I was perched on the settee in the Saks Fifth Avenue jewelry department, focusing every fiber of my self awareness on perfecting my posture. Tiny, gold-dusted cupcakes taunted me, beside my flute of bubbles. This is what a luxury brand store appearance looks like. To welcome Gurhan it seemed everything had been gilded, right down to the doggy treat atop a little silk cushion. Famed for his handmade 24 karat gold accessories, all the pomp was fitting. I expected the celebrity jewelry designer to enter the room with a flourish, maybe trailed by the toy dog the little silk pillow bone was meant for. What I didn’t expect was the man who greeted me, with a warm smile and happy eyes. “I’m Gurhan,” he said in a velvety Turkish accent, enveloping my hand in his. He had on about 5 rings to my one, but somehow it worked.
Check out what we talked about.
Gabrielle: Why gold?
Gurhan: It’s not just gold, it’s pure gold, and the only reason I started making jewelry. I was working with watches at the time, converting pocket watches to wrist ones, things like that. I came across my first piece of 24 karat gold in Istanbul in 1994 and I fell in love, so much that I still carry it with me. He pulled a business card-sized piece of gold out of his wallet, it looked and felt like really stiff, gold-toned foil. It’s both softer and heavier than other metals, melts at a high temperature.
Gabrielle: Which came first, fame or celebrity clients?
Gurhan: Celebrity clients. I’ll never know how she came to own a piece of my jewelry but one day I opened my office door to find a magazine shoved under the door, with Angelina Jolie on the cover. She was wearing a Gurhan piece.
Gabrielle: What advice do you have for a small jewelry designer with aspirations to sell at a luxury retailer like Saks?
Gurhan: If you want to sell at Saks, you can forget about being small. I have three or four people on my staff who deal with the Saks account alone. I’m lucky because my wife takes care of the business side for me so I can still be creative, but if someone just really loves making jewelry, perhaps it’s a better idea to just say small. Once you start growing, there’s no looking back, and it becomes more a commercial art than just art. You have to keep selling to be able to make more.
Gabrielle: With so much success, how do you maintain such a high level of involvement in production?
Gurhan: Since my wife takes care of the business side and I hired a production team, I can still manage to make all of the prototypes, but it’s getting to the point where I’ll have to hire a design team, although they won’t come from outside. It takes a long time to get the hang of my technique, so the design team will be the people who’ve worked with me for a long time already.
Gabrielle: Your designs are decidedly subtle. What sets you apart from other designers?
Gurhan: I make an effort not to examine what else is out there, because I don’t want to risk my sub-conscious mimicking it. When I began I wasn’t schooled in the established technique of working with gold, so I developed my own, maybe that’s why it looks different. But it makes it impossible to outsource anything, no one knows how to get the same look.