Attending the gem shows in Tucson, Arizona every February is one of my favorite trips of the entire year. I’m not ashamed to admit (okay, maybe a little bit embarrassed to admit) that I’ve been collecting rocks since I was little. My increasing knowledge of gemstones only serves to heighten my enjoyment of this hobby, and the mystical properties I attribute to these gifts of nature make Tucson the ideal setting for geeking out over gemstones! Adding to my excitement is seeing so many COUTURE designers roaming the halls and tents of Tucson. “What are you buying?” is the first question I ask whenever I see one of these artists. Most of them answer me honestly, helping me get a sense of what I’ll be seeing in Vegas in a few months, and then some of them play coy, only expanding my curiosity as to what they’ll be showcasing at COUTURE.
Throughout the years, I’ve been lucky enough to wander around Tucson with a handful of these designers, giving me an inside glimpse into their design process. This year however, I decided to formalize this practice and so I convinced GURHAN to make the trek to Tucson and let me shadow him for a day of gem shopping. GURHAN was the ideal “subject” because, first of all, I love the guy! He’s fun, funny, laid back and intense, all at the same time. Secondly, his jewelry literally makes me swoon. Lastly, his open-to-the-public New York City Atelier will allow me the opportunity to document the evolution of the stones he purchased in Tucson into finished pieces of jewelry. So join me as I take you on this journey through a blog series here at COUTUREmusings!
GURHAN and I met in the lobby of the AGTA show and set off right away. As with most COUTURE designers, GURHAN has been working with the same dealers for years. The relationships a designer has with his dealers are extremely important and somewhat proprietary; what you see on display is not always what you get. As I witnessed first hand, dealers have “pocket stones” that are too special for just anyone to walk up and buy, and that are reserved for the dealer’s favorite designers. Lucky for me, GURHAN is the favorite of many gem dealers so I really got to see the good stuff (much of which I cannot document here…it’s that special, and hence why I won’t mention any dealer by name)!
One thing that distinguishes COUTURE designers from your average, run of the mill hobbyist is that they are both impassioned artists, and successful business people; meaning that while they need to feed their creativity, they also have to make jewelry that people will actually buy. To that end, GURHAN had to combine “taking care of business” shopping with “being moved by the spirit of the stones” shopping, and both were equally exciting to witness. First stop in the “taking care of business” category was a hunt for diamond melee, specifically melee of a certain quality and exact size. After finding the quality he wanted at the price he wanted, GURHAN made sure that each of the hundreds of stones he was purchasing were measured to ensure that they were all exactly, 1mm in size. This is done through a painstaking process of using a sifter, and then placing each of the stones that have made it through the sifter into a measuring device. The thought that these little baggies of diamonds, no matter how small each of the stones appear, have enormous inherent value is enough to make one’s head spin! And that the dealer has organized everything to such exacting specifications and has a computer like ability to keep them straight is beyond my comprehension (or my particular skill set, you should see my cluttered desk right now…).
While we were waiting for his diamonds to be measured, the dealer indulged the artist in GURHAN by pulling out a tray of emeralds, “Emerald is not a bad thing…” he pondered as he poured over the trays. He sorted through a huge selection of gorgeous emeralds before deciding on 2 stones. To my eye, I couldn’t figure out how those two made the cut and the others didn’t, but I could tell GURHAN already had some sense of what those two lovelies were going to become, and that this was some “moved by the spirit of the stones” shopping I was bearing witness to!
Next was a quick stop to select some Tanzanite. The dealer knew exactly what GURHAN was after and so the transaction went down before I even knew what was happening. We later passed by the booth of yet another of GURHAN’s stone guys where we simultaneously spotted an incredible, bright blue stone that we learned was something called Hauynite—an extremely rare, independent mineral mined in Germany and presumably discovered by some guy named Hauy. After being schooled on all of Hauynite’s geological properties, GURHAN declared, “I cannot pass this, I have to choose a few of these and buy them!” And after sorting through thousands of stones he chose exactly 5….once again, I’m not sure how those particular 5 made the cut, but I have no doubt GURHAN knows what he’s doing.
While we were sifting through the Hauynite, the dealer pulled a giant bag of breathtakingly beautiful rough opal out from under the counter. GURHAN immediately asked how much, to which the dealer responded, “You’re asking the wrong question….and the answer to the right question is, the last time I’ve seen this quality was 60 years ago!” Counterintuitive to all tenets of good business practices, the raw opals were, in fact, not for sale. The dealer was simply bursting with excitement over his discovery and wanting to show off his booty to his friend. We’ll all need to wait until the dealer’s stone cutter—who happens to be his brother—gets his hands on the rough to see the results!
Speaking of opal, our next stop was to select some opals that actually were for sale. GURHAN selected a few slices, as well as some big ovals from among the laden trays. GURHAN is currently teaching himself how to cut gemstones, so he also purchased some raw opals that he’s going to take a stab at cutting. “I love selling to people who will make something beautiful,” the dealer declared while working with GURHAN. “Then, everybody wants opal!” And he’s right about that!
“You’re getting younger!” was a compliment traded back and forth throughout the day, an homage to the endurance of the relationships I was witnessing at play. I marveled at the banter, the ribbing, “Do you know how to use a tweezers?! Haha…,” how pleasant discourse could quickly become tense when talking prices, and then revert back to amicable after everything was settled, “Ok now…let me see a picture of that new granddaughter of yours!” One of GURHAN’s dealers, who has known him since “the beginning” commented to me that GURHAN is known among stone dealers as being both a teddy bear, and a tiger. I guess this dichotomy could also explain the depths of GURHAN’s creative, and business sides, both of which it was my honor to observe for the day.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of Getting Stoned with GURHAN while I meet with this incredible designer in his New York City Atelier and watch as these stones are transformed into gorgeous pieces of jewelry!