The influence of hip hop on fine jewelry
While it’s a fairly new genre, Hip Hop and fashion are synonymous in today’s pop culture. Popular artists in the urban music scene are not only becoming music icons but influencers and trend setters in the world of fashion and in some cases, industry moguls by developing their own fashion lines to capitalize on this emerging market. Jewelry serves as a status symbol and a reminder of the humble beginnings of many urban artists. Beginning in the 1980’s expensive jewelry represented social change, when images of wealth and success as music videos began to dominate the airwaves, showcasing rappers in larger-than-life, diamond studded fine jewelry pieces.
“There is a lot of substance in diamonds because [it shows you have] overcome the struggle from poverty to success. My reward is having some diamonds around my neck, some diamonds in my mouth,” explains rapper and grillz designer Paul Wall in the VH1 Rock Doc “Bling’d – Blood, Diamonds & Hip Hop.”
Far from a niche market, fine jewelry inspired by influential hip hop artists is now common worldwide, with jewelry stores allocating valuable real estate to provide styles to people looking to emulate their favorite superstar. The trend of hip hop jewelry has expanded the entire market of men’s jewelry, making it more acceptable and common for men to express themselves by wearing jewelry. Jewelry designers and manufacturers are happy to be supplying this new demand for men’s accessories in all price points.
An enormous gold chain is a must-have for anyone wanting to emulate their favorite rapper with the most popular style being the Cuban link chains, a large and tightly woven version of the traditional curb-link. Often these chains will be “iced out” or set with small diamonds for an even more opulent look. You might take a look at these chains and think they’re hollow on the inside, but this isn’t always the case. Purchasing these pieces by the gram or in kilos (1000 grams) in gold is the norm, and the heavier the better. The Figaro link and rope style chains are also popular for their masculine appeal around the neck and on the wrist.
While yellow and white gold remain a standard as a symbol of status, those who want to stand out as individuals might opt for other precious metal colors. Rose gold or black rhodium-plated options are becoming more and more popular, and mixing the colors for two or three-toned styles add even more originality for people who want to stand out from the crowd.
Black diamonds are trending in every jewelry market these days, and the hip hop music scene can in part be credited for popularizing them as a design element in fine jewelry. From large stud earrings to pave-set stones in custom pieces, black diamonds create unique fashion-forward designs that appeal to men as a way to masculinize traditional diamond pieces, and to women who seek a more edgy look in fine jewelry. Black rhodium plating over 14k or 18k gold is frequently used in conjunction with black and white diamonds for contrast as well as design interest. The black diamond look with a matte black finish offers an expensive but understated look that might be desired over the shine and sparkle of the traditional yellow or white metal with white diamonds.
Quality seems to be taking precedence over quantity as consumers become more savvy and knowledgeable about diamonds and jewelry. It used to be that consumers of hip hop jewelry were only after a big look, but now most artists that have been around for a while are experts on the 4-C’s of diamonds and the value of gold and platinum as a commodity. Artists are also turning to custom pieces that have personal meaning and reflect individual taste over layers and layers of random gold chains. Practically overnight a custom pendant designed and worn by a rap or hip hop superstar will find itself copied and available for the mass market and become a mainstream iconic symbol.
Today the mainstream term “bling-bling” is an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary, and the rap and hip hop industry is credited with coining the phrase. Hip hop’s influence on fashion is only increasing as it creates more and more icons to influence today’s youth. Though not a traditional audience for the generally conservative jewelry industry, many retailers are seeing the potential in this young market. Men might just start purchasing as much jewelry as women, which promises a bright future for the fine jewelry business.