School dropout is star jeweller

Sevan Bicakci (left) took more than a year to craft Kraken (above); one of his intricately carved rings (top).
Sevan Bicakci (above) took more than a year to craft Kraken; one of his intricately carved rings. PHOTOS: SEVAN BICAKCI
Sevan Bicakci (left) took more than a year to craft Kraken (above); one of his intricately carved rings (top).
Sevan Bicakci took more than a year to craft Kraken; one of his intricately carved rings (above).
Sevan Bicakci (left) took more than a year to craft Kraken (above); one of his intricately carved rings (top).
Sevan Bicakci took more than a year to craft Kraken (above); one of his intricately carved rings.

Turkish designer Sevan Bicakci is well-known for his one-of-a-kind intricately carved rings. By Leong Kay Ean

At age 12, Mr Sevan Bicakci was a troublemaker who dropped out of school. Exasperated at his possible lack of job prospects, his father sent him to work as an apprentice in the workshop of an Armenian jeweller who was also their neighbour.

Now aged 43, Mr Bicakci is considered by the Turkish jewellery industry to be the star jeweller of Turkey, where he was born and still lives.

He is best known for his one-of-a-kind, majestic gemstone rings which feature figures and monuments intricately carved within them using the reverse intaglio technique. This technique involves hollowing out a gemstone from its back and carving out a desired shape. Fans of his rings include celebrities such as fashion designer Tory Burch, actress Brooke Shields and singer Celine Dion.

He has garnered numerous prestigious jewellery awards, including six Couture Design Awards. The latter is considered the Oscars of the jewellery industry, and is given out during the Couture fine jewellery and luxury timepiece international trade show in the United States. His work is also exhibited at museums and art galleries in London, Bahrain and Houston.

Mr Bicakci was here recently as some of his pieces are being sold at multi-label store Edit Lifestyle's Turkish Delight Pop-Up Bazaar. The pop-up closes on Sep 20, after which those interested in his jewellery can place orders through Edit Lifestyle.

Mr Bicakci launched his own jewellery line in 2002, after working as a model maker for eight years.

His first collection was inspired by the historical 500-year-old Grand Bazaar in the Sultanahmet area of Turkey where he lives. In fact, he cites Turkey's history and heritage as major influences in his work, in particular, the Byzantine, Ottoman and Roman eras.

He says: "It all starts with dreaming and story-telling. I don't start by looking at the materials made available to me by nature because there will always be a limit. I know that will restrict my creativity. When you start with a dream, the possibilities are endless.

"It doesn't matter where the materials can be found, whether it's next door or at the other end of the world, I'll chase it to make the dream come true."

He has used a wide range of materials for his pieces, from common ones like gold and diamonds, to rarities like mammoth bone. Techniques he employs in his jewellery include metal-based painting, engraving, calligraphy and micro-mosaic setting.

He says: "All the techniques I use are based on craft, they are not technology-based. Some of them have been forgotten in the last century. Some of them stem from my own explorations and are completely new. I am always on a quest to experiment and a part of our workshop is dedicated to that."

Each piece is unique and can take four months on average to make. His atelier only produces 400 to 500 pieces a year. The pieces at Edit Lifestyle range from $8,400 to $400,000.

One elaborate piece, a bracelet and ring combination called Kraken that was inspired by the octopus in Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, took more than a year to make. Made of gold, diamonds and pearls, it is not for sale and Mr Bicakci intends to pass it on to his nine-year-old daughter. It is on show at Edit Lifestyle.

Mr Emre Dilaver, creative director of the brand, says that most of its customers are women who range from age 30 to 60 and are those "not looking for everyday accessories, but for a powerful statement".

"Some have started buying with Sevan since he started and have followed him ever since. Funnily, these people seem to know each other other. It's like a small family. We've never invested one penny in marketing, it's all from word of mouth."

On how the brand has evolved, Mr Dilaver, 48, says: "Sevan started as a servant to the market, producing what it wanted. However, what you see in his first collection and now, it is the purification of the ideas that he kept having since he started. It is all him, all original."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 10, 2015, with the headline 'School dropout is star jeweller'. Print Edition | Subscribe