The hidden hero of jewelry
Şermin Cengiz is in the jewelry business.
As soon as she graduated from Bosphorus University’s management department, she decided to deal with fairs on jewelry.
“We did not have anyone in the family dealing with this business and I did not know anybody in the Grand Bazaar. I just wanted to enter an unknown space in Turkey,” says Cengiz.
She established her own company Rotaforte and went to knock on the doors of the Jewel shops in the Grand Bazaar. But in those days not many understood what she was trying to do.
“Having stands next to each other in fairs did not appeal to them,” she said.
When she first organized the “Istanbul Jewelry Show,” in 1985, the number of participants was a bare 38.
Today she hosts 1200 participants in an area of 25,000 square meters.
Her company Rotaforte got even stronger after a merger with a world renowned British fair company UBM.
“Istanbul Jewelry Show” became the world’s biggest fair after Hong Kong, Las Vegas and Vicenza in Italy.
There is a petite, joyful woman behind this success.
When she started business even importing gold was not allowed. The jewelry sector has made a big leap forward after Turkey’s late president Turgut Özal gave way to gold importation according to Cengiz who added, “In those years we did not even have our own brand in jewelry; and our exports were 0.”
Turkey’s imports have over time risen to $2 billion and the target set by the Turkish Jewelry Association for 2023 is $12 billion.
While Turkey is on equal footing with Italy as far as quality is concerned Italy, is much ahead of Turkey on design and branding.
“Zen, Goldline, Atasay, Altınbaş,” are the few Turkish brands known by the world, according to Cengiz. And obviously, Sevan Bıçakcı, who has a high number of fans not only in Istanbul but also in New York.
While the sale of diamond in the world has increased three times in 25 years, the three fold increase in diamond sales was registered in Turkey during the last five years, according to Emil Güzeliş, the creator of “Zen,” who is also a board member of the Turkish Jewelry Association.
Love for diamonds could be considered as normal in a country where dollar millionaires have increased tenfold during the last 10 years.
Zen has opened 55 shops in Turkey, as well as shops in Qatar, Kuwait and Irbil, while it is making sales through the internet.
No doubt Şermin Cengiz has played a role if today Zen is exporting jewelry to North America, Russia and Asia.
Cengiz continues her contribution to the sector’s development. She is allocating places for free to students who are studying jewelry design, enabling them to get to know the sector and to come face to face with the representatives of the important brands.
Cengiz was just back from Arbil, Suleimaniah and Doha the day we met. She is expecting the biggest number of visitors to the Istanbul Jewelry Show in October from northern Iraq. “That’s because there is a lot of money in these places. My guess is that Arbil will be like Dubai in a few years.