. To make a wax mold of the desired part first, then pour molten metal into the mold. After cooling, the wax mold cracks and the metal is polished until the jewelry sparkles.
In addition to metals, the Nordics used beads and precious stones to create beautiful ornaments. However, even though the Vikings had used this art form before the Viking Age, the Vikings rarely set gems in their jewelry.
Viking beading, usually made of amber or glass, was the most common ornament on necklaces. Glass raw materials are usually imported from Western Europe. And because they were handcrafted, none of them were identical, and although glazed beads are widely used today, archaeological evidence from Viking tombs suggests that these ornaments are rare. And even the Viking ornaments with beads were only one or two or three. At the time, beads could be worn alone or with other pendants. For example, Thor's hammer was very suitable for beading on both sides. . It is extremely rare to find more than three beads on a necklace, suggesting that they are both precious and rare, perhaps symbolizing a person's wealth and social status.

Armbands in several layers are easy to cut and pay the bill

The brooch was very popular in Viking culture and was an essential tool for fixing clothes on a daily basis. There are many styles of brooches, mainly closed loop brooches and oval brooches.
The open-loop brooches were used by the Vikings of Scottish and Irish settlers, and later became popular in Russia and Scandinavia. The brooch is fastened to the wearer's right shoulder and the needle needs to point upwards so that the hand holding the sword is free.

An open-loop brooch in the collection of the Scottish Museum

On the other hand, oval brooches were often worn by Viking women to fasten dresses, aprons and capes, and were more delicate and feminine than closed-loop brooches. It can be worn on the shoulders to fix the shoulder straps of the skirt, and then add a string of colorful beads to attract the eyes, which is the trend of the time. Pinch, though, oval brooches are thought to be outdated around 1000 AD, in favor of more elaborate brooch designs.

Two finely crafted ancient Nordic closed-loop brooches

Like many other regional jewelry design concepts, Viking jewelry aims to emphasize the power of the wearer, such as the Mjolnir pendant representing thunder and lightning, which is by far the most popular pendant design. These mystical Viking symbols are not only found on jewelry, but also inscribed on runestones and weapons in the form of images, words and stories. In addition to being designed as abstract patterns, it also contains images of animals, nature and gods.
Some scholars believe that some Viking jewelry may also have religious significance. Pendants preserved in several tombs are inscribed with religious symbols such as Mjolnir (Mjolnir), Valknuts and Yggdrasil (Tree of Life). Vikings often placed jewelry in their tombs and believed that having wealth would lead to a comfortable life in the afterlife.

Viking Age oval brooch in the collection of the History Museum in Oslo, Norway

There are occasional cross-wearers in pagan communities. Even in the heyday of the Viking Age, Christian missionaries insisted on persuasion, and as a result, some Nordics embraced the new religion, forming a mixed belief system. However, the cross pendant is the rarest archaeological ornament found, suggesting that only a few Vikings embraced Christianity. To this day most Danes go to church only twice in their lifetime.

Several artifacts found in Sweden, Thor's Hammer pendant.

In short, Vikings love fashion and precious metals, they strive to make beautiful ornate decorations, and focus on integration with daily life. Clearly, the Vikings were not the savages that most people think they were, but an organized, well-connected group with a rich culture of their own that surpassed even that of most other regions of their time.
【Modern Jewelry Industrialization】
In the late 19th century, the Scandinavian jewelry industry really took off. Previously, Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish jewelry was largely influenced by early Nordic traditions, using intricate knotted designs and symbolic signs and animals, heavy use of metallic materials (especially silver), and small amounts of pearl and gem decoration.

The problem of material shortages during World War II meant that Scandinavian designers had to experiment with other materials, such as ceramics, iron and bronze, glass, gold and silver only for inlays. The style pioneered by Arno Malinowski for Jenson's studio is known as jernsølv or "iron silver" and involves inlay designs of silver with patterns of iron sheets inspired by Japanese art background. In Finland, Kalevala Koru replicated jewelry designs found in ancient mausoleums, and the combination of nationalist pride and decorative traditions made the company an instant success. Kalevala Koru's imitation of Iron Age pieces also revived Scandinavians' interest in bronze jewelry.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Norway stood out in the art of enamelled metal, with companies such as Marius Hammer, J.Tostrup and David-Andersen adopting techniques such as plique-à-jour to produce jewellery. Most of these enamel designs feature cascading floral shapes and bright colors, which we call Art Nouveau.

Norwegian Art Nouveau enamel ornaments, common in the shape of flowers and butterflies, advocating the beauty of nature and full color.

In Denmark, where the Arts and Crafts design movement is often referred to as "skønvirke" in the local language, meaning "beautiful work", jewelry makers rely heavily on sculptural qualities acquired through chasing or changing generations. Objects at Skønvirke are often made of silver, sometimes encrusted with gems, and rely on bird or flower motifs, similar to contemporary Art Nouveau styles.
The Arts and Crafts movement is best known for the exquisite Skønvirke pieces by Danish designer Evald Nielsen, where gems are set in a flower-like bezel, creating the illusion that the jewels appear like flower buds. Many major Danish manufacturers such as Hans Hansen and Berhard Hertz commissioned artists such as Nielsen to create their own designs, using skilled silver art to reproduce antiques on a large scale jewelry.

Evald Nielson silver-set coral brooch Georg Jensen silver ring with modern and vintage vibes

Denmark also has one of the most famous jewelry designers of all time, and I'm crazy about it, Georg Jensen, who opened his studio in Copenhagen in 1904 after working at the silversmith Mogens Ballin. Jensen was heavily influenced by the natural forms of the handicraft movement, and his designs often feature graceful shapes and minimal ornamentation. Jensen has also hired other big names such as Harald Nielsen, Gabrielson Pederson, Henning Koppel Sigvard Bernadotte and others. George Jensen is known for his streamlined designs, light decoration and emphasis on lines and shapes; from traditional rings, bracelets, to home accessories, it is extremely clean. Designed to allow women to express their personalities and stories.

If you're interested in Viking-age silverware, the Danish National Museum in Copenhagen and the History Museum in Stockholm can feast your eyes. If you want to buy Scandinavian contemporary classic design, you can go to the shopping districts in the heart of the big Nordic cities such as Copenhagen, Stockholm, Oslo, Gothenburg, Helsinki and so on. Among them, Georg Jensen's head office can be found in Copenhagen's Strøget pedestrian street.
At the same time, I also recommend three Danish designers, ANTON MICHELSEN, Hans Hansen, and Bernard Hertz. Their works can be described as timeless. If there are friends who are interested, I can talk about the talented designers and interesting brands that have been born in this magical land of Denmark.

[1] Grœnlendinga Saga - The Saga of the Greenlanders. Accessed August 16, 2018,
[2] Sephton, J. The Saga of Erik the Red. 1880. Accessed August 16, 2018.
[3] Mandia, S. Vikings During the Medieval Warm Period. Accessed August 16, 2018,
[4] Mandia, S. The End of the Vikings in Greenland. Accessed August 16, 2018,
[5] Mandia, S. The Little Ice Age in Europe. Accessed August 16, 2018,
[6] Brownworth, L. The Sea Wolves: A History of the Vikings. Crux Publishing, Ltd. The United Kingdom. 2014.














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