By Zana Karkin
It was an overnight decision to open Bazerdžan. I’ve been imagining what this shop should and could be for so many years so when the opportunity to actually open it finally presented itself, I took it.
I was listing all the local creative people I loved and started talking to a friend to see if there is someone I haven’t heard of before. He mentioned Werkstatt and how amazing these two designers, his friends, were. Checking out their social media, I immediately realized they offer something completely different, exactly what my shop needed: edgy jewelry that’s not for everyone.
I've long wanted to dedicate a few lines to the two beautiful souls behind the brand - Ajla and Lejla - because they are the epitome of successful local artistry through expert craftsmanship, passion, and perseverance. It's a story that needs to be told, so here it is - if only a small part of it.
Ajla Šarić and Lejla Nuhić
One-of-a-kind handmade jewelry
For those unfamiliar with what Werkstatt (the German word for ‘workshop’) does, you’ll be pleased to know that I’m talking about unique handmade jewelry. I don’t throw the word ‘unique’ out so lightly (things rarely are) but in this case, it’s true.
Each item produced has something that makes it different from the rest of the pack, whether it’s a tiny graphic image, a slightly differently etched wording, or another visual effect. As such, it makes you feel like a stand out in the crowd. This statement-making jewelry is a choice for those who want to try something new and express their personality with eye-catching pieces. If you wear a Werkstatt piece, prepare to be noticed.
For me and the rest of the Bazerdžan crew, these fine pieces of craftsmanship are not the defining reason why we adore Werkstatt. It’s our dynamic with Ajla and Lejla that makes our partnership worth a town in gold. These two are one of the most modest, dreamy, and friendly people you’ll ever get a chance to meet.
When I met with Ajla and Lejla for the first time, I was intrigued by them. The pureness of their work, art, and dream mixed with unwavering modesty was something that drew me toward them from the start. In our line of work, you get to meet all kinds of people. If you’re lucky, sometimes the stars align in the infinity of space and you just click with the other side. Those moments are rare but when they happen, it’s pure magic and a bond for a lifetime.
That's what Bazerdžan has with Werkstatt.
The story of Werkstatt is all the more impressive when you get to know how much sacrifice and sheer willpower was put into it.
It all started in 2000 when Ajla and Lejla first met as students at The Academy of Fine Arts, University of Sarajevo.
“Work-wise, it was love at first sight,” Ajla says smiling, a cliche line that absolutely holds true for them as they shared so much in common, most notably their love of design.
“It just made sense. We both wanted to work with each other and had a similar sense and style for graphic arts.”
“What was essentially Ajla’s master thesis turned into a basis for Werkstatt,” adds Lejla. “She re-used zinc plates and transformed them into wearable art pieces. That’s what we do.”
Ajla then added: “I can say for a fact that I could never imagine myself doing this with other people, let alone actually working with anyone other than Lejla.”
“Same here,” nodded Lejla in approval.
However, they both had full-time jobs that were far from their background and kept their dream at bay by treating it as a hobby. Lejla lived in Zenica but worked in Sarajevo, and with her two little kids there just wasn’t much space to fit her dreams in the schedule.
“On weekends, I would drop my two kids to my parents, and meet up with Ajla in a semi-abandoned studio that her father provided for us,” Lejla says. “It was the only time we could work on our passion project.”
“In the beginning, it was really tough - especially with cold(er) weather,” Ajla adds as she looks to Lejla. “It was the two of us and a small heater that (barely) kept us from freezing in the rundown studio. We’d sit around it and try to warm our hands enough to cut a board, do a bit of engraving, and so on - whatever we could.”
“The first-ever produced Werkstatt rings were the product of those countless hours cozying up to each other and warming up to an electric heater,” Lejla adds.
From the early start, customers loved seeing Werkstatt @ Bazerdžan. Trying out different marketing techniques to boost sales, we were thrilled too and this gave us all so much energy.
Ajla and Lejla continued working on improving their working conditions and getting the proper equipment in order to take their venture to the next level.
“We needed a lot of things so we took out a business loan,” Lejla says with a small sense of pride.
We all hoped, deep down, that what we were trying to jumpstart (Ajla and Lejla Werkstatt and yours truly Bazerdžan) might become what we do for a living one day. We were all willing to give it a try - to boost local artistry and live our dream.
They decided to try their luck: they give their respective business a go and their 9 to 5 jobs a farewell ticket.
That’s how Werkstatt came to be - two university friends, armed with passion, gradually turned what was once an art hobby into a full-fledged business of design and jewelry-making.
Bazerdžan x Werkstatt = a Very Special Jewelry Line
The concept of my shop was to promote local culture and tradition, and we decided to pursue that mission together. That’s how the line of jewelry Werkstatt X Bazerdžan was born: rings, necklaces, as well as two types of bracelets engraved with lines from sevdalinka, traditional Bosnian urban songs.
The idea of jewelry inscribed with lines from various sevdalinka, just as sevdalinka is engraved in the hearts of everyone in Bosnia and Herzegovina, was a natural one. Sevdalinka is a massive piece of our cultural heritage that reflects a feeling of yearning, a desire for the embrace of the one that the soul craves for. The central theme behind this exclusive line of jewelry is to carry with you a small piece of that raw emotion and a time when things were much simpler and pure.
First introduced in 2016, I am more than proud to say it continues to resonate with people of various sensibilities.
Cool facts: apart from each piece being unique in its own way, the size of the rings can easily be adjusted by twisting while each necklace has a different inscription.
Handcrafting the future
You see, Werkstatt's seemingly biggest success so far is designing handmade jewelry worn by none other than Beyonce in the video for her single ‘Spirit’.
I deliberately say ‘seemingly’ because while having the world’s biggest pop star wear their custom piece in one of her videos is a testament to Werkstatt’s dedication, I feel like their biggest success isn’t just one thing - regardless how huge it is.
I like to think of it as a mix of all the great things and milestones Ajla and Lejla have accomplished, such as:
- Becoming a trendy brand in Sarajevo and restoring faith in local design and craftsmanship;
- Becoming a regionally and globally accepted brand with regional and worldwide stars wearing Werkstatt jewelry;
- Growing their team continuously to meet the increasing demand;
- Finally - doing what they love.
All of us here at Bazerdžan are super proud to have such an amazing brand be a part of our world for almost 5 years now.
If you want to know more about sevdalinka, be sure to check out our blog post covering this cultural phenomenon.