The New-Old, Old-New, And The Old-Old
At Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar
Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is a shopper’s Shangri-la, but (surprise, surprise) all isn’t as it seems. On the hunt for jewelry, you quickly realize that the many black-around-the-edges estate pieces that catch your eye probably aren’t much older than a kindergartner. These new-old pieces hold little allure. Next!
On the advice of a couple of chic acquaintances, I sought out Sevan Bicakci, a jewelry designer whose pieces—mostly spectacularly bejeweled rings (above)—aren’t masquerading as anything but the mini works of art that they are. (Strictly speaking, Bicakci is located on a street radiating out of the bazaar, but he’s in the neighborhood.) Bicakci, 38, began apprenticing at the age of 12 and by now has developed techniques that boggle the mind, like micro-mosaic work—there may be thousands of tiny tiles on the side of a ring. Knowing that, it won’t surprise you that the workshop’s annual output is a minuscule, inhuman-level-of-attention-to-detail 400 pieces.
“We like to push limits and conquer new areas,” said Bicakci’s creative director, Emre Dilaver. (Bicakci, who looks a bit like a Turkish Alber Elbaz, doesn’t speak English.) But the beauty of these innovative pieces is how they plumb the city’s Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman heritage as well as Greek mythology for inspiration. Each piece is an exquisite little history lesson. And while the rings appear purloined from the treasury of Emperor Justinian—the gold-haloed visage of his wife, Empress Theodora, adorns one specimen—they’re quite modern, certainly modern enough to sell at Barneys and Browns. These are happily the Old-New.
And within the Bazaar, there are true Old-Old treasures to be found, too. Try Mavi Kose, which has the added allure of historical significance—Grace Kelly is said to have shopped there. Located in the Old Bazaar section, Mavi Kose’s two stalls are presided over by the Yoda-like Mr. Diran Ozculcu. You can try on one of the antique diamond brooches and pendants, vintage watches, and more by applying to an aide, but to bargain and buy, you sit with the man himself, as I did when getting serious over a pair of rose-cut diamond earrings. I took the occasion to do a little fact-checking. Is it true that Grace Kelly shopped here? I asked. He nodded. One time or many times? The answer: many times. I bought the story and the jewels.