Stunning Turkish Jewelry

Michael James O'Brien

Designs by jeweler Sevan Biçakçi include his gorgeously intricate signature rings.

On Saturdays, Sevan Biçakçi takes his Harley-Davidson to the office. Zipping along the streets of Istanbul, the jeweler makes his way through the crowds near the loud and frenetic Grand Bazaar, with its thousands of stalls stuffed with carpets and leathers and slippers and gems, to his own workshop a few blocks away in the Old City. The studio is big, bright and quiet, a far cry from the cramped chaos nearby. The only signs of disarray amid the neat bookshelves and tables are the trays of vibrantly colored rings, bracelets and pendants scattered around the room. On one there is a clear quartz pendant with a carved ivory intaglio of a dove inside, the stone and its carving held tight by large, blackened-gold claws set with rose-cut diamonds. Elsewhere there is a pin in the shape of an octopus, its head a large baroque pearl, its tentacles made of blackened gold and champagne-colored rose-cut diamonds. The pieces continue on with this complexity and elaboration, each more spectacular than the next.

Turkish jewelry has long been revered and coveted for its intricate techniques and styles, many of which date back to the Byzantine era. Jewelry, like the other art forms of that time, was known for its ornateness and often included colored gemstones, pearls, cloisonné enameling, filigreed gold mountings and intaglio carvings. Some of the techniques have been passed down for centuries, from master jewelers to their apprentices, requiring years of training and careful observation before even attempting to make a piece.

Biçakçi began his jewelry career that very way: After dropping out of school at age 12, he began an apprenticeship with his father’s friend Hovsep Çatak, a master goldsmith in the Istanbul neighborhood of Samatya, the city’s Armenian district, where Biçakçi grew up. Çatak assumed the role of mentor, too, finally assigning Biçakçi his first job after four years of training. “For an Armenian in Turkey, you become either a car mechanic or a jeweler,” says Biçakçi through a translator, with a laugh. After Çatak passed away suddenly, Biçakçi, then 18, finally opened his own workshop as a modelmaker.

But he was bored by the repetitiveness and lack of creativity in working with others’ designs, and after his business went bankrupt (“a turning point in my life,” he says), Biçakçi vowed never to follow market trends or take inspiration from other designers’ work. He debuted his personal collection in 2002, with 50 designs—all rings, which have become his signature pieces—incorporating ancient techniques like flat, relief-like intaglios. Each item is meticulously handcrafted and can take anywhere from eight weeks to a year and a half to complete. His latest creations are wristwatches with Swiss-made movements that incorporate his signature rose-cut diamonds.

One constant that remains throughout Biçakçi’s ever-changing designs, though, is his inspiration, which he always finds in Istanbul and its rich history: the aquamarine water of the Bosporus strait, the gold mosaics in the Hagia Sophia, the blue tiles of the Topkapi Palace or the chain-mail armor of the sultans. Lately he has found himself more in the Grand Bazaar nearby. “There is a humble kind of work that exists there,” he says, “and I don’t want to forget it.”

Appointment with Sevan

In Istanbul, Biçakçi’s jewelry is available at his atelier near the Grand Bazaar (90-212/520-4516; and at his salon inside the W Hotel Istanbul (90-212/236-9199). In the States his pieces are available at Barneys New York (