From Soviet Russia to Florence, Roman Zakharyan is a jewellery designer who has journeyed the world to hone his craft. Tracking down rare gemstones for his brand Bejanoff provides a whole new type of adventure “we call them dream stones,” Zakharyan explains. “When a client has something specific she wants, a specific size and type of gemstone that she asks me to source for her.” Depending on the type of stone his client is seeking, Zakharyan may need to travel to Cambodia, Burma, Sri Lanka, Madagascar, Tanzania, Namibia, Brazil or a combination of countries, to view and purchase the right raw material. Each of these destinations is famous for its precious rocks. Burma has colorful spinels, moonstones, peridots, sapphires and rubies, while Tanzania is the go-to spot for tanzanites, spinels and green garnets. “I once had a client for whom we crafted a very special alexandrite ring,” he says. “This was an extremely rare and expensive stone, and I really don’t think I could ever find this type of alexandrite again.” Pleochroic in nature, alexandrite appears to be different coloured when observed at different angles. The gemstone was originally discovered in Russia, but is today mined in Brazil, Madagascar, India and Sri Lanka. Alexandrites over five carats are extremely hard to come by. “My client wore her large Alexandrite ring to the Viennese Ball in Austria and was complimented by the CEO of a well-known international jewellery brand. Of course, she was elated and phoned me right away to share the news.” The Bejanoff line consists of two key collections – one focused on gemstones, the other on diamonds. The common thread between each piece is faultless craftsmanship. Trademark details can be found in his elegant settings, fixings and the way each individual stone is cut. It’s these fine details that have helped him capture the attention of the Japanese market, renowned for demanding extremely high quality. “Designing for Japanese women is interesting,” he says. “They are perfectionists by nature, they 164 – Prestige – DECEMber 2012
see details that you might only see with a microscope.” When Zakharyan designs, he uses a clay pillow to place the gems in various formations. “It starts with the stone,” he says. When it comes to materials, Zakharyan favours rose gold for settings although he also works with 18k gold and platinum. The designer has quite classic tastes and likes his diamonds rose cut, so the stone is flat with just a few facets. “This treatment makes it look more transparent and watery,” he says. “It’s more decent, not so much flash in the eyes.” He talks about spinels as one of the most undervalued and underestimated gemstones right now. “They come in amazing colours, have amazing dispersion and are very strong. They sparkle inside, they’re more beautiful than rubies but less pricey.” Forget films of the mid eighties like Romancing The Stone and Jewel Of The Nile, Zakharyan says that his search for gemstones rarely gets this dramatic. “I’ve heard stories about miners in parts of Brazil who swim rivers to get their hands on the very best material,” he says. “But even then things are still quite organised.” Zakharyan was collecting stones and mineral deposits long before he began designing jewellery. At age 30, the Muscovite abandoned a career in publishing to relocate to Florence, one of the few places in the world where artisans still make fine jewellery by hand. The Tuscan capital is considered a centre for craftsmanship and there he studied jewellery design and craft at Metallo Nobile. While studying, he worked alongside local artisans and took on part-time positions in various design studios. It was an ambitious undertaking for a Russian who spoke no Italian on arrival. The next big move for Zakharyan was to Bangkok, one of the most important gem-trading capitals of the world. While studying Gemology
there with the Gemological Institute of America, he met Shino, a Japanese gemology student who would become his wife. Around this time, Zakharyan began crafting his own jewellery and developed a small following of loyal clients. By day, he worked as managing director of a large jewellery factory; at night, he worked on his personal jewellery line. In 2008, he switched to designing full-time and launched Bejanoff, named after his Armenian-Russian mother Karina Zakharyan (nee Bejanoff). Karina raised her son in communist Russia. While the external atmosphere of Soviet life was rather grey, Zakharyan recalls his parents throwing wild parties in their Moscow home. Back then, his mother’s jewellery box contained a modest selection of tiny coloured stones she’d wear on special occasions. It wasn’t until the USSR collapsed in 1991 and she was able to explore the world, that her collection grew. “In the last five years, she has quite a few of my pieces,” Zakharyan shares. “I’ve made things especially for her. She is very encouraging.” As well as a supportive mother, it helps to have a caring wife who understands the industry and is happy for him to travel as required. This means Burma every couple of months, Brazil two times a year and Africa once a year or whenever sources advise there’s something exceptional for Zakharyan to view. “You have to understand the material when you are viewing it,” he explains. “It’s something that comes from the practical experience of cutting stones. Gemological School teaches you about the stones but when you are buying stones in raw form, you have to rely on your eyes.” Keeping an eye on the world is another skill Zakharyan has developed. “I look at what jewellery people wear. It’s a professional curiosity. I look at style, I look at the person, the way she dresses, her face shape, what kind of earrings she puts on and then I wonder what made her make this decision? What is she trying to express?” When it comes to fine jewellery, older women tend to be more concerned with quality, craftsmanship, value and beauty. Classic pieces. Their younger counterparts see it as something more fun, temporary and fashion-driven. “Culture plays a part too,” Zakharyan adds. “What people buy in Japan, Singapore or Malaysia is different to what people buy in Western countries. But with me, you are getting individual pieces, for individual people. I can’t even repeat the pieces.”
For collectors and designers, it ultimately comes down to what is available in the world at any one time. When Tangerine Tango was announced Pantone’s Color of The Year, women the world over chased after yellow coloured stones. Of course Zakharyan cannot source a Canary Diamond, Imperial Topaz or Citrine for everyone of his clients, but he loves that women are embracing coloured gemstones. “It is a more attractive material to work with as a designer,” he says. “Plus most of them are actually rarer than diamonds.” The material Zakharyan uses today already costs a lot more than it did three years ago. “I often think it will be interesting to see in 50 years what happens,” he says. “In fact, I think it was Orson Welles who said that the enemy of art is the absence of limitation.” It’s a poetic idea for a man with such finite resources at his fingertips.
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