Carmel-by-the-Sea in 1973 was a very different village than the one we know and love today. Yes, there were plenty of visitors, but the retail landscape was more directed to catering to a local clientele. As now, there were plenty of art dealers—in keeping with the town’s heritage as an art colony—good restaurants and souvenir shops, in addition to shops that served the full-time population. The business community was a bohemian mix, populated by entrepreneurs from all over the globe. Into this mix arrived a young man, a gentleman of Armenian extraction who grew up in Istanbul, Turkey. He opened a small jewelry store on San Carlos between Ocean and Seventh where he began designing and crafting the exquisite pieces that he has come to be known for worldwide. His name is Kirkor Kocek. His business, Kocek Jeweler, Inc., is celebrating a half-century of continuous operation this year.
Kocek began his apprenticeship in the art of jewelry at the age of twelve in Istanbul. One day while attending school, his instructor asked the class, “Who wants to be a jeweler?” “I raised my hand and said, ‘I do,'” he recalls. That decision, most likely made on a boyhood whim, charted the course that brought him to Carmel and to the lifelong vocation he clearly adores.
“When I first came to the U.S., I worked for a friend of one of my jewelry teachers in Beverly Hills,” Kocek recalls. “I heard a man was looking for a jeweler in Carmel, so I took a Greyhound bus here. The town reminded me of Switzerland.” At the time, Kocek didn’t speak English and didn’t own a car. But he did know how to make jewelry and he was hired at the princely sum of $12.50 an hour. “That was good money in the 1970s,” he jokes. He attended English classes at Monterey High and soon opened his own shop. “I was a one man show,” Kocek says, “and then hired a salesperson. I was new to business; she was new to jewelry sales. We both started at zero.” Later, he was offered the empty storefront across San Carlos and moved into the space Kocek Jeweler, Inc. occupies to this day.
Business was—and is—good, due to several factors. First is Kocek’s natural, genuine charm and obvious love of people. But no business can succeed for half a century on personality alone. It’s the exquisite jewelry designs this master jeweler creates that has brought him a following of clients that now spans generations.
This is a man who was clearly born to be a jewelry designer. “In addition to being my livelihood, this is my hobby,” Kocek says. “It makes me comfortable. Some people go to psychiatrists, I design jewelry. It’s therapy to me and always has been.”
Next to the shop’s front door is a special showcase Kocek calls his “museum.” On display are pieces he considers to be significant in his artistic development and career, beginning with a ring he made for his mother in 1959, when he was 15. Also on display are several masterfully drawn pencil sketches on vellum of jewelry pieces. From these drawings, it’s clear that Kocek could also be a fine artist, if he chose to pursue that avenue. Also in the case are a pair of California grizzly bear cuff links. This design has historical significance; an identical pair were on President Ronald Reagan’s wrists during the assassination attempt in March 1981. Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger also purchased several for gifts and personal use. One piece the artist is particularly proud of is the cross he designed for Pope John Paul II. He was granted a personal audience with the pope, and framed photos of the occasion are on the wall behind the showcase.
Behind the showroom is a workroom containing every tool imaginable for crafting metal and gemstone jewelry. It’s clearly all business here and it’s where jeweler Giovanni Lo Gelfo translates Kocek’s designs into 3D reality. As office manager, Michelle Johnson oversees operations and sales. Fully 65% of the pieces on offer are designed by Kocek; the remainder are mainly from European makers. “They must meet my standards,” he says. “Quality and price have always been top priorities to me.”
Kirkor Kocek is indeed a fine jewelry designer who has found his niche in life and loves every moment. But he is also a fiercely loyal man. Over the years he has brought family members and many of his jewelry school friends to the U.S. and set them up in businesses or with other jewelers. Combined with his inestimable design skills and business acumen, it’s this personality trait that has been fundamental to the fact that Kocek’s is the oldest Carmel business continuously run by the same proprietor. And he’s not done yet.
Kocek Jeweler, Inc. is located on San Carlos between Ocean and Seventh in Carmel. For more information, visit kocekjeweler.com or call 831/624-8485.