Q+A: Gurhan Orhan

Every time I get the opportunity to work with Saks, I am honored. Whether I’m pulling a canary yellow Roberto Cavalli cocktail dress for a fashion shoot, getting the latest scoop on men’s fashion from Sean Buckner, or attending a seasonal runway show, Saks is unparalled. So when three of my favorite things were presented in one invitation — Saks, jewelry, and an interview with well renowned 24k gold jewelry designer Gurhan Orhan, I was especially excited. Gurhan is not just any designer, but one of such caliber that celebrities such as Angelina Jolie wear his pieces. I must admit, I was a bit overwhelmed at the thought of interviewing someone of his skill level, but shortly into the interview he was sharing iPhone pictures of Tipsy, his cute little Yorkie.

Gurhan is a master of gold — 24K gold. You can easily find his work in magazines or on the Internet, but it is not until you actually get to see his art in person that you understand it’s true integrity. His works posses a certain weight, both physical and in appearance, that can only be truly appreciated in its physical presence. Some of his charms even date back to B.C.E.; when you consider how old these artifacts are, you can imagine what sort of experiences they contain. This type of work (and price point) typically lends itself to the serious and stuffy, yet Gurhan’s lighthearted energy combines the most wonderful elements of art and design into unique and powerful statement pieces.  His work is the perfect blend of the past and the present, much like Egyptians and disco. But you don’t have to meet him in person to understand his sense of humor or zest for life; those elements are found in his jewelry.

Tell us about how your process of creating has evolved, from the beginning of your career to now?

It started out as a passion for collecting. I collected coins. I turned one of the collections into jewelry, and then it became a style, but then I realized that I cannot collect these [specific antiquities] forever. Now, I am collecting different things. One of the things I am collecting now is Japanese lost art: Satsuma, it’s called, from the 16th century. They used to use handmade buttons. Another collection is of Italian cameos from the 18th century made from lava stone. They are multidimensional and so beautiful, so I found those and made a collection with them.  And the micro mosaics, again 18th century Italian. There are so many things that you can collect if you are looking at the past.

How many collections are you able to produce of this sort?

I like to introduce a different version of those collections almost every year, if I can. But we are producing a collection semi-annually of 300 new pieces. Last year it was an Egyptian set with rubies, serpents, and scarabs. The scarabs made their own complete full set. There are some things that I use all the time, though, such as the Byzantium crescent moon.

Tell us: where do your influences and inspirations come from?

Traveling is one of the important resources of your imagination and your inspiration.  Like the “Lips” collection — that came out when I was in China. If it comes to my mind, I say, ‘Ok, I will make this collection.’

What was it like growing up in Ankara, one of the oldest cities in the world?

Ankara was, in my time, the university city. There were many students of Middle East Technical University, which was an American University that was very left wing, where so many things started in that university. We were the idealists and were  a ‘looking forward’ kind of generation. When I finished school, which was quite a long time…I didn’t want to leave the school. I studied for nine years. I grew up during the disco years. It was very nice music, in a very nice town, a very forward town, especially for music. I was able to catch the ’66-’67 generation. We were quite up to date, and many things were running around. Music shaped all our lives. Many of my friends opened bars. Four friends of mine opened bars. One of them opened the first American music bar. I had the first Disco bar, and then eventually, I opened a rock and roll bar with live music. It was a small place, but full of people; it gave shape to my thinking. So many people ask me where my taste comes from; it came from those times. It was a wonderful time.

What does it mean to be successful as an artist?

Commercial success, in my opinion, is equal to money. You somehow need to turn some of your products into money, then that shows definitive success. I am not a money person, but this is the reality. As an artist, sentimentally, if she [the customer] is telling me ‘you are doing a good job’ — that is success. All customers, potential customers, or someone that I respect, it doesn’t matter; if they sincerely like what I do, it is success.

I think for me, the idea that the man goes, but the things he makes, his product, stays, measures success. Like when the composer dies, but his music lives, or the artist dies, but his paintings are living. I am quite satisfied with the job I do, especially because it is pure gold. I am confident that some of them will survive for a long, long time. So, you know, one day they will look through the loop and see my signature, and that is my success.

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