Ivan Beckichev, High Jewelry Expert – Bulgari
Faith, Fun And Thinking Outside The Box
By Heide VanDoren Betz
Heide VanDoren Betz: What is your favorite piece of Jewelry of all time (historical)?
Ivan Bekichev: The Bulgari emerald necklace Richard Burton gave to Elizabeth Taylor as a wedding present. I love the iconic style and a beautiful romantic story behind it. The necklace was bought back from the Taylor Estate by Bulgari at the December 2011 auction of her collection at Christie’s.
(HB: I attended this auction in New York and witnessed the emerald necklace sell for $6,130,500 with the pendant brooch another $ 6,578,500)
HB: Why are people drawn to wearing jewels? It’s nothing new, think of all the jewels in ancient time. What is the attraction now?
IB: Jewelry has played a significant role in human life for thousands of years. We learn from history that ancient civilizations appreciated jewelry which was used to highlight the natural beauty of its wearers while sending messages of security, wisdom, elegance, and prosperity. I think people today like to wear jewelry to accentuate their personal style. I can look at a person’s jewelry and figure out their personality. Fascinating.
HB: Do you have a favorite stone, what makes it your favorite?
IB: Yes, I have two favorite stones. The emerald and the ruby.
Coincidently both played a very significant role in my career.
The emerald and the color green signify abundance, prosperity and growth within all aspects of life, as well as in nature, business, or even within ourselves. It is about finding balance, harmony and living together peacefully. The ruby and the color red signify love, energy, passion, power, and a zest for life. I think the ruby is one of the rarest and most romantic stones. I traveled to both Colombia and Myanmar (Burma) to see where these incredible gems are mined. Those trips turned out to be some of the best adventures of my life!
HB: Tell us a bit about your background, your upbringing
IB: I grew up in the former Soviet Union. My parents were a part of what was called (back then) “the intelligensia”. I had a wonderful childhood in a very loving family. Both of my parents understood the value of a good education, and encouraged me to try different things.
HB: And your education?
IB: : Studying was always easy for me; I truly enjoyed it. I went to music school and learned how to play the piano. I went to art school. I did ballet till I was 13. I graduated from my high school with a gold medal. I do believe that knowledge is power.
HB: Did you attend University in the Soviet Union?
IB: Yes, I was accepted at the University of St.Petersburg in 1989, and graduated in Linguistics (Spanish and English) in 1994. I was one of the fist Russian exchange students in Spain (1992). I spent 6 months in Madrid which I loved.
HB: What did you do after University?
IB: During my last 2 years at the University I became a tour guide in St. Petersburg where I met a lot of interesting people from many countries. One of my new acquaintances was an American businessman who later offered me a job in the United States as translator for some Russian artists he was representing.
HB: When did you come to the United States?
IB: I came in August ’94; I was 22 and turned 23 the same month. I was invited to stay for 6 months for various projects which took me through different cities and states – New York, Miami, Washington D.C., Park City, Los Angeles and finally San Francisco.
HB: San Francisco?
IB: San Francisco was love at first sight! I loved the architecture, the hills, the ocean. I loved the people I met. I loved the freedom that this city was saturated with. And ! I fell in love with someone in this city. I now know that if it had not been for my trip to San Francisco I probably would not have stayed in the US. One of my first jobs in the city was at Burberry on Post Street.
HB: Tell us about your path to Bulgari
IB: One of my coworkers at Burberry became a good friend.
She was a former model and well connected in SF. When she decided to join Bulgari in 1998 she convinced me to join as well. I knew nothing about jewelry but was very curious about this new and exciting world of gems and luxury; it was time to learn a new profession. Gems and luxury became my serious career.
HB: I understand you worked with other Jewelry Houses
IB: I left Bulgari a couple of times when I was younger. I worked for Boucheron and Tiffany for some years. I returned to Bulgari in 2012. I always stayed in San Francisco, although I travelled quite a bit in my Boucheron days. I developed wonderful relationships with many of my clients. I believe that my times away from Bulgari were beneficial because it gave me a rare opportunity to know the jewelry world from different angles.
