16 March 2009
We look at Jens Torp’s splendid 1/12th scale miniature silver designs, which are wide-ranging, imaginative, and pleasing to the eye. ...
Jens Torp’s splendid 1/12th scale silver designs are wide-ranging, imaginative, and pleasing to the eye. He specialises in heirloom quality period silver reproductions of exceptional artistry. Trained as a goldsmith jewellery designer, Jens has an eye for fine detail that makes him exceedingly well qualified to work in miniature. He is well known for his distinctive limited edition pieces and private one-off pieces that will not be repeated or reproduced.
Designs encompass the work of acclaimed silversmiths from the 16th century through the Art Nouveau period of the early 1900s. “I am particularly keen on the work of leading Georgian silversmiths from the 1700s,” Jens says. “There are also quite a number of Dutch silversmiths involved in my collection. The Dutch have a proud tradition of beautiful silver going back hundreds and hundreds of years.” Jens makes a fair number of silver pieces from the mid to late 1600s and the Victorian period of the 1800s. He also makes some early 1900s Edwardian silver along with a smattering of later 20th century. Each and every one of his pieces radiates an admiration for the lasting beauty of silver.
Born and raised in Denmark, Jens started a four and a half year apprenticeship as a goldsmith at the age of seventeen. In 1969, he received the topmost national prize for excellence awarded to a goldsmith. This award is given to an apprentice for an original piece he designs and makes. Jens then went on to study at the Royal College of Art in Copenhagen.
In 1970, Jens moved to London where he worked as a Goldsmith, Jewellery Designer, and Workshop Manager in Fulham, Chelsea in London. From there, he moved to prestigious Old Bond Street. Jens has run his own Workshop since 1987.
For many years, miniature model making had fascinated Jens. He particularly enjoyed making tiny OO gauge trains and ship models. “About 1991, I found that I also took great pleasure in making 1/12th scale silver,” he says. “That is when I became involved in the world of miniatures.”
Married, with a son and daughter, Jens lives about fifty miles due south of London. His home is in a quaint little village near Pulborough in the heart of historic West Sussex. “Working from home, I am around my family most of the time so that fulfils my life,” Jens says. “I go fishing with my son a fair bit. I am a keen golfer. We have a Cocker Spaniel dog and live in a beautiful part of England. I have a workshop and work alone, although my wife handles the bookkeeping and business end. Having said that, there are associated trades people on whom I call for their services, enamellers, engravers, and so on.”
Both sterling silver and silver gilt reproductions are included in Jens’ outstanding handcrafted miniatures. “Gilt is the process of applying a thin coat of gold over silver to produce a rich golden colour,” Jens tells us. His silver collection includes historically accurate tea and coffee services, serving pieces, candelabras and wall scones, to name a few. He also makes silver toilet services, hip flasks, photo frames, silver and gilt inkstands, and many other pieces.
Amongst his unusual specialty pieces are a silver 1700s French rapier, trombone, trumpet, and silver or gilt French horns (right). His 1711 chantelaine, antique wedding cask, and soup tureen with lobster cover are outstanding. “My joy and interest is in the making,” Jens observes. “A really complex design can take as long as three months to complete. Then when I have a piece I’m happy with, I move on.”
Some of Jens’ most recent Limited Edition pieces include a Candelabrum centrepiece (1813) and a wine fountain in silver gilt (1719). He also made a Japanese Imari covered porcelain bowl with French silver mounts (early 18th century). This latter piece (pictured below) was made in collaboration with Henny Staring-Egberts, Netherlands. Jens collaborated with John J. Hodgson, I.G.M.A. Fellow in furniture, to make the very unique Dundas Chair in silver gilt, a limited edition of twenty-five. The original was designed by Robert Adam and made by Thomas Chippendale in 1765. A pair of Dundas chairs sold at a Christie’s auction in London for a staggering £1,706,500, making them the most expensive chairs ever sold.
Over the years, Jens has built up an extensive library of books on silver pieces with wonderful items from private collections and museums. “I buy every book on silver that I can get my hands on. I even buy foreign language books that I cannot read but with beautiful photographs,” Jens says. “I know people who can translate the text for me.” Silver collections in museums and his personal library serve as inspiration for creating new and exciting pieces. Another avenue for new designs is Jens’ commission work. “People have seen or own an item and would like to reproduce it in 1/12 scale. I design the piece and sometimes request to make that item part of my collection. I reproduce it from then on.”
One of Jen’s challenges has been to come to terms with the limitations of what he can and cannot do. “When you reduce to 1/12th scale, there is a limit as to what can be done with regard to intricate detail,” Jens says. “I make the necessary compromises and concentrate on the overall impression. That can be very difficult and demanding.”
Generally speaking, Jens does not find it hard to obtain materials for what he creates. “For making ivory handles, I was fortunate to be given a few antique ivory billiard balls,” Jens says. “I cut one of those right through the middle. I have not finished the first half yet. That antique ivory will last me a lifetime. I use very small quantities.”
The price of Jens pieces range from £5 to around £3,000. He sells both off his website and at the eight to ten miniature fairs he attends each year in the U.K. and abroad. “By doing shows, I actually meet the people who buy and collect. This is very exciting for me,” Jens says. “I am also very proud that my work is on display in major museums in England and around the world.”
We asked Jens what he would select if he could only keep one piece from his workshop. “I might choose my 1/12th scale reproduction of a limited edition centrepiece by the Dutch-born English silversmith, Paul de Lamerie,” Jens says. “It is a large piece, impressive, and sophisticated in design.” Jens goes on to say that he finds great personal reward from what he can create in miniature. “Different from my previous life as a jewellery goldsmith, where the reward came from the beauty of the stones and the design.”
In looking ahead, Jens sees making more exciting pieces in his future and doing more miniature fairs. “As soon as our youngest child is a bit older, we look ahead to my wife being able to travel with me,” Jens says. “Hopefully, we can combine travelling abroad for shows with vacations. I am looking forward to that.”
When asked how he would like to be recalled in miniatures, Jens says in closing, “I would like to be remembered for being a good craftsman.”
If you are interested in silver and design, be certain to stop by Jens Torp’s table at an upcoming miniature fair or visit his website (Link opens in new window/tab). You will see exceptional handmade pieces.
Photography by Michael Puff
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