Jens Hansen


Jens HansenJens Hansen. Photo by Mr Jan Zeman (supplied by the Hansen family)
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“Nihil sine labore" was the Latin motto inscribed on the road sign outside renowned jeweller Jens Hansen’s first Nelson workshop in Alton St, which opened in November, 1968.   

Jens and Gurli Hansen had moved to Nelson with their young son Halfdan in August of the same year and had immediately begun renovating their villa home to include a jewellery workshop.  Word soon spread; an edgy larger-than-life Dane had moved to town and was producing jewellery not seen before in the top-of-the South Island.  People came in off the street to watch and talk with the Hansens, impressed with the untraditional, experimental work being produced, and proud to be the few to wear New Zealand-made jewellery at the time.  

Soon, with apprentices and assistants on board to keep up with the nationwide orders Gurli sought, and the growing local demand, the workshop moved to Hardy St, and later to its current location on the corners of Selwyn Place and Trafalgar Square.  Jens’ talent, energy, enthusiasm, and outspoken personality made the Jens Hansen workshop a place where artisans from all over the world came to learn about the craft, and experience Nelson culture, Jens Hansen style. Over the years, jewellers based at the workshop included Jens and Gurli Hansen, Max Coote, Peter Woods, John Sheehan, Julie Vine, Gavin Hitchings, Jeremy Lackner, Peter McKay, Stephen McQueen, Megan Young, Ray Mitchell, Jens’ son Thorkild, and sometimes Warwick Freeman based himself there. 

Jens Hansen at workJens Hansen at work. Photo by Peter Cape (supplied by the Hansen family)
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Even though his fame as the grandfather of modern New Zealand jewellery was consolidated in Nelson, Jens began his career with a traditional jewellery apprenticeship in Auckland. This was followed by a period of time in Copenhagen, Denmark, studying night classes at the School of Applied Arts & Industrial design, and working at Michelsen’s, the Court Jewellers, and the small Borup workshop between 1962 and 1965. He returned to New Zealand in 1965 with Gurli and worked at A. Kohn Jeweller in Auckland and studied sculpture with Jim Allen.  In 1966 the Hansens started their first jewellery business, with Gurli initially selling pieces at Auckland’s Danske Mobler and to craft shops around the country, before they moved to Nelson two years later.

Jens received a Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council travel grant to work at the Goldsmiths High School, Copenhagen, in 1975 and here, in his home country, he was once again inspired.  Its simple and yet grand architecture and centuries old art guilds, left an indelible mark on Jens’ style; many of his jewellery pieces can be described as miniature architectural sculptures – pieces made with beautiful lines and generous forms. 

Halfdan and Thorkild HansenHalfdan and Thorkild Hansen (2005) by Daniel Allen
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His most famous commission was the 'One Ring' for The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, which appeared throughout the films. The workshop’s reputation also secured high profile commissions such as rugby’s Super 14 Trophy and Air New Zealand Cup. 

He was eternally passionate about gold and silversmithing, and was keen to ensure the crafts’ survival, both as a hobby for some and as a commercial reality for others.  He was the founding member of Details - the Jewellers, Bone and Stone Carvers of New Zealand and he ran summer art and metal work classes at the NMIT for many years in the 1970s and 1980s. With fellow jeweller Gavin Hitchings he helped establish the NMIT’s jewellery classes. 

After Jens died in 1999 his sons Thorkild and Halfdan took on the business, continuing the family legacy. In 2008, to celebrate 40 years in Nelson, a 40th Anniversary legacy collection of original pieces was re-released - authentic designs recreated from Jens’ original production notes, each bearing a special edition hallmark. Today, a selection of his works is celebrated in the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa’s permanent collection.  


Updated: April 2020

Sources used in this story

  • Blumhardt, D. & Brake, B. (1981) Craft New Zealand, the art of the craftsman. Wellington : AH & AW Reed Ltd , pg 152,153
  • Cape, P. (1969) Artists & Craftsmen in New Zealand. Auckland : Collins Bros & Co Ltd, pg 141-146
  • Cape, P. (1980) Please Touch, A Survey of the three dimensional arts in New Zealand. Auckland : William Collins Publishers Ltd, pg 70,71 
  • Hansen family (2009) personal comments
  • Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatu (2000) The Jeweller's Mark: The Jens Hansen Workshop Story. Nelson [N.Z.] : The Suter

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Further sources - Jens Hansen



  • Bassant, B. (1986) Pakohe. New Zealand Crafts,16, p.16-20
  • Exhibition dedicated to Jens Hansen (2001, August 30) Leader
  • Gibbs, P. (2000, April 7) Jens Hansen: artist, friend remembered. Nelson Mail, 13
  • Gibbs, P. (1988) Jens Hansen, jeweller. New Zealand Crafts. n.25, p.14-15
  • Jeweller Jens Hansen dies (1999, August 11) Nelson Mail, 3
  • PM mourns jeweller (1999, August 12) The Dominion,  6
  • Ridout, A (2018, July 28)  Jeweller's legacy goes beyond movie fame. Nelson Mail on Stuff:
  • Taylor, J. (2000) Jens Hansen story. Object. 4, p.30-33


  • Hansen family (2009) personal comments

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