After reading Anni Albers ‘Common Object’ JewelryLydia Wills wrote an inspiring email that is a perfect, if inadvertent, post for ‘the improvised life’. It’s like a bedtime story for grown-ups (with an amazing ending in bold.)

“The lesson of Anni Albers’ jewelry is her ability to look at everyday objects and see just how they can be re-imagined on the body, how their shape and curve and sheen will look when worn. A simple object, not only seen in a new way, but taken a step farther. It’s only improvisation when it goes from the mind’s eye , passing through your hands, and out into the world.

This is exactly the lesson of my favorite jewelry designer, the truly great Vivianna Torun Bulow-Hube, who was born in Sweden and went on to design for Georg Jensen. She set out early to make “anti-jewelry,” that is, jewelry you don’t store in the family vault until the fancy night arrives, and then snap shut in the vault. She worked with materials that lived and breathed out in the open–rocks, stones, pebbles, silver and saw how they could be shaped to fit the human form.

When she was broke in the 50s in France, she used to go to the beach and look for stones and pebbles that she could work into her simple silver wires and hand-hammered necklaces.

One day in 1958, a stranger came up to her while she was rooting around for just the right rocks; it was Picasso, who later gave her a one woman show at the Picasso Museum at Antibes.  Picasso knew the improv spirit when he saw it.


Her work with Jensen is well known, but what isn’t so much a part of her international success story is how she moved to Jakarta in the ’70s and taught locals how to make their own jewelry with a couple of grand, some chicken wire, a hand made workbench and jerry-rigged jewelry machinery. She wanted to help them become self-sufficient. She says it best:

‘I had already developed my own method of simple, elegant clasps, pins and settings that used no welding or soldering. So, with US$2000, [we] set up a basic workshop, building a hut with a corrugated iron roof and walls and chicken wire windows. We also built our own workbenches and constructed a wire pulling bench (that’s to stretch the silver wire to the required profile) out of an old bicycle pedal-wheel and I managed to get the rest of the hand tools needed. Later we added a generator to supply electricity for polishing. We employed a goldsmith and young, local boys who demonstrated some skill with their hands and I taught them the craft.’


It’s this, much more so than her mass-produced pieces, that inspires me whenever I look at the one hand-made piece of hers that I own, a silver necklace with one simple piece of rock crystal-her hands twisted those wires and worked that silver into something that rests on my neck, from beach to body. Somehow, the idea struck her, and she went for it. She herself said we’re all  ‘just playing around like a kid – [and] it seems like that great something somewhere up there maybe looks down. ‘Oh there’s a person – empty with skilled hands – playing around – let’s send down an idea and see what happens.'”


THE book on Torun by Ann Westin is now out-of-print but available on Ebay and at used books stores.Worth every penny.

Related post: More Anni Albers’ Common-Object Jewelry
D-I-Y Anne Albers’ Necklace
Tapoi Wirkkala: Materials as Opportunities

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3 replies on “guest post on vivianna torun and ‘seeing what happens’

  1. Lydia: I enjoyed learning about an artist who simply HAD to make something simple and beautiful–which is the hardest thing to do. Not for gold and glory but for the act of creation which always inspires. Loved the idea of us, little insignificant creatures molding things with our hands and the spirits, looking down, saying,”Yeah Man! Let’s hook a sister (brother) up”!

  2. Love your pages but cannot pull them apart (make them bigger) on my touchscreen. Do you have a control for that that you could turn on? Love it if you wouldcould.

  3. Sorry but I have to admit I have never heard of Vivianna Torun Bulow-Hube until today, but now that I do, maybe I can get an answer to a 20 year old question I have been asking myself.
    Let me explain. About 20 years ago I saw a lovely necklace in a secondhand jewellery shop in Belgium, I fell in love with it. There is no mark but the seller told me it was tested for silver and responded well to acid test for high grade silver.

    The gentleman who brought it to the shop was selling the jewellery of his deceased wife, he had bought it for her in Paris in the 1960s and he told her it was extremely expensive at the time but he and his wife were newly married and in Paris so….

    I have just come across Vivianna Torun Bulow-Hubes’ jewellery and I believe this necklace could possibly be one of her early designs. I would like to send a photo or ask if you could recommend an expert in her work to look at this beautiful necklace which is heavy 86grams of silver and polished stones cut in half a blue one and a cream polished one set in an intricate celtic design pendant. It is completely handmade

    Thnk you in advance for your help

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