HB: And your path to becoming “High Jewelry Expert”. What does that mean?
IB: Famous international jewelry houses have experts in the art of jewels. To become recognized, of course, a certain amount of high jewelry sales annually are expected. Many jewelry houses invite and host their experts with past and potential clients to gala events across the globe.
HB: How would you define “High Jewelry”?
IB: It is the ultimate form of art and craftsmanship expressed through the language of jewelry.
HB: Who are the type of clients that purchase High Jewelry?
IB: It is a very eclectic group of people both in age and cultural backgrounds. High jewelry collections are meant to instill a desire to collect one-of-a-kind jewels, much in the same way that art lovers build art collections. Numerous buyers are, indeed, avid collectors. Collections can be years in the planning, but clientele and buyer’s behavior is changing, and the high jewelry market – the way we sell it – must keep up.
HB: How is the jewelry market changing?
IB: The millennials are asking for bespoke pieces that reflect their unique personality and sense of style. They have been given conventional jewelry from big-name houses at a young age; now, they dream of something distinctive and different, either mirroring their contemporary art tastes or complementing their latest haute couture purchases. The increasing importance of individualism is very clear as is providing an exceptional experience for a new wave of clients who expect more. If you have everything, you want things no one else can have. The high jewelry world is listening.
HB: How would you define “Luxury?”
IB: I recently met with two exceptional ladies very familiar with luxury. I asked them this question about luxury. The response:
“ Luxury is the biggest vice one can have. Once you experience real luxury (something desirable, costly or hard to get; something adding to pleasure or comfort but not absolutely necessary) it’s very difficult to not have it.”
However, working in a luxury world has taught me that real luxury is not something tangible. It is not actually material.
HB: Are the majority of purchases by men or women?
IB: The majority of purchases are still by men.
HB: Tell us about the most exciting sales you have made
IB:: Every sale is exciting in its own way! I remember them all…
Of course, I never disclose my client’s information. Privacy is something I take very seriously. I often joke that I am like Switzerland, maybe even better.
However I will share two stories:
My first big sale happened in the beginning of 1999. The era of a new technological revolution had begun with San Francisco being the epicenter of it. A lady came in the store (I will call her Mrs. X ), and I politely greeted her at the entrance. She apologized that she did not look appropriate (surprisingly this happens a lot!). She was Italian, and mentioned that she would never go shopping “like this” in Italy. We laughed a little, then Mrs. X wanted to see our diamond rings. We did not have much. She lamented that this was the case with other luxury stores she visited that day. Mrs. X said that she was looking for a 10 carats D IF emerald cut diamond ring! I collected her information, and said I would inquire and get back to her. My coworkers at that time were saying that this could not be anything serious. But something was telling me otherwise. I immediately connected my sources in New York who took my inquiry with great importance and were able to send me a gorgeous 10 carats D IF emerald cut diamond the same week! It was unbelievable; it was nearly impossible to find this diamond, but we were lucky! Sometimes timing is essential in this business!
And, Yes, there’s such a thing as “jewelry emergency!”
Mrs. X answered my call, and was anxious to see the diamond. As was I. I presented the loose stone in a temporary setting in a VIP salon. It was only two of us (and a guard). There was a moment of silence while Mrs. X contemplated the stone on her hand. I wish I could know what was going on through her mind. She then softly spoke: “I’ll take it!”.
This was a monumental sale at that time. It seems like everyone was happy. My bosses, my coworkers, and especially my new client. What I learned later made this story even more memorable. Mrs. X was married to her husband for 10 years. When they married they did not have much money, so she did not have a diamond ring. She moved to the US from Italy because her husband brought his new start up to San Francisco. He promised her if the new company succeeded he would buy her the diamond of her dreams. Not only his company succeeded it went public the week Mrs. X was shopping for her diamond ring!
My second story will be a bit different and perhaps more suitable for a reality show. This was in my Boucheron days.
