There has long been a debate on whether knowing background information to a literary or artistic work or details about the creator’s life is useful or even essential to be able to appreciate and understand it fully. The same can be said about an unattributed piece. We can enjoy and be provoked, stimulated, satisfied by a book or painting, but knowing who it is by can alter our perspective of it, for better or worse. If the Mona Lisa in the Louvre turns out to be a forged replacement, as is very possible, it would certainly spoil many people’s enjoyment. This is an issue that has been treated by Arthur Danto in his theory of indiscernible counterparts. If you have two paintings that are identical in every way, it is obviously outside factors – the title, the artist’s (or artists’) purpose in executing them, and the dates on which they were produced – which enables us to distinguish between them. One thing is for certain: knowing who made a work can radically affect its market value.
One person whose work always fetches robust prices is Björn Weckström (above). This Finnish designer, born in 1935, enjoys an international reputation for his creations, and quite rightly so. He has worked in many media, including silver, gold, marble, and glass. The artist tends to spend some months obsessively plunged in one medium before moving on to another one. His jewellery designs are very distinctive and I would categorize them by one word: seductive. They seduce because they flatter the wearer or spectator by their very organic purity and raw honesty. An example, from his gold phase, is below, a 14kt-gold cuff entitled Goldfire (image taken from here). It is crafted from gold ore mined in Lappland.
Is this not beautiful? This cuff item does something mildly, almost imperceptibly, radical with gold. It distorts the normally smooth lines associated with the precious metal and endows it with a savage quality. This is very apt, since gold is not only completely natural -and we know nature is a savage mistress- but it is also a trope for greed, and ultimately, misery. Weckström has taken inspiration from mythology, astronomy, and above all his homeland. I’ve only been to Finland once, and then just within Helsinki, but the Finns have a very understated welcoming attitude coupled with a hint of the whimsical. Weckström’s enthusiasm for his profession is absolutely evident both from his work and from his site. He has led a very full life and has left a brilliant legacy.
His international profile was radically enhanced by one of his pieces, a necklace, being worn by Princess Leia in the original Star Wars movie. The design is called Planetaariset Laaksot, or Planetary Valleys, making it a particularly apt choice for a science-fiction themed film. It was designed in 1969, so had been around for eight years before its cinematic debut. The jewellery company which made the necklace is Lapponia, which enjoys an iconic if not mythic status among collectors of jewellery for its select range and its collaboration with gifted designers such as Weckström. The designer himself didn’t know it was going be used on the big screen until he went to see the cult film of 1977 and was caught unawares.
Today’s cufflinks are crafted from sterling silver and were acquired several months ago. I thought they reminded me of Weckström’s work, even though they weren’t advertized as such. It was only when I looked at the maker’s mark with an eyeglass that I discovered they were, in fact, created by him. They bear his signature and a Finnish date stamp of 1971, being part of a series entitled Seen in Mars. The reason why they were not recognized as Weckström’s work is because there is no mention of Lapponia on them, the company with which he has long been associated. However, they do bear the symbol of Lapponia, the name not yet having been chosen for the firm. The pair is worth at least 1,000% more than I paid, given who made them. It is not the fiscal value, however, that enhances my enjoyment of them but rather the knowledge that they were designed by such a passionate man. They are brutally beautiful and beautifully brutal and I particularly like the fact that the backs (the foot, in technical terms) is also patterned.
The cufflinks are chunky, highly conspicuous, items that command attention and positively reward it. While they are rooted in the contours of a hibernal, glacial Finnish landscape, and therefore the present, they are equally, unequivocally, futuristic. They employ the crumpled folding technique that Scandinavian artists have perfected. Above all, I relish wearing these cufflinks as they sing aloud of the sheer joy of life.