You may have seen the Ottoman-inspired silver and gold designs of Alp Sagnak of Atelier Minyon in the Design Center of JCK Las Vegas or the Designer Gallery of the Jewelers of America shows, but if not, here’s an opportunity to know him better. Sagnak founded his firm in December 2008, the name an offshoot of his father’s firm—Jewel of House of Minyon—in Ankara, Turkey, established in 1970. Sagnak, who works mainly in silver and 24k gold (“Never below 14 karat gold,” he says), spoke to JCK recently about the sensibility behind his sometimes-dark designs.
Alp Sagnak of Atelier Minyon
JCK: Describe your signature style.
Alp Sagnak: Our signature style is a combination of 24 karat pure gold and oxidized silver, and the design of the collections is based on the Ottoman Empire style of jewelry. I learned from my father, a master goldsmith, but my personal collections have got a dark side to them, though still using the same techniques as Ottoman jewelry. A signature look in my jewelry is setting stones upside down (culets set up); this is not necessarily the center focus, but parts of the details. My weapons jewelry is inspired by Fantasy Art and European gothic themes.
JCK: How long have you been designing fine jewelry?
AS: I studied industrial engineering at University in Turkey, but started making jewelry in my father’s workshop in Ankara, Turkey, at age 7 or 8. I watched our goldsmiths work, and served them as an apprentice, serving them tea and getting them cigarettes—whatever they needed to stay focused on the work. I think I watched them work for three to four years, and then, being the son of the boss, I was lucky enough to start playing on the bench at age 22, and figuring out my own style. Making commercial bridal jewelry and tennis bracelets in white gold paid the bills, but I wanted to do something else. So my bench work started with making the pieces and giving them to diamond setters and polishers to finish. Then a couple of years later, I starting playing with their tools and created my own style of setting and finishing. And when people started to buy my pieces, that made me more brave to finish everything myself. I had been travelling to the JA to sell my father’s line, but in the summer of 2006, I held a trunk show with my designs in the home of a customer who lived in West Chester. In three hours, I made a lot of money, and they appreciated me—they were taking their picture with me—and everybody paid cash. I decided I had to move here, so I did in November 2008 and opened our U.S. office.
JCK: What techniques do you employ when making the jewelry?
AS: There are different production styles for different collections. Some of them require a deeper detailing that can only be given by 3-D computer programming; it allows an impossible style or look to be made by hand, so, we use both the computer and handmade techniques. For example, if you want to give all the details of a Gibson LES Paul guitar [see slideshow], you have to use technology. If the project does not allow you to make you mistakes, you have to integrate the 3-D programming.
I cannot say I am the best setter or hand carver out there, but when I start and finish everything myself, I am feeling like it is a better finish than everyone else because I am in full control of all the mistakes that happened during the process and the mistakes are consistent; when they are consistent, they look very unique and with a completely different look or finish than any other designer.
I personally think the reason that people like handmade jewelry is the combination of consistent mistakes. After a while those mistakes turn into character, and that is what people love.
JCK: Do you sketch designs for someone else to create the jewelry, or do you make all the jewelry yourself, or at least by others in a workshop under your supervision?
AS: There is no way to make all the production myself because of the size of the trade of our customers, so, yes, we have 45 more people that we have to supervise.
Thank God the size of our company allows me to try new things that I personally like. My goal is similar to that of every designer, I think: to change the game. People who know us or work with us already know that if there is a crazy project to be executed, they come to us because we love unusual and non-existing projects. Thinking outside the ordinary and trying new ideas or new materials has been the key to our success, I think. I want everyone to know that we will push the limits until we die. And, make sure the next generation of ours will do the same.
JCK: Is your jewelry cast or fabricated, and where is it made?
AS: Ninety-nine percent of it is handmade and made in New York City. Some is made in Turkey, where the parent company is located.
JCK: Do you make all your own findings and components, such as chain and clasps?
AS: Not for every collection, but for many we make our own components. The funny thing is, I think, is that since I’m from a handmade culture, Atelier Minyon makes some things faster than other people would—be lazy enough to—go and buy them from a findings place! We make many things ourselves and save money.
JCK: What stones do you work with and why?
AS: We use a lot of rubies, sapphires, and diamonds—black and colored—as well as opaque and rough stones in grey and green shades. Ottoman Empire Jewelry featured rose-cut diamonds that look like dome, and we use G-H, VS stones.
JCK: How many U.S. accounts do you currently have?
AS: More than 30 in the U.S. and five internationally.
JCK: What jewelry shows do you exhibit in?
AS: Jewelers of America New York Shows and JCK Las Vegas.
JCK: What is your starting retail price for each metal you work in?
AS: Our average retail prices are from $2,000–$15,000, and the starting price is $400 for a Tribal Tattoo collection pendant. There are four to five collections targeting the $1,000 mark, and they are 80 percent silver and 20 percent 24 karat gold.
JCK: Have you received or been nominated for any jewelry design awards during your career?
AS: No, but—believe it or not—we’ve never entered a competition. But I think we have a “design competition” every day since we are trying to sell jewelry! 🙂 Whenever we receive a check or swipe a card for the purchase of any piece of jewelry, then we consider that piece “won” that day.