There was a gorgeous High Jewelry bracelet that I was trying to sell. We brought it to the US specifically for the Oscars
( one of the fun perks in those days was working with various stylists and celebrities in LA and NY), but with the clear intention to sell it. I had 3 prominent clients who I thought would buy it. In one week I traveled from Beverly Hills to Miami and NYC and back to San Francisco. Nothing happened. The bracelet was supposed to go back to Europe in a couple of days. I did my best (as they say).
The setting: Boucheron boutique was designed by Tom Ford, and looked like a beautiful night bar/ jewelry box. It was somewhat dark but very chic. This was a rainy day in San Francisco, and honestly I was tired from all the traveling. Then: A guard notified me that a client entered the store (we had very few walk in clients). A beautiful lady in her forties (let’s call her Mrs. M. ), immaculately dressed, perfect hair said to me: “I just want to take a quick look ”; I: “Yes, of course, may I offer anything to drink?”. She: “The weather is terrible, and I could use a drink”; I: “ A glass of champagne perhaps?; ”She: “That would be lovely! “.
While I was opening a bottle of champagne Mrs. M. was waiting for me next to THE famous bracelet: “May I try it on?” I opened the case and took the bracelet off the prop asking: “May I put it on your wrist?”; She: “ Yes, please, let’s see”. The bracelet fit her perfectly! She looked at it a couple of times, took her glass of champagne as I inquired: “What do you think? “. She calmly responded: “Well, the bracelet is spectacular but my manicure is terrible (brief pause) but I will take it; here is my credit card “!
You can only imagine what I was thinking. In fact, I was not sure such a big amount would go through on a credit card, but there were no questions asked. The back office assisted me within technicalities of the transaction, and everything went well! Mrs. M asked me to deliver the bracelet to her home. No problem! This seems like a fun story so far, right? Well, there was a little twist I discovered later. Mrs. M was getting a divorce from her famous husband, and wanted to spend $1M that day before the news became public.
HB: Tell us about a big disappointment you have experienced regarding a specific sale
IB: I have had many “challenging” sales. When a big transaction does not go through it is frustrating. However, experience helped me to change my attitude towards this type of situation.
Sometimes things don’t work out. It’s life! And life is all about duality, ups and downs. To me a relationship with the client is more important than a transaction. I had so many instances when something did not work out at a particular time, and I graciously retreated. These clients almost always came back, and tell me later how much they appreciated my consideration and personal style of selling. In fact, I am very grateful to each of those experiences. I learned so much, and in many ways those
(unsuccessful) experiences made my client relationships stronger.
HB: What gives you the greatest pleasure in your job?
IB: I developed wonderful relationships with many of my clients.
I often say I don’t believe in transactions, I believe in relationships. I have met so many fascinating people, and through my work have been able to contribute to many special moments in their lives. I also love the beauty I am surrounded by on a daily basis.
HB: Your travels – where do you like to go. Why?
IB: : One of my major interests is traveling. I have been in many parts of the world. I love to travel to pretty much all of Europe, many Latin and South American countries as well as Asia and South East Asia. I believe that the best thing we can do in this life is to see as much as we can; to learn as much as we can; and to experience life as much as we can.
HB: Any favorite places?
IB: I had just returned from a trip to India when my travel agent called to tell me about a “boutique tour” to Burma which became available on short notice at a fraction of the cost. It was a 19th century boat refurbished for tourists – I felt like I was in the 19th century. It was just amazing! There were 20 guests and a crew of about 20. We went to all the little towns on our way from Mandalay to Bagan. And yes, we did go to ruby mines and learnt a lot about rubies. I also love Buenos Aires. The city is beautiful and despite everyone complaining about its safety, I never had a problem. In fact, once a waiter ran after me because I left my wallet in the restaurant. I usually stay in Recoleta, close to the famous cemetery. Memento mori. Of course, a steak is a must when you are in Argentina. Don Julio in Palermo is a spectacular treat! I am lucky to have been to Paris many times. Bulgari opened a new hotel there last year, and did a beautiful High Jewelry event which I attended with my clients. The hotel is super modern and chic, it’s a must at least for a cocktail. The terrace view is unbelievable! I also never miss Caviar Kaspia while I am in Paris for a well needed caviar fix.
