It was early 2020: the deadly coronavirus was spreading around the globe, shutting down entire cities and forcing people inside their homes – and in Stockholm, Sweden, newly graduated sommelier Yamit Viitaoja was sick.
“I sat home and was ill for months,” she said.
Like so many people would do over the next two years, Viitaoja found herself turning to jigsaw puzzles.
And like so many others, she soon discovered that the world of jigsaw puzzles was full of cheap and boring options, made from flimsy cardboard, and could be completed in no time.
“I didn’t find the puzzles smart enough, nor beautiful enough, to sit with for eight or ten hours,” she said.
“I think the puzzle should be worth the time.”
Back then Viitaoja had no idea that, fast-forward to 2022, she would be the founder of an international jigsaw company, renowned for its high-end luxury products, loved by both jigsaw aficionados and casual puzzlers who understand that a puzzle should be a beautiful, sensory delight.
“I just decided to create puzzles for myself and put all the sommelier knowledge I recently gathered into a beautiful, high-quality puzzle,” she said.
By June 2020, she launched Water & Wines, a stunning jigsaw puzzle range which are favourites among Paper Republic customers and feature hand-drawn art based on the world of wine.
Puzzles with a point of difference
For Viitaoja, starting Water & Wines with her friend Mathilde Iwar was a journey through unchartered territory.
“It was never meant to be a company,” she said.
“The puzzles were made for myself. It took several of months to create the first three editions: France, Italy and Spain. I had never done anything like that before, but what you don’t know, you learn.”
While the concept of jigsaw puzzles featuring wine tapped into her knowledge and passion as a sommelier, Water & Wines also embraces another concept dear to Viitaoja: female empowerment.
“It is very important for me to support women. My former company, International Women Group, was a network where we created opportunities for women to grow in every aspect of their career. That will always be close to my heart,” she said.
Also important to Water & Wines is environmental sustainability. All their puzzles are compliant with the toughest European Union environmental standards and are created from local recycled paper.
“We try to use trucks or railroads before shipping on planes – the delivery takes longer, but it’s more environmentally friendly,” Viitaoja said.
Creating ‘playful, beautiful art’
While Water & Wines’ customers appreciate the ethical credentials of their jigsaw puzzles, what usually first catches their eyes are the distinctive bright, colourful illustrations, bursting with life and wit, and full of captivating characters.
Viitaoja said that aspect of the brand has its roots back in the early days of her own puzzle-making experiences.
“I honestly found so many puzzles so dull,” she said.
“I wanted to create playful, beautiful art that you could hang on the wall but also enjoy doing for so many hours. I wanted each piece to be filled with joy.
“My inspiration comes from the Hermes scarves. They are playful, colourful and made with the highest quality and can last for a lifetime.”
The joy of assembling a puzzle
According to Viitaoja, Water & Wines’s jigsaw puzzles make a perfect gift that provides hours of happiness.
“It’s a mindful gift, that is high quality, that can be enjoyed together or alone. It is teaching you about the world of wine and geography. It’s beautiful and playful,” she said.
Every Water & Wine’s jigsaw, she said, captures the company motto: joy.
“Joy represents love for me, and I wish to share it,” she said.
“The joy of assembling a puzzle gave me the strength to recover from my sickness. It is a gift to be in the moment. Time for reflection and memories. I wish that for everyone.”
The Water & Wines puzzle range is sold at Paper Republic and makes for an exquisite gift. Shop the collection here.
All images courtesy of Water & Wines.