Gustavsberg, the home of Swedish Porcelain

East of Stockholm city, out on the Swedish Archipelago is the municipality of Värmdö, easily one of the most beautiful municipalities in all of Stockholm especially because it is made up of relatively unspoiled natural beauty and has some of the most amazing waterfront properties in all of Stockholm (especially in the Björnö Nature Reserve).

Värmdö was first settled in the stone age although Värmdö’s recent history dates back to 1850, when the invention of steam ships brought wealthy Stockholmers here to set up their summer houses. Then as now though, Värmdö has always had a small resident population with some 40,000 people calling this place home. For many Stockholmers, Värmdö is still a district near town where they have summer houses (others include Trosa, Sigtuna and Vaxholm).

But for the locals who call Värmdö home, the majority of them stay in the administrative centre, Gustavsberg which was brought to prominence by a single company – Gustavsberg Porcelain. Porcelain was brought into Europe through trade with China and was all the rage beginning in the 16th century. What made porcelain special was the material that was used, something no one in Europe had seen before. Porcelain is a ceramic made by heating certain materials and minerals in high heat and can be divided into three broad types: bone China, hard paste and soft paste.

While used as crockery in China, the intricate art work and artisanal craftsmanship meant that anyone who was anyone would have a room full of artisan, one-of-a-kind porcelain pieces. By the 18th century, the middle classes too got into the game. There was a huge demand for porcelain and ceramics in Europe and all that was needed was supply.

While the initial works all came from China, enterprising businessmen soon realised that the desire for these beautiful porcelain could be fulfilled by local makers, especially those who cannot afford porcelain direct from China. Just like that, porcelain companies sprouted all over Europe. For a long time, these companies did not have the technical know how of how to create high quality porcelain (hard-paste, which was what Chinese porcelain was made of), and whoever had a method would jealously guard that trade secret.

For this reason European companies developed soft-paste porcelain which matched Chinese hard-paste porcelain in translucency but not in strength.

Gustavsberg Porcelain, created in 1826 was Sweden’s pride and joy brand, with their products sold nationally and internationally. The cream of their products however was the Nobel Porcelain, a special set of porcelain made for the Nobel dinner at the city hall in 1994. However the company shut down in the 1990s and sold off piece of the company in parts leaving merely a museum as the remnant of the town’s glorious past.

There are however artisans that who continue to produce ceramic products in the Gustavsberg tradition and still sell these rather elegant items at the various workshops.

While the porcelain factory of Gustavsberg is no more, it still remains and retains the spiritual centre of porcelain-making in Sweden, and these works are really quite beautiful.



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