By Åse Anderson
“I remember the very first time I held a piece of 24ct gold. Immediately I was captivated by its depth and warmth,” reflects Gurhan Orhan - founder of Gurhan jewellery - on the moment that ignited his passion for this most precious of metals. It was during a trip to Istanbul in the early 1990s that he was handed the sheet of pure gold that changed the course of his future.
In 1994, at the age of 40, Gurhan launched his first pieces of jewellery crafted from 24ct gold, defying the doubts of local artisans who had long rejected the material for being too soft and heavy. Dismissing modern technology in favour of ancient goldsmithing techniques, Gurhan created a distinctive fine jewellery collection, which he sold from a small shop in the Turkish seaside resort of Bodrum. It was here that his work caught the eye of investment banker Fiona Tilley, now Gurhan’s wife and business partner, and it was she who convinced him to launch in the US.
The 24ct gold jewellery, complete with fingerprints left on the metal by Gurhan himself, was an instant hit in America, with Barneys New York being one of the first stores to snap up his collection. Now dividing his time between New York and Istanbul, Gurhan counts famous faces such as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former first lady Laura Bush and actress Angelina Jolie among his fans.
Gurhan’s work has also featured in the TV show Sex and the City, as well as scooping numerous awards, including the Best in Gold Retailers Choice in 2009. However, the story of the designer’s journey into this precious world is almost as beguiling as his sumptuous jewels.
Born in Ankara, Turkey, the young Gurhan loved tinkering and could often be found taking various household electronics apart before piecing them back together. After studying Mathematics and Business at university, he worked in sound engineering and also owned a number of nightclubs and bars in Ankara and Istanbul. Despite being elevated to something of a local nightlife celebrity, Gurhan’s childhood fascination with tinkering continued to exert its pull. In the late 1980s he moved to Switzerland, where he trained in watchmaking and restored old fob watches into works of art.
While many jewellers shy away from using 24ct gold, Gurhan has developed an approach that blends ancient techniques with his own proprietary methods. First, the gold is heated to 800 degrees so it becomes soft and pliable; then, once the final design has been shaped, the metal is hammered to harden it and then placed in an oven at 350-400 degrees for up to 36 hours. Gurhan has also recently started cutting his own coloured gemstones, which he sources almost exclusively from New York or Tucson. “I am attracted to a stone’s shape and colour and, most importantly, the energy. I believe in a stone’s power and magic.”
All Gurhan jewellery is handmade in the brand’s Istanbul workshop by highly trained craftsmen, many of whom have been with the company since the very beginning. Gurhan says: “Rather than staff our shop with jewellers who may have preconceived notions about manufacturing, we prefer to hire goldsmiths who have limited or no jewellery experience whatsoever. We then train them in our own unique methods of crafting jewellery based on the artistry of ancient goldsmiths.”
Layering the yellow gold with silver has become one of Gurhan’s signature looks, with the two metal tones complementing each other in pieces such as the double drop earrings from the Willow collection and the three-strand necklace from the Jordan collection. “The warm glow of the gold looks beautiful against the cool hue of silver,” enthuses Gurhan, adding that his clients also enjoy the versatility of being able to combine the pieces with their existing gold or silver jewellery.
There is, he says, no typical “Gurhan woman”. Rather, the brand appeals to confident and fashion-forward types with an eye for detail and who appreciate the quality and uniqueness of Gurhan jewellery. With retailers in more than 15 different countries, including Harvey Nichols, Liberty of London and Selfridges in the UK, Gurhan continues to expand his business internationally.
Wherever the future takes him, you can be sure that Gurhan will continue to abide by his motto of “designing and creating jewellery for today’s woman that looks distinctive and feels special”.