Rare and remarkable – two words that aptly describe Sevan Bicacki creations. As this Turkish jeweller stands on the brink of global recognition, am sits down for a chat about his life, his work, and salvation.
In today's information era, there are crowds of talented, self-taught amateurs in all spheres of life. However, the success quotient elusive to most is achieved only by some. Thomas Alva Edison, Nicolas Cage, William Shakespeare and Johnny Depp are all examples of such successful individuals, who, without college pedigree, are gifted with rare talent and a compelling dedication to work, have broken all barriers and emerged on top of their game.
Sevan Bicacki is another name on that list. A fervent spirit at elementary school, Bicacki dropped out of school in fifth grade, claiming that poring over textbooks didn't inspire him. So relentless and persuasive was he that his father finally gave in and instead sent him to work as an apprentice in a jewellery shop.
“Back then, our neighbour, Hovsep Chatak, was running a jewellery workshop in the Grand Bazaar area of Istanbul. My father handed me over to him as an apprentice when I was only 12. I was frightened at the beginning, but to my big surprise, the workshop turned out to be the perfect learning environment for a boy like me,” reminiscences Bicacki.
As an apprentice, the focus of his work was to take materials from one workshop to another one, and the Grand Bazaar's location at the heart of Istanbul became his work environment. “I was that fat and messy boy who never managed to walk properly without bumping into anything because he was always looking up to domes and minarets instead of watching his way,” laughs Bicacki.
His home itself was located at Samatya district; composed of a very close-knit society of Turkish, Kurdish, Armenian, Assyrian and Roman members. So, from an early age, Bicacki was exposed to a vibrant cultural experience – very different from the four-walled sheltered lives led by our teenagers – and the influence is obvious in his designs.
When Bicacki was 18, his master passed away. This left him with two choices: continue to work for somebody else, or open his own workshop. “I went for the latter. I had to make a living, and so I became a model maker for bigger manufacturers. I wasn't designing anything back then,” he explains.
Initially, Bicacki's clientele was limited to local manufacturers with high production scales and highly affected by their Italian counterparts. Bicacki tried, in vain, to explain to some of them what he had in mind for the future. “But each time they said, ‘Are you out of your mind?'” he remembers grimly.
In due course, when he had saved enough money, Bicacki decided to get out of the rut and explore his creativity more efficiently. It took him close to a year to prepare the first part of his first collection, which he debuted to the Turkish public in March 2002. He set up his first boutique at the Nuruosamniye, Istanbul, soon after. And true to his culture, his first individual creation was the head of Sultan Mehmet II (the Conqueror) converted to a ring.
His avant-garde and unique designs soon found a cult following. Especially among people who travel a lot, and have broader cultural appreciation. “A few of my customers told me that they had never felt like wearing jewellery before. They appreciate crafts that speak to them in a particular way,” he explains.
In fact, one of his earliest and most dedicated customers was Guler Sabanci, who was voted one of the 100 most powerful women by Forbes in 2006. She watched a TV interview of his a couple of years ago and decided to visit the workshop. She loved the designs so much that she started wearing his pieces and telling people about them. Once, when she was being interviewed by journalists in Ankara after a meeting with several ministers, one journalist questioned her about her interesting ring. “She changed the subject from economy to her ring, and told them great things about me. Ever since, journalists have been zooming in on her jewellery and writing about me,” adds Bicacki earnestly.
Bicacki's designs not only reflect his Turkish heritage but some of his personal qualities as well. His designs are extraordinary, unique, rich – boldly-crafted with depth. However, if it can be cited as a drawback at all, rings dominate all of his jewellery collections. And they cover approximately 70 per cent of his latest collection. “I may have been taking more time on my rings because they tell much about the wearer as a character, while with other kinds of jewellery, the mission seem to be just decorative,” he muses.
Although he believes “rings have more executive functions in general as opposed to other types of jewellery”, he also creates cuffs, necklaces, earrings, brooches and cuff-links. “Only if I can figure out such a function with a necklace or an earring idea, I go ahead and craft the piece,” he asserts.
Bicacki also never concerns himself with the materials he uses. He cherishes all of them, but he loves the design idea much more. He says, “Gems and metals' duty is only to embellish the design.” And as such, he doesn't design for a certain price point. For him, the only concern is that the result must match the initial dream, no matter what the cost involved. Most of his works are uniquely crafted and time consuming at the work bench, and this prevents him from mass production. Naturally, this means that at any time, buyers have limited choice.
And that's how Bicacki wants it to be. Although he wants to extend his brands outside Turkey, and the plan took flight with the recently opened Sevan Bicacki store at the Wafi Mall, Dubai, he wants to retain its exclusivity and value. Bicacki feels that the right promotion for his brand is always more likely to come from his clients.
“I need people to share enthusiasm for my products before I consider business prospects. It's rather difficult to find people with such mindset within the jewellery sector, because of most retailers and distributors' cost and profit calculating habits. On the other hand, my collectors are enthusiastic members and great ambassadors,” he muses.
Not your typical businessman who cuts corners to make a profit, he doesn't even mould his designs to meet market demands. In fact, he was once quoted as saying that he doesn't expect the masses to understand or desire his jewellery. He makes one-off pieces, but never custom-made, for he feels that this would kill his fantasy, power and creativity.
Some might attribute his stubbornness to his former life - he had to compromise on his beliefs and values when he worked as a model maker. However, he confesses that appreciation of his creation matters most to him. “I would feel accomplished if I knew that generations to come would talk about me as an artist. That would be my kind of salvation,” he smiles.
Bicacki won the Town and Country Awards three times in the Gemstones category in the years 2006, 2007 and 2008. He is also the recipient of Turkish Patent Institute's 2007 Golden Designer Award. And with a client list that boasts names like Queen Elizabeth of England, Lizzie Tisch, Jamie Tisch, Elizabeth Wyatt, Tory Burch, Brooke Shields and Catherine Zeta Jones, among others, Bicacki, it seems, is already well on his way to the top.