Gurhan Orhan (b. 1954) According to the Gurhan brand’s official website, “Growing up in Turkey, becoming a jeweler was far from the thoughts and dreams of a young Gurhan Orhan. Instead, always the “discoverer,” Gurhan pursued a variety of eclectic interests which included building hi-fi equipment, making watches in Switzerland, and even operating a [Turkey-based] rock bar. It was only when he held a piece of 24K gold that his passion for jewelry was born. It was in this sheet of shimmering metal (still carried in his wallet today!) that Gurhan envisioned a unique brand of jewelry transcending simple design; a brand connecting his customer with the values of ancient cultures.”
In an interview with the magazine, Elite Traveler, Gurhan filled in some details about his early life. “My history is very eclectic,” he said.
“First I studied math, then business management. I was in school for a very long time; it was a good life … Eventually however I started in electronics, production audio and sound systems. This led me into the hospitality industry—I had a disco at one point, and then a rock bar… I even became a deejay!
“Then for five years starting in 1987, I moved from Turkey to Switzerland because I was fascinated with watches. I learned and started fixing old watches, turning pocket watches to unusual and unique wrist watches. I had three exhibitions of my watches in Europe and in Turkey.
“One time when I was back in Turkey, I ‘met’ a sheet of pure gold, and it was love at first sight … it only took me two days to decide that this is what I was going to do for the rest of my life.
“I moved back to Istanbul and got a workshop. I closed myself away and started to study and learn everything I could. It took me eight months to finally get to the point where I had something I could show somebody … I was using ancient techniques of making gold jewelry, so it wasn’t just understanding the technique, but the tools that were used which weren’t being used anymore. So … I made my own tools to make the jewelry…
“I was lucky as well because anything I made, I sold, so I had the luxury of being able to make more. Eventually I started selling in a small shop in Bodrum, which is how my wife found me.
“Fiona bought a piece of my jewelry, and she loved it so much, she tracked me down in Istanbul. She came to visit me and told me she adored the jewelry and if I wanted to make a real business with it in the U.S., she could help me.
Even though I studied business I didn’t like the business side of it … Eventually I called Fiona, and about 18 months later I came to New York where she was working. Our romance and business began together at that time. So it was a love story. She took care of the business side and I took care of the design and product.”
The woman who so changed Gurhan’s life is Fiona Tilley, an Australian business woman who was on vacation when she discovered Gurhan’s jewelry and was enthralled with its hand-crafted quality and evocative beauty. Fiona has happily admitted to doing a bit of stalking, but when the two finally met they discovered many common interests especially their passion for the artisanal design found in ancient cultures.
The couple combined their respective talents to launch the Gurhan brand in New York City. Within a short time, the designs became popular and were seen on celebrities and collectors alike.
Unlike many jewelry designers, Gurhan is entirely self-taught. Not one to be confined behind a workbench, he likes to create at the beach; inspired by the stones and metals he touches and feels. Gurhan’s commitment is to design and create jewelry that is comfortable to wear, sensual to the touch, and timeless.
Personally designing every piece, Gurhan jewelry is handmade and truly original. His use of pure 24 karat yellow gold creates warmth and deep sensuality, communicating an exotic energy to the women who wears his earrings, rings, necklaces, and/or bracelets.
When Gurhan first discovered the craft of jewelry making, goldsmiths warned him that pure gold was too difficult to work with. He was told that the precious metal is either too heavy, too soft, and/or too expensive to make successful jewelry pieces.
However, by using ancient jewelry making techniques, he created breathtaking designs made of 24 karat gold including a 24K Yellow Gold Sterling Silver & Diamond Ring found in his Lentil collection and costing as little as $950.
Unlike other jewelry brands like Roberto Coin that alloy gold with different metals, Gurhan produced alluring jewelry designs from pure precious metals including a woman’s Silver & 24K Yellow Gold Necklace from his Vortex collection that can be purchased for as little as $490.
