The name, ‘Gürhan’ is a well-recognized jewellery brand in the U.S. The brandname originates from the owner himself. One day, Gürhan Orhan gets hold of a piece of pure gold at the Grand Bazaar. He twists and bends the object, never to lose it out of his sight as if the object is glued to his hands. He is charmed by this piece of gold and it conduces toward the birth of this brand which later expanded its horizons to Hollywood celebrities and the royalties. As Gürhan Jewellery gets involved in a love story that begins in Istanbul and makes its way to the States, we come across a delicious tale of the brand.
Could you please tell us the start up story of Gürhan Jewellery? When and how was it established? How did it evolve through time?
Gürhan Orhan: My acquaintance with pure gold dates back to the end of year 1994. It was approximately a cigarette pack size sheet that we call undercoating. Back then, I worked with a friend of mine, indulged in watches. As you know in Grand Bazaar, people would stop by shops to sell stuff and this particular guy had come to sell the golden undercoating. Anyway, they weighed it and made some calculations, the man received his money and left. I observed the piece a little. It was really soft, and very flexible. That was the first time I laid my hands on pure gold. It was a very enjoyable material. At that point in time I made a decision; I’m going to sort out something to do with this object. One day later, I spread the word via my friends to find me a workshop at the Bazaar. They found me a small one. I shut myself off at that very shop and give or take 15 months later I came out with a ring in my hand. I used to work for hours. I thought people at the Bazaar would help me, show me a way, but there was no sound to be heard. At first I thought they were hiding information from me, only later as I became friends with some would I find out that they didn’t have a clue either. Because none of them had dealt with pure gold. My father was alive back then, he made some researches. He was able to read Ottoman Turkish, found some books on the matter and I learnt a great deal from him, bought many books at the secondhand booksellers. Especially the ones on archeology…I started this business by inquiring how they did it thousands of years ago. First I made the gears and then the rest followed.
Since you started up here, what made you go to the States?
Following my manufacturing process, my mentor at the Grand Bazaar, Watchseller Ali proposed to display them at his shop window. The first 5 rings I made were immediately sold. I made new ones, but I always produced rings. In the meanwhile, a friend of mine who owned a shop in Bodrum told me, “I will buy whatever you make, just put it in a box and send me.” I started to carve boxes out of wood, put my rings in them and sent to Bodrum. I started to get bored at the Bazaar. At the beginning I was thinking it would be for my benefit, but then I began to suffer from it. Let’s move, we said. I hired a flat at the top of a building in Beşiktaş, turned it into a workshop. We started to manufacture. My friend in Bodrum also developed his shop. But there came a time when he started to buy my products only in the summertime. Right there and then I started to look for ways to export my jewellery. I sent them to Portugal and Spain. At the same time I was selling to other cities in Turkey. One day, I received a phone call from the shop in Bodrum. They told me a tourist came to visit the shop, wanted to buy 5-6 pieces altogether but was asking for my number. I told them to give it to her, since this wasn’t the first time. People that were fond of my products always tended to find the source to find more variety and at a cheaper price. Anyhow, 20-25 days passed. I received a call, “Do you speak English?” asked the voice on the other end. “I do”, I said. She told me she bought my products from Bodrum. I told her I remembered… She asked to get together, and I said with pleasure. She arrived with four of her friends, who bought some pieces and one or two of them herself. At that moment, I saw a flaw on one of the pieces she had bought in Bodrum. I said, “Let me take this, I will deliver it to you at the hotel.” They were staying at a hotel in Sultanahmet. I brought her the necklace the other day. This time we had lunch together. She told me, “You’re apparently enjoying your work but if you want to really do business come to New York.” This was the year of 1995. After this meeting, two years passed. Collecting money had started to become a problem in those days. I told myself to go and check it out in the USA. I called her wondering if she’d remember me. She recalled instantly. It was February of 1997. I set off for the States, taking some sample products with me, in a wooden box…She helped me a lot, had already made several appointments on my behalf. After meeting with those potential clients, I decided to sell my products in the States. We first became business partners, right after we got engaged and finally got married. We are still married. She’s the head of the company now, dealing with wholesale and I’m managing the retail side. She’s really successful at what she does.
