Sunday-Star Times Newspaper
09 July 2006
PRECIOUS PIECE: Halfdan Hansen's company, which is building on the fame of making rings for Lord of the Rings, is now working on the new NPC trophy.
EVAN BARNES/Sunday Star-Times
It will hold three litres of liquid and have wings that double as handles - such are the specifications of the new NPC rugby trophy to be unveiled this week.
The winning team in the Air New Zealand Cup will no doubt take full advantage of those features - a more functional design than the Super 14 trophy won by the Crusaders in May.
Both pieces of silverware are the product of Nelson gold and silversmith Jens Hansen, maker of the famous gold ring featured in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
The firm is now owned by the late Jens Hansen's sons, Thorkild and Halfdan.
Thorkild is the craftsman, Halfdan the businessman - an electrical engineer who returned from a career overseas with oil industry giant Schlumberger to run the commercial side of the business.
The commission for the Air NZ Cup began a year ago and late last week the silver chalice was still undergoing the finishing touches. It's a big project for Jens Hansen, but the money is not the motivation.
"These trophies for the rugby union, they are well into five figures but they are very labour intensive. It's more for the prestige."
The Hansens know the value of a good reputation.
Their father was a long-time friend of jeweller Michael Hill and sold some products through the retail chain. "The guys here worked really hard producing volume," Halfdan said, "but the margins were low".
Greater rewards were in producing hand-crafted quality products, sold through the family shop in Nelson.
And then there was the commission for Lord of the Rings, bringing such fame that a Google search for Jens Hansen brings them up as number one, despite the name being the Danish equivalent of John Smith.
"I don't know that we want to become the people known as the trophy makers or the movie prop people," Halfdan said. "But why fight it? We made the world's most famous ring. It gives instant credibility."
Along with the movie came a lively market in replica rings, particularly from overseas. "The peak would have been a year or two ago," Halfdan said. "It would be fair to say our turnover tripled or quadrupled and it's all gone to the bottom line, which has allowed us to invest in equipment and advertising."
The worry was that business would sag as the Rings frenzy died away, but the high plateau has been maintained with special commissions and higher priced items.
Now the brothers are thinking about how to expand without compromising the craftsman ethic. Halfdan sees scope for a bigger shop in Nelson, or a second shop in another location within two years. "We'd like to be in Queenstown," he said.