73 carats and counting

In hip-hop’s custom-jewelry culture, a new generation is ready to up the ante.
By Camilo Smith
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

December 23, 2007

HE made a $450,000 pendant as big as your forearm, shaped like the state of California, and a piece of baby bling for Suri Cruise. Across town, the competition crafted an 18-carat, black-and-white diamond pendant to look like Missy Elliott’s face for the rapper to wear in a video, and a 40-carat blue diamond and ruby Papa Smurf pendant for basketballer DeShawn Stevenson.

Jacob the Jeweler and Chris Aire? No. We’re talking Jason of Beverly Hills and Icee Fresh — the new purveyors of bling.

Jacob Arabo may have created the genre in the mid-’90s by bedazzling the likes of P. Diddy, Jay-Z and Notorious B.I.G., but a new generation is following in Arabo’s footsteps, eager to pick up any business he may lose as a result of his legal troubles. (Arabo is awaiting sentencing in New York after pleading guilty to falsifying records and giving false statements to investigators looking into a drug ring.)

Around the country, there’s King Johnny and TV Johnny Dang in Houston, and the Avianne brothers and David Bling in New York. But Jason of Beverly Hills and Icee Fresh in L.A. have the most far-reaching clientele, with connections in Hollywood and the music and sports industries. Jason has outfitted Jessica Alba and Lindsay Lohan, and Icee Fresh’s work has been worn by Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie.

Like its partner, hip-hop, the custom-jewelry business has gone from a cottage industry to a full-blown culture, even traveling the same route as the music — from the streets of New York City, to the West Coast, to the South (the only place where grills never seem to go out of style).

In hip-hop, you have your public “beefs.” But in the jewelry business, the competition plays out in private, in the form of criticisms of another jeweler’s craftsmanship, pricing and quality of diamonds, and the worst: whispers of cubic zirconia. It’s all about who’s faster (at finishing custom work), who’s better (at crafting gold) and, most important, who’s got the biggest pendant.

The NBA All-Star Game is the main venue for scouting clientele and gaining bragging rights. No matter what city the game is in — the 2008 game is Feb. 17 in New Orleans — there are plenty of shiny stones and glittering gold worn by spectators, off-court ballplayers and the jewelers themselves. It was at the game earlier this year in Las Vegas that Ben Baller, the public relations stuntman behind the Icee Fresh brand, strutted into the seats with a giant pendant in the shape of California swinging from his chain.

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