The Finishing Touch Vintage Jewelry: Solje - The Traditional Jewelry of Norway
inOctober 14, 2009 - 10:13am
Solje is a style of jewelry which is considered the traditional national jewelry of the Scandinavian country Norway. The jewelry normally consists of a setting of sterling silver, or 800 silver, from which hang small round or oval tear shaped "spoons" in either silver or gold metal. The background piece will often have an interesting design, such as a crown top, or a scalloped edge design. The piece normally has a repoussé finish which has been hammered from the back to give great detail. Many pieces are also highly filigreed.
Most Solje jewelry is hallmarked. Many of the pieces are marked 830s, or 830s Norway which is a hallmark for the metal content (similar to 925 for sterling silver). Occasionally, I have seen 925s as the marking, but the 800 numbers are more common in Europe. Each region of Norway has its own style of Solje.
Solje pieces were used, at one time, to add embellishments to the traditional Norwegian costumes, which are called Bunads. Even today, the Norwegians will wear Bunads for celebrations. The Solje pieces were meant to represent the sun, and were worn on the collars and cuffs of the brunds, normally as brooches or pins.
It was not unusual for a Norwegian woman to wear three pieces of this jewelry at once - one at her throat, one over her heart and another at the bodice opening. This tradition of wearing multiple pieces gave the finished garment a unique look. The art of solje jewelry making has evolved over time so that one can now find earrings, necklaces and other pieces of jewelry in the Solje style.
Pieces of Solje jewelry were often given as wedding presents, for Christenings, birthdays and other special occasions, etc. The size of the piece of jewelry is a good indication of the use that it may have had. Smaller pieces up to about 1" in size, such as the circle brooch shown here, were probably given as gifts to babies and children. According to Norwegian folklore, a child wearing silver was protected from harm, so these small brooches were often given as Christening gifts. Folklore even states that the metal content in the Solje piece was meant to "ward off trolls."
Larger pieces were more likely worn by women. It is quite normal for a bride in Norway to receive a piece of heirloom Sojle jewelry to wear on her wedding day, in much the same way as our brides wear "something borrowed." Solje jewelry was not only worn by women and children. Men also used the pieces, often as buckles for their shoes.
Since Solje jewelry is traditionally made from silver, so it will tarnish over time - sometimes quite heavily, although this gives it an aged patina that many vintage jewelry collectors appreciate. This is an example of a piece of solje jewelry with a very dark silver patina. The tarnish is so strong that, at first, I couldn't make out the 830s mark on the back of the piece. Notice how the setting has much more of a patina than the "spoons." This seems to be the case on most of the Solje jewelry that I find in estate collections that I purchase.
Some care in storage and cleaning will be required if you wish to keep Solje jewelry looking fine. The first step in the procedure is storing your Solje jewelry in the original box if possible. If the original box is not available, then store the piece in anti-tarnish paper, bag or cloth and place in an air tight container such as a zip lock bag, to reduce tarnishing.
I have read many articles discussing the polishing of Solje jewelry and most of them recommend a silver dip. I don't believe this is a good idea, since these are often very harsh and the settings of Solje jewelry can be quite delicate. My advice is to use sunshine cloths if the tarnish is not too great, or a cream style of silver cleaner and a soft, clean cloth, such as a piece from an old soft cotton T shirt. My favorite polish for cleaning sterling is, oddly enough, Wright's copper polish, not their silver product. It cleans beaultifully and doesn't seem to be abrasive at all.
If your piece of Solje jewelry becomes dirty over time, a gentle soak in a mild detergent and warm water should do just fine. Be sure to dry it thoroughly before storing the piece, since the repoussé finish will hold water well. As with all jewelry, when you wear your Solje jewelry, put it on after using hairspray or perfume and this will decrease the likelihood of tarnish. With a bit of care, you should be able to keep your Solje jewelry looking good for years to come.
Carol Speake of The Finishing Touch Vintage Jewelry