New Zealand: The Lord of the RingsJens Hansen: Makers of The One Ring
One of LOTR's truly big experiences is housed in a teeny, tiny space...
Upon entering the Jens Hansen shop and studio in the little South Island town of Nelson, New Zealand, just a few strides will take you from the door to the counter.
Though the shop might be small, it is certainly choc-full of beauty. Glass cabinets display the more contemporary jewellery that Jens Hansen was known for (before LOTR), while one wall is dedicated to the most popular of their products - 'the movie ring' collection.
Weather permitting, staff might let you take some outside photos with one of the large-scale versions of the ring used for extreme close-ups in The Fellowship of the Ring, and you can imagine yourself, Hobbit-sized, carting this beauty up the mountain to Mordor...
Pennie bowled in to Jens Hansen on a rainy day in June, 2017 to see Halfdan Hansen, the Managing Director of Jens Hansen.
Although I didn't call ahead, and despite the fact Halfdan had just toured a group of Lord of the Rings fans around the studio and had several appointments in the afternoon, this busy Manager took half an hour to have a chat about the Jens Hansen enterprise with me - one that he has essentially built up from his father's more contemporary and classic but relatively small-scale jewellery practice.
Upon meeting him, it's hard to imagine this man talking The Lord of the Rings. Halfdan must cut a stylish figure in sleepy Nelson. With his Salvador Dali moustache and Danish styling he’s like a paradise bird in a town of sparrows.
In the showroom he points out a case of Elven-engraved rings and pendants – these, he assures me, have a huge market. There is one collection known as the 'movie ring' collection, which has a simple and recognisable shape. These are customisable with Elvish (or any other) engravings. But there are also movie-prop replica rings available, made in association with Weta Workshop and Warner Brothers. Looking from one side of the shop to the other, there's quite a discrepancy - clearly the artistic origins of Jens Hansen's original business have come to be supported by this more commercial enterprise. It's a clever concept - and one that allows a small business in a rural town to survive.
Most film fans know the story about how Jens Hansen nearly turned down work on LOTR, famously deeming the ring 'too simple' to make. Yet few fans know that Jens Hansen is more well known in New Zealand art circles as one of the founding fathers of contemporary New Zealand jewellery and some of his more representative work is held by Te Papa, the National Museum of New Zealand.
Sadly, though Jens never lived to see his creation grace the silver screen, his sons Halfdan and Thorkild took over the family business. After The Lord of the Rings was released Halfdan describes "an avalanche of enquiries" coming their way. Part of this, he believes, is that the Jens Hansen brand has a genuine credibility - and I would agree. They are a small studio that use old-world skills to produce modern products, marketed cleverly via an internet shop that sells to the world.
Halfdan admits that the association with the films has been the biggest boon to the business that a retailer could possibly imagine. But it was also hard won - and continues to be. Jens Hansen's focus is on service and attention to detail and Halfdan is quick to point out that "yes, a person who orders one of our rings in New York has instant bragging rights due to our association with the films, but we're also providing a quality product. There's a real authenticity there, we're still a small second generation family business that doesn't compromise aesthetic values."
If you're passing through Nelson I recommend a trip to Jens Hansen - not just to see the famous 'movie ring' but to admire some of the more modern Scandanavian-inspired pieces.
If you're interested in visiting the Jens Hansen store in person you can find more information on their website. They have a beautiful Danish-style showroom and studio across the street from the outlet where you can sit comfortably and try on the jewellery.
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