Torun Bülow-Hübe was an innovative silversmith. She created a new style and was hugely important for Swedish jewellery design during the 1950s. Torun Bülow-Hübe was one of the first female silversmiths to gain international acclaim.
Torun Bülow-Hübe was born in Malmö in 1927. She was the fourth child of urban planner Erik Bülow-Hübe and the sculptor Runa Ekwall. Her maternal grandparents were the painter Knut Ekwall from Düsseldorf and his German chamber singer wife. Torun Bülow-Hübe married three times and had four children in total.
After completing her education at an all-girl’s school Torun Bülow-Hübe enrolled at Konstfackskolan (University College of Arts, Crafts and Design) in Stockholm. She was expecting a child with Richard Østerman at the time. Østerman was a young Danish resistance fighter, who was studying to become a journalist. Although they got married they never lived together. In early 1946 Torun gave birth to a daughter. Studying while also being mother to a new-born was very demanding. In order to provide for herself and her child she would model after school, sold breast milk and also began to create necklaces out of simple and cheap material. Torun Bülow-Hübe would often sit in Humlegården park in Östermalm with her daughter and make necklaces out of entwined brass wire and cane fibres, taking her inspiration from ancient and foreign cultures. The jewellery was sold by Estrid Ericson at Svenskt Tenn AB.
In 1948, aged 20, Torun Bülow-Hübe made her jewellery debut at Galleri Aesthetica in Stockholm with what she herself described as “anti-status jewellery” appropriate for the smooth black knitwear which was popular at the time. She felt it was time that women began to choose their own jewellery and stopped serving as display units for men’s status symbols in the form of jewellery made from noble metals with real gemstones and pearls. Her jewellery was perceived as different and embodying a new sculptured perspective, with sweeping lines and new materials.
Torun Bülow-Hübe had already during her years at university opened her own smith’s workshop in a small laundrette, where she mass-produced wooden necklaces. Her neck circlets, usually made of brass, were adorned with abstract pendants made out of various types of wood. During the 1950s she began to work with silver. Torun Bülow-Hübe also spent time as a special student of Evald Hald at Orrefors, where he gave her polished graal glass, which she used in her artwork. It was these silver necklaces, decorated with glass, which garnered most attention in her exhibition at Galleri Blanche in 1951. That year she also exhibited her jewellery at NK in Stockholm. Still young, Torun Bülow-Hübe, having found a method which tied into the avant-garde, modelled her own jewels for many years. She was often photographed and hundreds of articles were written about her in magazines such as Svensk Damtidning, Elle, and Star Weekly Magazine.
In 1956 Torun Bülow-Hübe and her three children and her third husband, Walter Coleman (an African-American artist) moved to Paris where they lived for two years. They mainly socialised in the jazz circles and Torun Bülow-Hübe became good friends with Billie Holiday. She created entire jewellery outfits which Billie would wear when performing. Other famous wearers of Torun Bülow-Hübe’s creations were Brigitte Bardot, Juliette Greco, Oona Chaplin and Ingrid Bergman.
The family then moved to Biot on the French Riviera, a place Torun Bülow-Hübe had already visited in 1948. She had then met the artist Pablo Picasso when she was out collecting pebbles on the beach. She used these pebbles in detachable pendants for stiff, plain silver necklaces, which became somewhat of a trademark of hers. From 1958 to 1960 Torun Bülow-Hübe displayed her jewels at the Picasso museum in Antibes, France. Swedish silversmiths came to visit her at her Biot workshop, including Ove U Bohlin and Bengt Liljedahl, with whom she collaborated. She received major commissions and also took on French youth as apprentices.
In 1959 Torun Bülow-Hübe launched a necklace which was a wearable piece of sculpture. It was of forged silver, which accentuated the shoulders and the neck, and a drop-shaped gem of rock crystal. She won the gold medal for this creation at the Triennale in Milano in 1960. That same year she was awarded the Lunning prize which was given to prominent young Scandinavian designers and craftspeople.
Torun Bülow-Hübe was the only craftsperson to be invited to participate in a themed exhibition at Musée des Arts Décoratifs at the Louvre in 1962. All the invited well-known artists, such as Salvador Dali, Alexander Calder and Pablo Picasso, were asked to make something they did not like. As Torun Bülow-Hübe did not like time she designed a watch with an open watchstrap and a mirror-like watch face with no digits. The open-ended watchstrap meant that the wearer was not imprisoned by time, while the second hand on the otherwise empty watch face, which reflected the wearer, created an awareness of the present. When this so-called Vivianna watch went into production at Georg Jensen Silver in 1967 it was provided with a minute and an hour hand. This simple watch, the first of its kind, became famous and frequently copied.
The first ring Torun Bülow-Hübe created was her own wedding ring. She used the Möbius strip to create a silver infinity shape. She felt it symbolised eternal love. During the 1960s she further developed the Möbius strip and used it for single-surfaced single-edged rings, bracelets, and necklaces. The Möbius strip, the infinity shape and the closed loop or spiral were all shapes she continued to develop and perfect.
In 1965 Torun Bülow-Hübe moved to Jakarta in Indonesia, a place she had previously visited during a project with Dansk International Designs based in New York. In Jakarta she worked as a design consultant for an Indonesian social foundation with ties to the Subud movement and also had her own workshop. Local youth were employed at the workshop as apprentices. She used local material in her new jewellery whilst also creating prototypes for Georg Jensen Silver. When she was diagnosed with leukaemia, Torun Bülow-Hübe moved to Copenhagen in 2002 to live with her daughter Marcia.
Torun Bülow-Hübe was awarded a range of distinctions such as the Prince Eugen medal in 1992, and the Design Plus Award at Frankfurt-am-Main in 1998. She was made honorary citizen of Biot in 1996.
Torun Bülow-Hübe died in Copenhagen in 2004. She is buried at Blåvik cemetery in Östergötland.