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Gurhan is the latest designer to move behind the camera by beginning to shoot his company’s advertising campaigns.
“I’ve been practicing photography since the beginning out of necessity, now it’s a hobby,” said Gurhan, who goes by only one name and will introduce a new campaign that he photographed himself this fall.
Above photography however, the fine jewelry designer, a native of Ankara, Turkey, has had a love for jewelry since seeing a sheet of pure 24-karat gold at a Turkish souk in 1994.
“I fell in love with it,” said Gurhan, while toying with the piece in his hand.
He carries it with him everywhere, melding and bending it until it gets so damaged that he has to melt it and make it again. “I’ve seen other gold, but none like this,” he said.
Gurhan then began to make pieces, with no training in metalsmithing or sculpting. He studied ancient techniques of jewelry making and soon developed a signature of hammering. While alloys of 24-karat gold are typically used in contemporary jewelry, Gurhan soon developed a signature of hammering the metal. The hammering not only led to a distinctive look, but it caused the piece of jewelry to be harder than most pure gold.
“It’s a very sensual inspiration,” said Gurhan of his designs. “There’s also a technical inspiration with architectural thinking.”
The business took off when Gurhan, who was then selling piece by piece in small Turkish shops, was approached by Wall Street executive Fiona Tilley, who was vacationing and purchased several pieces on her holiday. Tilley was so moved, professionally and personally, that she partnered with Gurhan in growing his business. The two now reside in New York, where the company is based. The firm employs 40 people in the U.S. and more than 100 people in Istanbul, where most production for Gurhan and where European and Russian sales take place. Each piece is handmade and has a historical feel.
“I feel like a designer rather than a goldsmith,” said Gurhan. “My styles are more Roman and Greek and Byzantine. We behave more like a fashion company. I follow forecasts, colors, collections, everything.”
The company produces 400 to 650 pieces twice a year. The gold line is the main one and features precious and colored gemstones. It retails from $1,000 for a pair of small earrings to $100,000 for an elaborate diamond and gemstone necklace. There is also a platinum collection and a line of oxidized silver with gold that retails for $300 to $6,000. Gurhan also creates several limited edition collections each year based on things he collects, such as antique micro mosaics, coins or Egyptian scarabs.
The new advertising campaign is a departure for Gurhan, showing vignettes from the collection. The campaign will bow in October and November issues of Elle, Harper’s Bazaar and W.
“This jewelry is not a commodity,” said Tilley. “It comes out of his hand. Who better than him to shoot it?”
Tilley, who was an attorney for 15 years and later worked in corporate finance, said that, despite economic woes in the U.S., the company’s sales are up by 24 percent for the first half of 2008. The company declined to reveal its annual sales.
The line is sold in Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus stores, as well as independent jewelers across the globe.
“He’s well priced, well marketed and has a broad range of product from entry level into dramatic, important kinds of pieces,” said Jim Rosenheim, chief executive officer of Tiny Jewel Box in Washington. “He’s very prolific. He brings a lot of different directions that a retailer can buy into and it can appeal to a lot of different customers”
This year, to combat the trying U.S. economy, the company is expanding internationally. The U.S. now represents 80 percent of sales with over 250 doors, while the U.K. represents 10 percent of sales. There are plans to grow into Europe, Russia, South America and Asia. There is also talk of expanding into myriad product categories such as watches, which Gurhan now does on a private basis.