Torbjörn Tillander – the man behind the name

The legacy of Torbjörn Tillander lives on in his eponymous atelier. A pioneer of coloured gemstones, a visionary in his field – who exactly was Torbjörn Tillander?

“My father had a courageous take on design and a relentless work ethic” says Tina Tillander, Torbjörn’s daughter. “During the first ten years of running his own atelier, he didn’t have a single day of vacation. When leaving his island home and workshop for meetings with customers, he wore rubber boots and a suit – he had to push his boat off the shallow shore of the island. Through my father, I gained a love of gemstones at an early age, as he would give me broken gemstones to play with as a child.” Tina continues.

From family business to entrepreneurship

Torbjörn started his career as an apprentice at the family’s jewellery workshop on Aleksanterinkatu in central Helsinki, where he was taught by renowned goldsmith master Oskar Pihl. As a hard worker and a skilled goldsmith with a good eye for quality, he was soon promoted as head of the workshop, giving him more responsibility.

Driven by his dream of one day owning a jewellery store of his own, Torbjörn left the family company and started his own atelier in 1956. The first years were hard, as he literally had to start from scratch. Luckily Torbjörn had good friends, from whom he was able to get small loans to purchase material for his designs.

In the beginning of the 1960’s, Torbjörn met Paula, who came to play a big role in his life. They married in 1963 and spent the first years of their marriage on the island of Villinki, just outside Helsinki. His workshop was also located on the island – he would mostly come ashore for meetings with clients.

Paula quickly became a natural part of the family company, helping Torbjörn with customer service, threading pearls and later studying to become a gemmologist – all the while taking care of their small children. Finally, she became the gemstone specialist of the company. 

In his design, Torbjörn valued his own, bold style. The finish was always perfect, and he would candidly combine coloured gemstones. At that time, coloured gemstones were not commonly used, so you could say that Torbjörn introduced the use of coloured gemstones to the jewellery scene in Helsinki. “You always have to have that something extra, to keep your customers interested” is a piece of advice that has stuck with the current CEO and jewellery designer Tina Tillander.

Memories of my father

Tina Tillander remembers her father as a supportive, but demanding dad. She never felt she was being pressured to continue the family business, but she knew it was her father’s wish. Torbjörn encouraged his children to study languages, and through his good connections, Tina ended up studying gemmology in Germany, and later pearls in Japan. Torbjörn’s ability to tell captivating stories and provide his daughter with a tangible relationship with gemstones, gave the young girl the spark for the industry.

New generation

His lifelong dream of having his own boutique that specialises in gemstones and pearls in the heart of Helsinki was realised in 1985, when Torbjörn opened his shop on Kluuvikatu. As his daughters were taking on more responsibilities for running the business, Torbjörn started dreaming about the looming retirement days.

Towards the end of the 80’s, Torbjörn had fallen in love with New Zealand and visited the island state numerous times together with Paula. His dream was to spend the winters of his retirement there, sailing and enjoying the sea. During his years in Villinki, the sea had become very important to him.

 In 1990, Torbjörn fell suddenly ill and passed away one year later. His daughter Tina took over his role as head of the company – a role she still holds today. “My father gave me a strong example of entrepreneurship. Atelier Torbjörn Tillander is still known for its high-quality craftsmanship, personal service and the best possible materials. This is a legacy I want to cherish.”

Happy Father’s Day!