She Took On Centuries Of Icelandic Tradition To Fulfill Her Dreams

Photo: Courtesy of Fríða Jónsdóttir.
The precipitous ridges that are her knuckles rise and fall as she grips the silver smudged tongs, swiftly and adroitly rotating her wrist. The gold clasp chinks into place and Fríða Jónsdóttir promptly flips the soldering gun off.

Jónsdóttir’s 51-year-old hands, coarse but strong, haven’t seen nail polish in three decades.

“I was always drawing and doing things with my hands,” explains Jónsdóttir, the daughter of a home builder and a postal worker. “I can’t figure things out until I can touch them, play with them, manipulate them.”

Jónsdóttir, a master goldsmith, is considered an elder stateswoman in the Icelandic goldsmith community. Her generation was the first to challenge the longstanding belief that the goldsmith profession was strictly a man’s work.

“It’s the fashion part that we like about it. The guys are more into the machines but I’m more old fashioned that way,” says blond-haired, blue-eyed Jónsdóttir.

Growing up in Reykjavík, Iceland’s capital city, Jónsdóttir knew as a teenager that she wanted to be a goldsmith. Her three brothers were already well on their way to following in the footsteps of their architect father.

At 24, she convinced a master goldsmith to take her under his tutelage. Like many Icelanders, she relocated to Copenhagen, Denmark, for her training. And, although, it would be 15 years until she opened the door to her first store, Jónsdóttir played by her own set of rules when it came to both her life and her jewelry.

“If you want to do something, own it. I think I did that,” says Jónsdóttir, the mother of two children, Sunneva and Axel. She worked from home until her son was 10, hosting annual exhibitions to present a year’s worth of rings, earrings, bracelets, and necklaces. Most years, she sold enough jewelry at that one show to support her burgeoning business for the following year, while her husband, Auðunn Árnason, supported the family with his restaurant, Kaenan.

Rather than relying on Icelandic folk art and traditional carvings for inspiration, as many of Reykjavík’s jewelry designers do, Jónsdóttir drew on childhood summers spent at her grandparents’ farm next to a creek called Trékyllisvík in Westfjords, roughly 220 miles northeast of Reykjavík.
Photo: Courtesy of Fríða Jónsdóttir.
There, Jónsdóttir watched her grandmother knit, splashed in the creek, and explored her grandfather’s barn — memories that inspired her "Knitting," "Bubble Seaweed," and "Acantus" collections.

In 2006, Árnason, sold his restaurant. Securing the capital they needed from its sale, the duo opened Fríða a year later in their hometown of Hafnarfjörður, 15 minutes outside of the capital. The shop, which Jónsdóttir’s and Árnason relocated to downtown Reykjavík in March 2015, has paid both of their salaries since its opening.

“I’m always looking at forms, playing with patterns in my mind,” exclaims Jónsdóttir, adding, “I’ve got a fire inside myself.”

Currently, Jónsdóttir is using a computer scanning program to perfect a seashell pattern she first created by hand.

“It took me a long time to graduate and a long time to open my store,” she says, adding, “everybody can do what they want to do; it’s about finding your own path, your own style.”

Read more about what makes Iceland so special in R29's The Places Every Woman Should Visit In 2016.

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