In the world of bling, where diamonds symbolize status, power, and luxury, hip hop culture has taken jewelry to an entirely new level. The extravagant, unique, and detailed pieces worn by rappers and celebrities are a significant part of their persona. Ever wondered who was the artist behind Lil Jon's "Crunk Ain’t Dead" pendant or the mastermind that created Pharrell Williams' exclusive N.E.R.D Chain?
These pieces of art aren't the result of some large-scale manufacturing operation, but rather the product of intricate craftsmanship and innovation. In this article, we are about to dive deep into the fascinating world of hip hop jewelers. We will explore who these artistic virtuosos are and their journey towards creating the most brilliant and iconic pieces in the industry. So, if you're curious about the hidden talent behind your favorite rapper's bling, keep reading.
1. Jacob Arabo, aka Jakob the Jeweler
Undoubtedly the most recognized name in the hip hop jewelry and watches industry is Jacob Arabo, also famously known as Jacob the Jeweler. A veteran in the game, Arabo has been dazzling the industry for over 30 years, crafting distinctive pieces for celebrities and hip hop artists that command price tags well into six figures.
Arabo's journey into the jewelry world began at the tender age of 17. After dropping out of school, he joined a six-month jewelry craftsmanship course, which he impressively completed in just four months. This early dedication to his craft landed him a job in a local jewelry factory.
By the age of 21, Arabo had opened his own jewelry shop on Sixth Avenue, creating pieces that no one had ever seen before. The ’80s and ’90s represented the golden era for New York hip-hop, with a wave of artists becoming stars almost overnight, gaining unprecedented levels of success and wealth. These stars naturally gravitated towards Arabo's shop. So much so that it was the legendary Notorious B.I.G., aka Biggie Smalls, who bestowed the iconic nickname, "Jacob the Jeweler."
In just a few short years, Jacob's name was immortalized in lyrics by some of contemporary music’s most renowned artists, including Jay-Z in “Girl’s Best Friend,” 50 Cent in “Get in My Car,” Beyoncé in “Upgrade U” and Big Sean in “First Chain”
Arabo's most iconic pieces showcase his innovative approach to design and unique style.
Watches: His collection of watches, which include Jacob’s Five Time Zone, The Quenttin, Epic SF24, Astronomia, Astronomia Solar Zodiac, Astronomia Casino, Twin Turbo Furious, and Bugatti Chiron, are stunning testaments to his talent.
Chains & Pendants: The Jacob & Co. N.E.R.D Pendant Chain remains one of his most recognizable creations, adored for its striking design and exquisite craftsmanship.
2. Jooma Brothers at Icebox
Taking the hip hop jewelry world by storm are the Jooma Brothers - Mo, Rafi, and Zafir - the proud owners of the privately-held company, Icebox. Today, they hold an enviable position in the industry, with majority of famous celebrities and hip hop artists having purchased jewelry from Icebox at least once.
Icebox boasts a team of highly experienced jewelers committed to crafting custom jewelry pieces that reflect the pinnacle of quality in the market.
The Jooma Brothers' journey in the jewelry world began in 1976 when their father, Mike, entered the industry. Four years later, their mother, Dinar, migrated from Pakistan to join him. Starting from humble beginnings, they sold sterling silver in flea markets, often sleeping in their car and traversing the breadth of America in pursuit of the “American dream.”
Growing up in the family’s jewelry stores, the Jooma Brothers were imbued with a strong work ethic from a young age. They worked alongside their parents seven days a week, from opening to closing hours. Even before they could tie their shoelaces, they were adept at cleaning jewelry for clients, changing watch batteries, and assisting goldsmiths in soldering gold chains or sizing rings. The Icebox we know and recognize today opened its doors in Buckhead, Atlanta in 2009.
The Jooma Brothers have created several iconic pieces that have become staples in the hip hop industry.
Lil Baby's "BABY" Pendant: This exclusive pendant designed for Lil Baby is one of their most recognized pieces that they've done for Lil Baby.
NLE Choppa Jewelry Collection: Working closely with NLE Choppa, they've created an entire collection that perfectly captures the rapper's distinctive flair.
Polo G's iPhone Pendant Chain: This unique piece, a chain featuring a diamond pendant that fits an iphone inside of it.
3. Johnny Dang / Johnny Dang & Co
The story of Johnny Dang, a Vietnamese immigrant who transformed his life and built a renowned designer jewelry empire, is truly inspirational and reflects the epitome of the American dream.