Gurhan develops every piece himself and does it by combining the early technique of reinforcing metal shapes with natural elements and hammering the metal by hand to harden it. In fact, Gurhan’s fingerprints can even be found on his pieces and are a visual signature of his work. They can be seen on the textured surface of the Blackened Sterling Silver & 24K Yellow Gold Ring from his Pebble collection.
Another outstanding piece is the lavish Women’s Silver & 24K Yellow Gold Bracelet from the Willow collection that can be purchased for as little as $120.
Today, Gurhan’s fashion jewelry consists of necklaces, bracelets, rings, and earrings. In an interesting twist, Gurhan has combined his photography hobby into the promotion of his work.
In the Elite Traveler interview, he said, “All my life I have always had hobbies, and right now my main hobby is taking photos … in fact, I now take all of the photography we use for our advertisements and web site. We held the first exhibition of my photography at Saks New York as part of a special event, and it was great. We gave pictures of the jewelry as presents to people who bought the jewelry … the customer liked it because they not only got the ring, they also received a very artsy photograph of it. Being able to do all my own jewelry photography is also cost effective …”
In a May 2018 article that appeared on the WWD website, it was announced that through a licensing deal with Gurhan Orhan, the designer John Varvatos created his first signature jewelry collection, which consists of more than 100 pieces of bracelets, cuff links, necklaces and rings. The designs are crafted using precious and semiprecious stones, sterling silver, bronze, brass, leather and 18-karat gold.
The line includes bracelets, rings and necklaces. Like Varvatos’ apparel collection, the jewelry has a rebellious, rock ‘n’ roll edge intended to complement his men’s wear.
Among the materials used are black diamonds, sapphires, lapis lazuli, black onyx, sodalite, pyrite, gray obsidian, jasper, turquoise and labradorite. Varvatos stressed that the stones were all hand-selected from various sources around the world that ensure ethical treatment of those who mine, produce and deliver the stones. The collections began selling at the Varvatos retail stores and online.
“It is a dream for me to have found a partner who shares my passion for rock music and the style that goes along with it,” Orhan said. “My own line of jewelry is an important reflection of one part of my life — world history and ancient cultures. John’s line enables me to celebrate another huge part of my life: music. Every part of creating this jewelry line for John Varvatos has been about sharing the same ideas, mentality and passion. I love working with John as much as I love the line we have created together.”
Gurhan has done his part to elevate jewelry to an art and was at one point commissioned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art to create an exclusive collection in honor of one of the museum’s exhibitions. Gurhan’s many awards include Grand Prize in Design Trends, awarded by the World Gold Council for his Spring bracelet in 2000; First place, awarded by Perles de Tahiti for his Tahitian pearl Comet ring in 2004, and, in 2009, Best Designer in Gold, awarded by JQ International and selected by retailers throughout the United States.
Celebrities known to wear Gurhan include Angelina Jolie, Sandra Bullock, Oprah, Christine Baranski, Jennifer Lopez, Tea Leoni, Mary J. Blige, Gwen Stefani, Sheryl Crow, Faith Hill, Elle Macpherson, Rachel Ray, Hillary Clinton, Jada Pinkett Smith, and the Pussycat Dolls.
Today, Gurhan, with wife and business partner Fiona, operate Gurhan Enterprise, which includes retail, wholesale and private label, from their Manhattan headquarters. Gurhan can also be found many days in his beloved Atelier in the trendy Tribeca neighborhood of New York City.
It is here, hammer in hand, that the renowned designer spends his time putting the finishing touch on a client’s custom design, or envisioning his next One-of-a-Kind. Unlike many others, Gurhan is one of the few award-winning designers who continues to work on a daily basis with his customers. It is this intimate and emotional connection that sets him apart as a designer who truly understands what women want.
However Gurhan still spends most of his time with his biggest fan and wife, Fiona, who is also the President and CEO of the company. Their mutual passion for love, cooking, rock music, fashion, photography, and inventing has been the backdrop to their very successful personal and business relationships.
In an interview with the online site, Pattern, Gurhan said, “Commercial success, in my opinion, is equal to money… I think for me, the idea that the man goes, but the things he makes, his product, stays, measures success … I am confident that some of [my pieces] 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.”