Sevan Bicakci, a famous Turkish jewellery designer raised in the tradition of old jewellery masters in the heart of the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul. Sevan is a true artisan who loves to explore and push the limits of his own imagination. Bicakci is known especially for his opulent rings, each of which is unmistakably unique works of art, designed with meticulous expertise and lavish materials.
How many people help you in your atelier? And is it hard to find well qualified craftsmen experienced in traditional crafting?
I do not want to be misunderstood when I say that we are 95 people in total. At the same time, my atelier has nothing to do with mass production. It is instead a gathering of 95 exceptional jewellery makers and artists whose collaborations give birth to approximately 350 pieces of unique jewels every year.
The hardest part is to find craftsmen who stick with us for at least the three years before they can start to contribute in some fruitful ways. We learn lots of things by doing. A big part of the atelier is dedicated to experimenting and many craft techniques that we apply have been invented here. So many times, artisans who have been trained in my workshop have left us for the sake of higher salaries in exchange of what they had learned from us. Good qualification is therefore more about the character than the acquired level of whatever skills to me.
Istanbul / Byzantine / Ottoman, are critical factors for your creative process, are these your inspirations?
I am a product of Turkey and more specifically of Istanbul’s Armenian community. So are my designs… If I had been raised somewhere else, I would get inspired by what would define my identity there.
I get inspired by whatever gives shape to my soul. Inevitably, the cultural heritage of Istanbul and Turkey has become a very important source of inspirations. It’s the architecture, the lifestyle and legends from both the Byzantine and the Ottoman past as I have been spending almost every day of my life being surrounded by fantastic monuments such as the Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, and the St. Sophia Church, the Grand Bazaar, marvelous fountains, cisterns and mausoleums. The walking distance from the door of my workshop to any of them is less than 10 minutes. It’s the nature and the lifestyle any Istanbul citizen would enjoy during everyday life. Anyone getting to the Asian or European side of the city by one of the Bosphorus boats might catch stunning moments of watching dolphins race with the boat or feed seagulls chasing the boat with pieces of “simit” bread thrown into the air. It’s just these little things that inspire me as they define my soul and my identity anyway.
Many celebrities and members of royal families carry your pieces, how important is that for you?
Of course, it has been an honour to see them so interested in my work. Many of them have such great taste and some are important trend setters themselves as fashion designers, architects or artists. On the other hand, I must remark that we never create things to fit into some pre-targeted price ranges or to be worn by on specific groups of people. Every creation is meant to join my collection first. Otherwise, I would be forced to make major concessions from creativity for the sake of having more business with target customers.
We have read that some of the pieces you create are not for sale why? What are you planning to do with those pieces?
I don’t know yet… These pieces are either award winners or they may have been exhibited at some important museums. I tend to see them as belongings of my kids.
How is your jewellery pieces related to the Arabian and Islamic culture?
My sources of inspiration are mostly to be found in the cultural heritage of Turkey, which has been influenced by the Arabian and Islamic culture among some other factors for more than a thousand years. If, let’s say, Istanbul’s silhouette has inspired one of my rings, we could say that the Islamic culture stands behind this silhouette as much as Ayasofya which was once a Byzantine church. I get inspired by the Arabian and Islamic culture as much as Turkey and its roots are inspired by them. This is luckily something so inevitable.
Arabic calligraphy as an art work has become a trend; you use it in some of your pieces why?
Because of its strong esthetics and the fact that it keeps evoking thoughts and tales in my mind... I have grown up in the Old City area seeing Ottoman calligraphic inscriptions all around on an everyday basis. The Ottoman language, which was a mix of Turkish, Arabic and Farsi has not been in use since Ataturk’s revolution. As I have no means to understand what is written and meant whenever I bump into such a script, all I can do and all I indeed do inevitably is to fantasize about the background and meaning. Fantasy is an important word to describe my atelier’s style. Our goal is simply about making the Ottoman Sultan meet Alice in Wonderland and Arabic calligraphy is an important element to help us get there.
How does a unique piece or a collection evolve?
We would elaborate on a certain topic such as a legend or a historical era and then discuss possibilities of commenting on it by means of jewellery making. I would then delegate the work among my artists and artisans. I keep checking works’ status on all workbenches in order interfere whenever necessary. Another part of the workshop keeps experimenting for exploring new techniques, new ways to translate ideas to design. I make sure that results of such experiments get applied to the crafting process of upcoming pieces.
How do you choose the stones and how is the image grafted through it?
I rather believe that the stones choose me. As long as gemstones such as other materials are genuine and helpful in creating the initially desired look, I am pleased to use any of them in rich combinations.
Carving intaglios reversely and manually into gemstones is generally a very challenging approach. Eight stones need to be sacrificed on the average for one good result. Either you’d keep cracking them or the result would not qualify for eventual use. No pain, no gain...
Are your jewellery hand made only?
Yes, all the jewellery pieces I create are handmade
How long does it take to finish one piece?
The average time spent on each piece is between 3-4 months. However; there are some pieces which have taken over a year to get finished.
Do you start working on a single piece or a few at the same time?
A few at the same time…
How each collection does stands out from the rest, what inspires you?
I have only one collection of unique jewels. It can be explained as simply the collection in my safe, the sum of all pieces that have been created so far minus those which have been sold. As our craft techniques are extremely labour intensive and time consuming, we can only progress in terms of single new pieces instead of seasonal lines or collections. And, as we keep learning by doing, each new piece will be in a way inspired by some predecessor(s). There is a clear evolution and hence a co-existence to tell within my collection.
Describe the woman that you create your jewellery pieces for?
She is a leader, not a follower.
You have a lot of clientele in the Middle East, are there any plans to open boutiques there?
We have currently two boutiques: One is in Istanbul and the other one is located in Dubai, in Zabeel Saray Hotel.
With regards to Saudi Arabia, Mr Mohammed Fitaihi is a professional stockist.
As much I wished to have more boutiques, the natural limitations to my atelier’s output do not seem to allow that.