Johnny Dang ascended from repairing jewelry in a flea market to establishing a name for himself in the world of custom hip hop jewelry. His client list reads like a who's who of the music industry, including high-profile artists such as Migos, Gucci Mane, Lil Pump, Keith Ape, Chief Keef, and many more. In fact, he has been referenced in numerous rap songs on the Genius lyrics database. Dang's work also inspired Nelly's 2006 hit song, "Grillz," which topped the Billboard charts that year. If you look closely, you can spot Dang grooving in the background of the music video.
Famous figures including Kanye West, Jay Z, Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, Cardi B, Rick Ross, and countless others are regular customers of Dang.
In 1996, Dang immigrated to the United States from Vietnam with his mother and siblings, reuniting with his father after a nine-year separation. His father, a Vietnam war veteran, had fled the country by boat and eventually opened a small jewelry repair shop in Texas.
By 1998, Dang had established his own mall store, named "TV Jewelry". It was during his stint repairing jewelry in a flea market that Dang met rapper and entrepreneur Paul Wall. Wall was fascinated by Dang's innovative approach to making grills that did not necessitate filing of the teeth, a common practice back then. As a result of Wall's industry connections and insights, Dang was able to penetrate the hip-hop scene, leading to a partnership that flourishes to this day.
Dang gained fame for his unique grill designs long before they gained mainstream popularity. Each of his creations was distinct, characterized by different sets of diamonds, shapes, colors, and designs. He continues to serve a regular clientele that includes Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Snoop Dogg, and Beyoncé.
Dang's creations have been nothing short of revolutionary in the world of hip hop jewelry.
Godzilla Piece: This intricate piece represents Dang's master craftsmanship and has been admired by many.
P Daddy Grillz: Customized for P Daddy, these grillz have set a trend in the hip hop jewelry scene.
Migos Grillz: Each member of the group Migos sports a unique set of grillz designed by Dang, setting them apart from their peers.
Young Dolph Pendant: This exclusive pendant designed for Young Dolph exhibits Dang's impeccable attention to detail.
Johnny Dang "Myself" Piece: Dang showcases his skill and creativity by making a pendant of himself.
4. Ben Baller
Ben Baller, the founder of IF & CO., is a renowned Korean-American music producer and DJ, who transitioned into the jewelry industry, making a name for himself in diamond-encrusted creations.
Baller's athletic prowess in both American football and basketball, which led to him being one of the first Asians to participate in these sports at the NCAA level, is the source of his "Baller" moniker.
Interestingly, Baller broke into the DJ scene by boldly approaching Denzel Washington and requesting a job at his restaurant. In 1993, while working there, he crossed paths with Dr. Dre, who facilitated his entry into the world of music by getting him a job at Priority Records.
During his tenure as a music producer, Baller amassed an impressive shoe collection of over 2000 high-end pairs. Eventually, he sold his collection on eBay for a staggering $2.9 million.
The lucrative shoe sale provided the capital Baller needed to pivot his career and enter the world of jewelry. Given that his uncle and cousin were already established in the industry, he enrolled in night classes to hone his jewelry-making skills and subsequently, in partnership with his relatives, launched IF & Co.
Baller's reputation as a jeweler quickly gained momentum, attracting an illustrious roster of clients that included music industry giants like Kanye West, Drake, and Frank Ocean. He even crafted a diamond-encrusted belt buckle for the legendary Michael Jackson.
Baller's portfolio is filled with breathtaking pieces, each a testament to his artistry and craftsmanship.
Mariah Carey Pendant: This stunning piece crafted for the queen of pop music exhibits Baller's knack for elegance and luxury.
Murakami Diamond Flowers Pendants: This is a prime example of Baller's fusion of art and jewelry, resulting in pieces that are unique and visually stunning.
State of California Chain & Pendant: This piece demonstrates Baller's ingenuity and his ability to transform symbols and images into diamond-encrusted masterpieces.
5. Jason Arasheben aka "Jason of Beverly Hills"
Jason Arasheben, popularly known as "Jason of Beverly Hills," is a name that has revolutionized the world of jewelry since 2002. His eponymous brand has gained international recognition for its unique diamond pieces that defy conventional standards.
As an immigrant's son, Jason grew up in a humble background but harbored a deep-seated passion for jewelry and design. His entrepreneurial journey began at UCLA, where he sold plastic hair clips and silver trinkets from a small table on campus. Armed with his design passion and sheer determination, Jason quickly transitioned into the high jewelry market, gradually expanding his brand and opening boutiques worldwide.
Parties played a pivotal role in acquiring his first celebrity clients. He enjoyed socializing and set a goal to meet at least ten people each night. Although many rejected his offer to design custom jewelry, he did convert some, including prominent basketball stars. This led to the creation of his renowned NBA rings.
