Sylvsmidja, leader in bunad silver, expanding to the US
Business & Sports Editor
The Norwegain American
Need your bunad silver repaired or polished? Or maybe you want something completely new? Or just want some high-end jewelry? Sylvsmidja, the premier producer of silver for bunads in Norway, is expanding into the United States.
Helping them make the smooth transition is the Business Accelerator Resource Network (BARN) at Norway House in Minneapolis. It may be coincidence that the acronym is the Norwegian word for child, as its goals are taking businesses from first steps to maturity.
BARN started in May 2020, when Britt DeLange Ardakani was hired as director of business outreach, working “part time with the Norwegian consulate (as vice consul) and part time with BARN.” Despite its own youth and the pandemic, BARN has been working with four food-production companies, a highly specialized civil-engineering firm, a company with a unique theme-park concept and a med-tech company. Rørosmeieriet (Røros Dairy), which makes an artisan butter, is scheduled to launch in November.
“BARN is the result of many years of Norwegian companies coming here asking for help,” said Ardakani. “We saw a need to formalize the way to help visitors and what BARN should be.”
The 81-year-old Sylvsmidja is the first company with a firmly established reputation in Norway to work with BARN. Sylvsmidja—translated as “silversmith”—owns 70% of the bunad silver market in Norway and employs 65 people. Leif Johannessen taught goldsmithing at the Bergen School of Arts and Crafts and briefly owned a workshop. When the Germans invaded in 1940, he took his wife, Betzy, and their five children to Voss.
“He thought by going to Voss they would escape the war and get away from the worst of the fighting,” said Ardakani. “When he got to Voss, he found that Voss had just been bombed. They still decided to stay and set up shop there in the middle of all the problems and succeeded. I think it started out as a repair shop. He was repairing all kinds of items.”
Leif and Betzy’s grandchildren now carry on the family tradition.
“Their silver is known for their beautiful craftsmanship and high quality, and it comes with a lifetime warranty,” said Ardakani. “With a lifetime warranty, you run out of market eventually. Instead of buying new all the time, you inherit your mother’s or grandmother’s jewelry. Sylvsmidja needed to look outside Norway to expand the markets. Of course, they looked to the United States with our very high Norwegian-American population.”
There are about 8 million people in the United States who identify as Norwegian Americans, almost 3 million more than Norwegians in Norway. Sylvsmidja is familiar with the regional outfits in 61 districts in Norway. The sylvsmidja.no website has dropdown menus for customers to select their district.
Sylvsmidja approached Ryan Marth, president of Norwegian American Chamber of Commerce North, who then approached BARN.
“When I was in Norway for my nephew’s wedding about a year and a half ago, I had the first meeting with them in Bergen and told them about BARN,” said Ardakani. “That was before [BARN] officially started. Sylvsmidja was very interested in joining the program.”
BARN set them up with mentors, who aided them in understanding how to enter the American market. As part of their MBA program, a group of students at Augsburg University in Minneapolis wrote a business plan for market entry and conducted market analysis for Sylvsmidja.
To generate interest in Sylvsmidja’s products, there is an exhibit at Norway House until Nov. 7. It opened Sept. 17 in conjunction with the groundbreaking for the expansion of Norway House.
“We had about 200 people for the groundbreaking events outside Norway House and I’d say most of them walked through the exhibit,” said Ardakani. “We also had samples from the four BARN food clients.
“It’s a poster exhibit of their silver jewelry, the traditional and also the Spor, which is more everyday jewelry inspired by bunad silver and Norwegian nature and mined and produced in Norway, just like their bunad silver. We have a lot of products, too, and a few pictures about the history of Sylvsmidja. We also have mannequins wearing a male and a female bunad with their silver on display. The male bunad is from Løten near Halden, almost by the Swedish border on the southeast part of the Oslo fjord. It belongs to our honorary consul general for Norway in Minnesota, Eivind Heiberg. The Hardanger bunad belongs to my daughter. I was wearing my own at the groundbreaking.”
There are earrings, brooches, hair clips and braids, necklaces, rings, cufflinks, and 17th of May ribbon pins. Ardakani says BARN, Sylvsmidja, and Norway House hope they can take the exhibit around the United States. While orders will be placed here, all production will be done back in Voss.
“The items will be made in Norway and shipped here,” said Ardakani, who said the projected opening is third quarter 2022. “They would like to have a sales representative here and possibly somebody to do maintenance and repairs, in time, but, that has yet to be determined. It’s very specialized work, so it would be difficult to duplicate the production here. Everything is handmade by highly skilled professional silversmiths. It’s very labor-intensive. It depends on the size of the sølje. Some of those pins are made out of 500 or more tiny little pieces that need to be put together.”
Each item produced is topped off with the drinking horn in the shape of a J, the company’s mark of excellence, as Sylvsmidja keeps it commitment to quality and tradition with a keen eye toward the future.
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 8, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.