Rapaport Magazine

Ottoman Opulence

The Gilan family traces its roots to the glories of the Ottoman Empire and draws on that history and culture to create opulent, one-of-a-kind jewelry.

By Nancy Pier Sindt
Over the course of 30 years, brothers Muharrem and Ferhan Gilan have created Turkey’s number-one luxury jewelry emporium, along with a recognized brand that is sought after by the world’s wealthiest clients. They acknowledge that they inherited a love for beauty and design from their grandmother, who was head seamstress to the Ottoman pashas.

The Gilan brothers established their business in 1980 as jewelers/wholesalers with a small store in Bursa, Turkey, the first capital of the Ottoman Empire. In 1994, they moved their operations to Istanbul. Over the years, the Gilans opened several more stores in Turkey, including one in Istinyi Park and a boutique in the prestigious Four Seasons Hotel at the Bosphorus. In 2001, a Gilan appointment-only operation came to New York. It proved so successful that in 2004, a flagship store was opened on Fifth Avenue. Gilan established an international sales office in Paris’ posh Place Vendôme in 2009, but has no retail operation there yet. There is also a by-appointment salon in London. Future plans for the brand include an in-store boutique in Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City and perhaps branches in other major international cities. Today, the brothers divide their time between New York and their home in Istanbul.

Drawing on History

Centuries ago, the city of Istanbul was at the heart of several civilizations, including the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, each contributing its own rich artistic and cultural legacy to history. The Ottoman royalty was particularly enamored of jewelry and assembled some of the top artisans from around the world to create their magnificent jewels. Using that heritage as inspiration, the Gilan brothers have successfully blended past and present in their unique jewelry offerings.

Most of the stores’ inventory are one-of-a-kind, hand-fabricated pieces with engraved details, produced using ancient Turkish jewelry-making techniques. All of the designs, particularly the signature Heritage Collection, are strongly influenced by Ottoman art. Core prices range from $10,000 to $700,000, says Muharrem, although some pieces go even higher. The Heritage Collection features rose cut diamonds with a foil backing that gives them additional brilliance. The diamonds are set in oxidized silver, which is then set onto 18-karat gold. Rubies, sapphires and emeralds are also featured in some styles.

In today’s world, it is challenging to find craftsmen who are capable of creating jewelry using the old techniques, says Muharrem. In fact, many of the jewelers in Gilan’s workshops are descendants of craftsmen gathered by the royals of the Ottoman Empire. While there is a new generation of artisans learning the old techniques, says Muharrem, the number of these individuals is getting smaller with each generation.

Diamonds are a pivotal part of all the collections and while Gilan makes frequent use of rose cuts, it also is known for its exclusive Tulip Cut, developed in the company’s workshop and specially cut for its jewelry. The tulip is a symbol of Istanbul. Most of the other diamonds used in signature pieces range in size from 20 points up to several carats; however, pavé is used in some more modern designs, such as the black and white combinations in the Lace Collection and the shimmering diamond drops, pavé and bezel-set diamonds in the Cintemani Collection.

Gilan unveils two new themed collections per year and adds an average of five pieces per month to its existing collections. A three-person design team creates the pieces with input from the brothers.

For any international jeweler, of course, there are differences in taste from market to market. Istanbul represents a “mature market,” says Muharrem, where most customers are familiar with the brand and opt to update their personal collections with new pieces. In New York, where the brand is less widely known, shoppers are most interested in the core collections, particularly the Heritage cuffs.

Art Connection

Special events include private showings of the jewelry to established clients and friends. These are typically held in one of the stores or in a hotel, but it is not unusual, says Muharrem, for a client to request a showing and to invite several friends to her home to see the collection. Oftentimes, Gilan will provide a guest speaker who will lecture about Ottoman art. The retailer has also done a number of fund-raising events, most notably for prominent arts and children’s charities in Los Angeles and New York.

Honoring Turkish heritage is of primary importance to the Gilan brothers. One of their proudest achievements was sponsoring the renovation of four of the treasury rooms in the famed Topkapi Palace, the former home of the Ottoman rulers and now a museum. To prepare for this renovation, the brothers visited museums around the world to learn how to display and secure the priceless pieces of jewelry. Istanbul is in an earthquake-prone area, so extra care had to be used to secure the wall cases, as well as to protect the jewels against humidity and light.

“History has been generous to us,” says Muharrem. “Gilan is a passionate jewelry house. The best way to express respect for our history was to protect this valuable jewelry.”

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - December 2010. To subscribe click here.

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