What set Jason apart were his intentionally provocative pieces that drew on themes of sex, drugs, death, and countercultural imagery. He wasn't afraid to push boundaries, creating necklaces with diamond blood droplets, designing syringes filled with floating rubies, and blending opulence with transgression.
His bold and innovative designs have attracted a diverse clientele, including Drake, NBA Stars, Ashton Kutcher, Jennifer Lopez, and Kim Kardashian.
NBA Rings: Jason's unique designs for NBA rings have made him a preferred jeweler for many NBA stars.
Drake iPhone Case: He took customization to a whole new level by designing a luxury iPhone case for the renowned rapper, Drake.
Dunamis Watch: The Dunamis watch showcases Jason's ability to infuse glamour into functional pieces.
Lil Jon "Crunk Ain’t Dead" Pendant: His talent for creating statement pieces shines through in the pendant he designed for Lil Jon.
Razor Blade Necklace: Reflecting his inclination towards unconventional and provocative themes, the Razor Blade Necklace remains one of his most standout pieces.
6. Joe Avianne (AVIANNE & CO)
Joe Avianne, a key figure behind Avianne & Co, has an inspiring story that begins in Uzbekistan, Russia. Joe, along with his family and other relatives, immigrated to Starrett City, Brooklyn in 1985, in search of the American dream.
Joe's journey to the top of the jewelry world wasn't straightforward. Initially, he pursued a career in professional judo and was even invited to train for the Olympics. However, by 1999, he decided to change his path and join his brother Izzy's company, Avianne & Co, which was a part of their family's four-decade-long jewelry business.
With an aspiration to carve a niche in the industry, Joe and his brother opened their jewelry store in Manhattan's Diamond District. They carefully chose the name "Avianne" for its luxurious ring and catchy sound. Determined to make a name for himself in the jewelry world, Joe leveraged his previous experience as a door-to-door salesman to connect with potential clients on the streets of New York. His efforts paid off, and Avianne & Co started to gain traction.
Joe's involvement in the industry went beyond creating mesmerizing pieces. He also assisted actor Adam Sandler in the making of the Netflix hit movie, "Uncut Gems," providing an authentic representation of the world of high-end jewelry.
Joe Avianne's client list is a testament to his success, including big names like Jamie Foxx, Tom Cruise, James Brown, Lil Wayne, Margot Robbie, Lil Uzi Vert, Bobby Shmurda, Slick Rick, Adam Jones, Travis Scott, Migos, and Nicky Minaj.
Slick Rick Africa Cuban Link Chain: This uniquely crafted chain worn by Slick Rick reflects the creative prowess of Avianne & Co.
Coi's Koi Fish Necklace: The detailed Koi Fish necklace designed for rapper Coi Leray showcases the intricate craftsmanship of Joe Avianne.
Bobby Shmurda's The Wesekh Necklace: Inspired by ancient Egyptian culture, this necklace stands as a symbol of the rapper's freedom following his prison release.
Mona Lisa Handcuff Link Chain: This thought-provoking piece displays the perfect blend of art and opulence, mirroring Avianne's signature style.
Bonus Jeweler Company: Icecartel
Moissanite, a gemstone born from the stars, is known for its dazzling brilliance that outshines even a diamond. Icecartel capitalizes on this unique quality to produce jewelry pieces that capture the essence of hip hop's glitz and glamour at a more affordable price.
Pioneering this new trend, Icecartel focuses not only on the monetary value of the pieces but more importantly on the artistry and creativity that goes into creating them. They offer their customers a chance to own unique, personalized pieces that are tailor-made to their tastes and preferences. By doing so, they are pushing the boundaries of the industry, giving everyone a chance to shine, and proving that you don't need to break the bank to make a statement.
Their wide array of designs and the flexibility they offer in customization allow their customers to express their individuality and style. Whether you're a rapper looking for a signature piece or a fan wanting to replicate the look of your favorite artist, Icecartel offers an accessible alternative to traditional hip hop jewelry. Their innovative approach is quickly setting them apart in the industry, making them a rising star to watch.
Read our article: "Do Rappers Wear Moissanite?"
The world of hip hop jewelry is a fascinating one, a place where art meets ostentation and creativity is expressed through extravagant pieces. These renowned jewelers, from legends like Jacob Arabo to newcomers like Icecartel, have truly defined this industry, and their masterpieces are the symbols of success for many artists. Every chain, pendant, and ring they create tells a unique story, an embodiment of the individuality and glamour that make hip hop culture so captivating. As you admire these spectacular works of art, remember that they represent more than just the glitz and bling; they are a testament to the wearer's journey, success, and above all, their unfettered expression of self.