HB: Any San Francisco cultural or social events you enjoy?
IB: I’ve always been active on the SF social scene. I attend the Opera, Ballet and Symphony Opening nights. There are many charity events and Galas (MOMA, De Young Museum), which our Company and I personally support. I truly love almost all of the arts and enjoy connecting with people. One of my favorite events is the SF Fall Antiques Show. Great antiques, lots of familiar faces, great conversations.
HB: Your position can undoubtedly become high pressure. How do you maintain balance between your work and self- care ? Any advice for others?
IB: High pressure could be fun but it is never easy. It is important to take breaks and recharge. This is actually how I started traveling around the world so much. I noticed that changing the scenery is very helpful to reset the way I perceive the reality.
Our bodies need care just as much as our mind. I exercise and I meditate. One of my favorite exercises is walking around our beautiful city. I live close to the Grace Cathedral, sometimes I meditate there. San Francisco always inspires me and keeps me happy.
-Advice I would like to share: don’t hold anger. Forgive quickly.
-Not everyone you meet is meant to stay in your life forever but everyone is important.
-Surround yourself with positive people, and stay positive and authentic to yourself.
HB: What do you enjoy during your personal/private time?
IB: : Photography is one of my hobbies. I love to see the world through my lens. I find beauty anywhere I go and agree with Dostoyevsky that “Beauty will Save the World”. My friends are important to me, and I enjoy my quality time with them. The pandemic taught me another thing – it is important to live in the moment and to be grateful. Every day I am grateful for so many things I was able achieve. I am also grateful for so many opportunities that each new day brings.
HB: Your favorite restaurants in San Francisco?
IB: There are so many great restaurants in San Francisco and the Bay Area! We are really very lucky! Angler is a place I like lately, mainly because of the impeccable service. It’s a perfect place for a business night out. I like Zuni for lunch (the best chicken in town and great cocktails). Campton Place is good for an easy and quick business lunch as well. I often go to Yountville and the wine country where Bouchon and Bistro Jeanty are my regular stops there; and they are next to Chandon.
HB: Your favorite drink?
IB: I did not drink at all until I was almost 28; but the Napa Valley “converted” me. How can anyone resist the temptation of a perfect Napa Cabernet? I do enjoy various wines, mainly red (in moderation). Of course, it helps when some of your best clients are in the wine industry and introduce you to the finest wines.
If I have a cocktail it is usually a dirty Grey Goose vodka martini with olives and a twist.
HB: An ideal dinner partner(s) for a great evening?
IB: I am lucky to have a lot of great and fun friends all very dear to me. Spending time with friends is absolutely precious. It does not happen as often as I would like. But when it does, it’s pure magic!
I always appreciate genuine chemistry and an intelligent conversation, preferably laced with jokes along the way. I am fortunate to have good friends not only in the Bay Area, but across the world which I cherish and nourish.
HB: If it were possible with which historical figure would you wish to dine ?
IB: Salvador Dali. I once spent a month in Figueres, Spain where Salvador Dali and his wife and muse, Gala lived. It was a surreal environment; how fantastic it would have been to dine with them.
HB: Do you have a favorite piece of music?
IB: Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata is one of my favorites. I used to play is all the time.
HB: Any mottos in your life?
IB: Yes, I love mottos:
-The grass is not greener on the other side. The grass is
greener where you water it.
-We are the creators of our destiny, or let’s call it a journey. –Everything that is created begins in the mind.
– Be sufficient, have faith in yourself, have fun and always think outside of the box! You will be surprised the miracles that can happen.
IVAN BEKICHEV @vanyarus
Creative Director/ Writer: HEIDE VANDOREN BETZ @heidebetz
HMUA: ARTEMIO IBARRA @art_ibarra
Copy Editor: KIEDO VILLANUEVA @kei_villanueva
Art Director: NIGEL JOHN DEL MUNDO @nigeldelmundo
Lighting Director: REY DEL FIERRO @reydelfierrophotography
Photographer: VINCENT GOTTI @vinniegotti
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