An Istanbul Jewelry Designer on Her Inspirations

Pavé creations inspired by flora, fauna and flights of imagination are a specialty of Begum Kiroglu, founder and creative director of the luxury company Begum Khan Mucevher A.S.

A recent example would be the Bee Bottle by Begum Khan, a 13-piece limited-edition bottle for the Guerlain fragrance Le Songe de la Reine. The special flacon, introduced at $10,000 each in May 2021, featured Ms. Kiroglu’s bee and flowers in gold-plated bronze and 6,500 pavé zirconia gems.

“She was the ideal designer for this wonderful project for Guerlain, so feminine, with her Ottoman cultural heritage, with a very Parisian ‘je ne sais quoi’ style,” said Ann Caroline Prazan, head of art, culture and heritage at the French beauty house. “This piece represents a strong symbol between the encounter of Begum’s Ottoman heritage and Guerlain’s French legacy. ”

Begum Kiroglu, founder and creative director of the luxury company Begum Khan Mucevher A.S. Credit…Ekin Ozbicer

Ms. Kiroglu, 36, also designs men’s and women’s jewelry and evening bags that then are handcrafted in small ateliers in Istanbul, where she grew up and lives (when she is not in Paris). In a recent interview, she talked about what influences her work, the years she spent studying in China and how she balances design with affordability (her prices range from $200 to $12,000). The conversation has been edited and condensed.

Your educational background is unusual. Where did you study?

I went to Italian schools in Istanbul because my parents wanted me to have a multicultural background. Then, I studied business administration at Koc University in Istanbul and management for fashion and design companies at Bocconi University in Milan. I had a passion for orientalism so I moved to Shanghai and I completed my master’s in Chinese culture.

How and why and where did you start designing jewelry?

About 10 years ago I wanted a gift for my brother who was getting married. I looked for a pair of cuff links that were timeless and also fun because they would be for a man in his 30s. The cuff links I liked were either overpriced or too playful to be a wedding gift. I decided to make them myself and this is how the journey started.

I met the artisans and started going to the workshops. I really loved the whole process. I started making jewelry for myself, and many people wanted to buy it. I had a pop-up shop with my first designs, the DNA pieces of the brand: the turtle with the ball earrings, the scarab ear cuff, the iconic evil eye evening bag. They are still in the collection because all of our designs are evergreen.

Did your family influence your choice to become a jewelry designer?

My family taught me aesthetics. Thanks to them, I was raised in a beautified world. Even the cups while we were having a simple Turkish tea, they were beautiful and artistic. As a child, they would drag me to auction houses, to flea markets. We started to travel to Asia when I was very young.

Your jewelry is very recognizable. How do you define your style?

I want to make people happy and have fun with my jewelry, and at the same time to feel sophisticated and elegant. I find my jewelry similar to makeup or high heels. When you walk into a room, you feel confident.

It should be instantly recognizable, like when you see a Prada bag, you know that it’s a Prada bag or when you see Dolce & Gabbana flowers, then you know it’s a Dolce & Gabbana pattern. It’s really important for a brand to have a personality. When someone sees a piece, they should say, “That must be Begum Khan.”

A selection from the Begum Khan Botanical Garden collection.Credit…Ekin Ozbicer

What inspires you?

Ottoman Empire, Ottoman and Turkish art and culture — where I was born and raised — and Chinese art and culture — where I lived for six years — and many different regions, like the Far East and India, influence my designs.

You say you try to keep your prices affordable. How do you do that?

Design comes first, and choosing the best materials and best craftsmanship comes second. When I’m really satisfied with the final design, then I choose the material. So if it’s a tiny little pinky ring, I use diamonds. If it’s a huge magnolia crown with 8,000 gems on it, then I use zirconia. If it’s a much smaller bracelet, then I use vermeil, gems and crystals.

Who is your main customer?

They are all ages but what they have in common is internationalism. They like to travel, they like to discover new things. They are strong, independent women who are not afraid of who they are and they are proud to show it rather than trying to be the same with everyone else. Queen Máxima of Holland, Katy Perry and Marie-Chantal, crown princess of Greece, are customers.