Our set-up in the States is on wholesale. We work with quite large companies with several stores like, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdales, Nordstrom. We also work with boutiques, reaching approximately 260 shops in the States and 3 in Canada. I think we have a couple of clientele in the Caribbean. We haven’t
really gotten out of the American Continent.
Your products have many celebrity devotees. Do you sometimes give them away so that they would promote?
Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Lopez, Jennifer Aniston, Hillary Clinton, Sandra Bullock, Debrah Messing, Faith Hill, Gwen Stefanie are among some of our celebrity customers. They wear our jewellery in some of their shows. You would think we’re advertising, which is not true. They went out to buy our products from some of our franchisees beyond our knowledge. Angelina Jolie was wearing our jewellery on the cover of of a magazine. I made researches and found out she bought them for herself.
No, I built my first workshop in Istanbul, everything was here. As I stated earlier, I learnt everything on my own. Later I employed four other people, only to learn more with them along the way. None of them came from the jewellery business. I continued with the same team.
What is your target then? You tried it in Basel for 11 years but not interested in the European market anymore. What about the southeast of Turkey, the Arabic Peninsula?
That part of the world is an interesting territory, Arabic peninsula and China. Pure gold is a commodity of exchange there, one you can sell and buy in grams. I have a new project nowadays, I will produce a completely different line. We haven’t decided on the name yet; if it will remain Gürhan or we’ll give it an additional name but I will be producing pieces that I can sell in other parts of the world. Towards the end of this year, the first party will come out as I’m currently working on it. We will be introducing this special line at the fair in Las Vegas.
At the Couture Show?
Yes, the Couture Show. We attend 2 shows: one Couture/Las Vegas and the other Centurion/Arizona, which is at the beginning of the year. We are getting ready for that one now. Our products are very niche, so we have special collectors. They were actually the ones that got us through difficult times, because whatever we make they choose one piece among them and add to their collection. They even bring them to me on autograph sessions for me to carve my signature on them. I’m not lying, once a collector brought me a suitcase full of 220 pieces.
Well, what kind of a collector are you? Do you have one?
Of course, I do. I collect antique pieces. My wife Fiona and I enjoy traveling a lot. I gather stuff from everywhere I go. I can’t forget the time we bought a completely molten iron ring at a flea market. We opened it up, there came out the figure of Zeus in a seated position. It is a special stone we call intaglio. It still is resting on a shelf, a very
special piece for me. I first started to collect coins. Later I continued with Egyptian sacarab beetles. I have antique objects dating back to the 16th century Japanese Satsuma. I added one each season. This season I converted Pope lockets into necklaces. I possess 19th century Italian mosaics, Lava-Cameos. I collect quadrants which I also started to turn into jewellery. On one hand I collect and on the other I sell them.
Has there been a major change in the volume of your sales following September 11?
It did make an impact only for a short while. Maybe only for 6 months, that’s it. New York is a very cosmopolitan city, apart from the rest of U.S. We perceive it as a separate country. To be frank, I regard myself a New Yorker. I settled here, mentally as well. Sevan Bıçakçı for instance, a Turkish Jeweller, has been attending the Couture Show for many years now. He receives several awards each time. This might not have changed I assume, limited to a certain number of people. Actually there are some. We have a friend named Arman, who lives there, is doing a very good job. At the latest Couture there was Pınar Öner. In the States, despite the rivalry between jewelers they are very interdependent, we look after each other compared to other industries. I enjoy this industry a lot.
If we had approached Istanbul as one of your brands, how would you market it to the U.S.?
There’s something I always say in America. If you haven’t already seen Istanbul, you are missing out a lot…Istanbul would easily sell itself. The only exception would be to make a mess of it. I haven’t met a person in my life that’s been to Istanbul and haven’t fallen in love with it. Had they let it alone, Istanbul would fly on its own wings. Instead, they are putting a spoke in its wheel with bad publicity. Otherwise, there’s nothing easier than promoting Istanbul, since it’s the liveliest, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Everybody is well aware of that.
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