By Henrik KIHLMAN
The Åland islands, situated right between Finland and Sweden offers a tourist the most beautiful piece of archipelago the Baltic has to offer but it is also known for its shipping industry. Before the second world war it hosted the world´s largest commercial sailing ship fleet that would carry wheat from Australia and guano from Chile back to Europe. This seemingly remote location was definitely connected to the big world at an early stage. Its enterprising people are still known for their diligence and has the highest employment rate in Finland. Among these thriving companies we find a local goldsmith company Guldviva, founded and run by goldsmith Maria Karlström.
WORKSHOP IN THE SEA QUARTERS
Walking the shore of the east harbour in Mariehamn (Capital of Åland) you will find the idyllic sea quarters hosting traditional boatyards, souvenir shops and restaurants. In one of the traditional red buildings, you find an inviting glass door that leads you in to a tastefully decorated jewellers´ shop and studio where you, apart from shopping, also can see the jewellery being made on site. The Guldviva company was founded in 1989 as a small showroom in an old sawmill in Mariehamn. Maria had trained to become a goldsmith as an apprentice in the workshop of the highly skilled master goldsmith Kaj Rinman. Right from the start Maria has been open to new methods of enterprising and from the beginning utilized the new technology available to start a web shop on the side to enhance the sales. When the millennium changed the year 2000 the company moved down to the sea quarters in the east harbour. At first, they shared the premises with a cafeteria. The concept of a jewellery cafeteria was very successful and attracted a lot of customers. In fact, the location was so attractive that Maria decided to purchase an old fish smokery, renovate it and set up her shop permanently.
DEVELOPMENT THROUGH DETERMINATION
In the spring of 2018, the business had grown to the point that a decision to enlarge the shop was made and a brand-new annex was built in connection with the old shop. This finally gave enough space to fulfill a dream of an own flagship store decorated in our own style and to have the workshop, behind a glass wall, open for customers to see how the jewellery is being made. The road to this point of success hasn´t always been easy. It has taken a huge amount of work, stubbornness, sleepless nights and worries about the future. Coming from a family of entrepreneurs Maria has a strong will and the belief in success. If you are determined in your beliefs and work hard for your goals, there are no limits. A company is a little bit like a child. You can´t leave It alone and it needs nourishing all the time whatever the situation might be. After ten years of running her business Maria noticed that things had developed, and the business started to be quite successful. It was time to elaborate new ideas, designs and stories. There was no time for subcontracting and repairs anymore so this bit of the work pallet came to an end. Now all focus was put to develop her own brand.
MOST SUCCESSFUL DESIGNS
The concept was easily found in the nearby surroundings. The archipelago generates easily topics originating from nature, boats, fish and the sea that are inspiring the design. The familiar topics are popular with the customers and have had a good success. Timeless and simple is Maria´s motto. The signature piece of jewellery for Guldviva has always been the “Blomman (Flower)”. A piece that is very familiar but yet unknown. Almost everybody that has travelled on the Viking Line ferries between Finland and Sweden has come across the “Blomman” in the tax-free shops from where it has spread widely. - Another hit has been the “Angel”. It was from the beginning meant to be a Christmas product but it´s popularity took us by surprise, and it became our other permanent hit product, says Maria. As a symbol it is appropriate for so many occasions and it carries so much positive symbolism.
WORTHY OF A PRINCESS
-When I heard that the crown princess Victoria of Sweden was about to visit Åland I sent the royal court a couple of pieces and a letter where I explained about crafts and culture on Åland. Before the princesses’ visit, I received a thank you note court. Dream of my surprise when the princess exited the plane, and she was wearing the “Blomman” necklace. That was a proud moment. Apparently, she likes the necklace since she has been seen wearing it at several different occasions. It gives me great pleasure to state that we have been able to establish a local jewellery production that reflects our heritage and culture here on this little island. After a rough initial stage, we are now on a solid ground and our capacity of handmade jewellery already exceeds 10.000 pieces per year.
PRESERVING THE TRADITION
In the shop there is a corner decorated as an old goldsmith’s shop. Maria has actively collected memorabilia from old goldsmiths’ workshops and shops. This gives the new shop a warm and welcoming ambience and the workshop an aura of tradition. - By showing and using these old furniture and tools want to be able to pass on the Ålandic tradition of goldsmithing to my customers and also to a younger generation. For me this is an important cultural deed. It seems like Guldviva has achieved what many small entrepreneurs only dreams of. So, when I ask Maria what more she could wish for she smiles and says – After 30 years of building a working concept it would be nice to expand and find serious retailers that see potential in our concept outside Åland.