American-educated Osman Gilan is the second generation of Istanbul-based couture jeweler Gilan.
Gilan got his start accompanying his father to workshops as a young child. Now, he travels the world to bring the couture creations inspired by his city’s rich history to appreciative customers worldwide. Still, unbridled growth is not his objective. Recently, Elite Traveler Editor-in-Chief Douglas Gollan visited Gilan in the city where East meets West, and got a firsthand look at one of the workshops where centuries-old techniques are still used.
ET: What is the company history?
Osman Gilan: Gilan was founded in the 1980s by my uncle and my father, but the story goes way back. The great- great- grandmothers of our family were making custom dresses for the Ottoman pashas so this one-of-a-kind, made-to-measure lifestyle has been a legacy to our family. My father and my uncle continued this legacy in our jewelry business. We are proud to be from Istanbul. It was the capital of three successive empires, and we carry the spirit of Istanbul in our DNA. It’s our legacy to reflect this lifestyle.
ET: What differentiates Gilan?
Osman Gilan: The techniques we use come from the Ottoman palace. The craftsmen we work with are the great- great- grandchildren of the people who worked in the palace. The number of craftsman who can master the technique is very few – so everything we do is either one-of-a-kind or very limited. As you can see, it is not mass production. (We are touring a workshop where pieces are finished.) The master here is the only one who knows the technique to finish these pieces. My father, uncle and I do not know. When the master is getting ready to retire, he will pass the secrets to just one person he chooses.
ET: So it sounds like it is hard to figure out production schedules?
Osman Gilan: Yes! He works on pieces when he is inspired. As you see he will have a couple dozen pieces on his bench and he will pick up the one that catches his passion at that very moment. And we have to hope his favorite football team wins, otherwise he might not work on anything for a couple days. (Laughs.)
ET: What are your key markets?
Osman Gilan: The U.S. and the Middle East are our primary markets. When you look at their appreciation for jewelry, except for European royal families, it is very similar. Also, over the last 50 years, these people have access to all the French and Italian brands. When you look at luxury as an industry, it has changed a lot over the last 10 to 15 years. Many independent houses were bought by big groups and financial investors. Our target customers want something different. They don’t want to wear the same thing as everyone. When I walk down Madison Avenue I see all of these ateliers that make just ties or shoes or watches. It shows me there is a place for true luxury amidst mass luxury.
ET: How did you get involved in the business?
Osman Gilan: I represent the family as second generation. I was born into the business. My father made me sell lemonade to tourists in the street so I could learn English and develop conversation skills. Each summer starting when I was in primary school he was taking me to workshops. I have a younger brother. Gilan is the sister we never had because my father sees Gilan as the daughter he never had. I went to University of Virginia. It was fun and different. Istanbul is 15 million people and Charlottesville is 60,000. In the U.S. there is access to so much information. When I graduated, I moved to New York and worked as a marketing executive at our boutique, then decided it was time to come back home. Today I am in charge of international development and am on various boards such as marketing and communications.
ET: How does your viewpoint differ from the founders’?
Osman Gilan: As a second generation you need to bring some advantages to the table and my advantage was I had a closer view of the luxury lifestyle. When my father and uncle started the business they had limited access to everything, whereas I grew up in luxury and it gave me personally an insight to the clients mind. I grew up as a client to what we do. I can see it as the client does.
ET: Are you involved in design?
Osman Gilan: No. We have a team of designers. Our head designer has been with us for 20 years. We have a design board, and then and we decide on the designs.
ET: What are you goals for Gilan?
Osman Gilan: First of all, coming from Istanbul, we see ourselves on a national frontier as the first luxury house coming out of Istanbul, so we also want to promote the culture of Istanbul. In terms of being a globally recognized brand, I don’t think about 10 years. I think about 50 years, and how I want to deliver Gilan not just to my children but grandchildren. Even though technology changes rapidly, the value of craftsmanship will be even higher as more luxury goes mass.
ET: Do you see any role for technology?
Osman Gilan: Ten years ago you in Istanbul you didn’t have access to the world. Recently, I noticed on Istagram a woman posting lots of pictures of her jewelry. I posted one of our pieces and tagged her. She contacted me and ended up buying the piece. She is from Taiwan.
ET: So will there come a day where you will be selling over the Internet?
Osman Gilan: No. We tell a story. Every piece we create has a unique story. Nothing can replace the personal touch. You have to be face to face. You have to watch the client’s face as she is holding the piece. It’s not a business. Jewelry is a lifestyle. It is very personal. More and more clients are coming to visit us from around the world. People are really now also buying experience. I read about the Lamborghini Driving Experience so I went. I had never owned a Lamborghini and frankly had never aspired to have one. Now, it’s on my list.
ET: What’s the price range for Gilan?
Osman Gilan: Our average sale is $20,000 but there is no limit. We also do objets d’art. We made a set of six champagne flutes. They were $140,000 each.
ET: What’s in your driveway?
Osman Gilan: I have Ferrari 612, Porsche 911 3TS and a Range Rover.
ET: Do you have any hobbies?
Osman Gilan: I collect watches. I have 19 watches so far. My favorites are Girard-Perregaux, Richard Mille and I just got an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph Tourbillion.
ET: What are your favorite places to stay?
Osman Gilan: In London, I like the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park. In Los Angeles, I alternate between the Four Seasons and Peninsula, and, in New York, The Mark. In Zurich, I like the Dolder Grand. I just stayed at One & Only in the Maldives and had a wonderful time.
ET: Any good trips coming up?
Osman Gilan: My family is going to Japan to eat sushi at Sukiyabashi Jiro. He has a legacy. He doesn’t want to be everywhere. It’s a good example of how if you are the best, people will come to you. He is the only reason we are going.