CULTURE

Ancient gold with a modern twist

MILAN – Skeptics said it couldn’t be done, but Turkish-born Gurhan Orhan draws on thousand-year-old traditions to make jewelry out of soft, pure 24-carat gold. Known in the industry by his first name, Gurhan started making jewelry about 15 years ago after he became entranced with the look and feel of a piece of pure gold. Now his jewelry – priced from $500 to $50,000 – is sold in the United States, where he lives, and is making inroads in Europe. «It was love at first sight. I started playing with the piece. But people who knew jewelry told me it was not possible to make jewelry with pure gold because it is too soft,» Gurhan told Reuters. «But I did research and found out that a thousand years ago people did make jewelry out of pure gold,» Gurhan said, overlooking displays of his predominantly gold jewelry, richly decorated with bright precious and semiprecious stones. He studied the tools goldsmiths used thousands of years ago, which were made of wood, bones and even seeds, and has adopted and modified them to make his own jewelry. «I am very proud of bringing ancient techniques to the present day. After two years of studying and trying, I started making a kind of ‘ancient-feeling’ jewelry,» Gurhan said. He eventually moved from Turkey to the United States and set up a company there in 1997 with his wife Fiona Tilley. Gurhan said ancient jewelry remained his main source of inspiration but he also followed modern trends to create four jewelry lines which he calls «things coming from the past,» «my own style,» and «fashion,» and a recently launched silver line. Gurhan does not want to be labeled as a Turkish or a US jeweler, saying he has absorbed a mix of cultures while living in New York. About 95 percent of his sales come from the US market but he has not felt the pinch of the consumer pessimism triggered by a credit market crunch and fears of the US economic slowdown. Nor did he suffer from high gold prices, which rose more than 30 percent last year and stormed to new record highs in 2008, gaining about 18 percent since the start of this year. «People were buying more as gold rose in value. They bought pure gold jewelry as an investment,» he said. Tilley expected revenue growth to be «maybe not that robust» this year due to US recession fears and the upcoming elections, but still she saw sales rising at a double-digit pace in 2008. Many goldsmiths had to trim the weight of their jewelry to soften the blow to clients’ pockets as gold prices surged. Gurhan said he has been making lighter-weight jewelry from the very beginning, but for different reasons. «Pure gold is twice as heavy as 18 carat (gold). It was a major technological challenge from the start. But goldsmiths had the same challenge 5,000 years ago.»