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Cuban Link Chains and Hip Hop Jewelry

Sal Aqua Master

OK, so let’s talk about Cuban link chains. Um, who are you and what have you done with Tali, the one who’s always going on and on about diamonds and other precious gemstone pieces? It’s a fair question. Gems are my favorite part of jewelry and always will be. But today’s post is dedicated to a jewelry trend that I haven’t discussed very much up to this point, one which doesn’t even involve diamonds at all. I know, I know, so out of character for me. I’ll get back to gemstones soon enough, but for now, let’s get our hip-hop on.

So first things first: What exactly do we mean by hip-hop jewelry? Does it have to be something that looks like it came from the 1980s? Did it come from the 1980s? Is this where the term “bling” came from? Is hip-hop jewelry only for men? Let’s see if we can’t find answers to these questions.

Hip-hop jewelry started with hip-hop fashion, and the earliest you’ll see this style attributed is usually the late 1970's to mid-80's. No doubt you remember fashion in general from this time period—perhaps with horror or disdain—and when we say hip-hop, we’re referring to fashion brands and sportswear that began to embrace trends such as bright colors, (ridiculously) baggy pants, over sized shirts, and bomber jackets. Hop-hop fashion increased in popularity as the 1980s became the 1990s and rap artists—all of whom were usually clad in hip-hop fashion—became both more popular and influential. And when we say fashion, we really mean it, because as time went on, even designers such as Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, and Ralph Lauren had lines of hip-hop or “street clothing.”

The most common type of hip-hop jewelry is the necklace, and I’m sure everyone knows exactly the kinds of necklaces I’m talking about. Gold chains, thick, sometimes riddled with “bling” but oftentimes not. I love the story from designer Isaac Mizrahi about his initial inspiration for his late 1980's line of hip-hop clothing. He’d seen an elevator operator who wore a thick and heavy yellow gold chain.

Gold (when I say gold here I mean yellow gold) is certainly king when it comes to bling and hip-hop jewelry, but you may be interested to know that there was a time in the 1990's when platinum replaced gold as the most popular metal for hip-hop jewelry. Much like what happened during about the same time with wedding ring metals. You may recall our previous discussions about the various metal choices a person has when purchasing a piece of jewelry, and platinum is a much heavier metal than gold. Gold chains are heavy enough, especially when you think about how big and thick so much of this hip-hop bling is, but the heaviness is part of the appeal; part of the very essence of hip-hop jewelry. So if there’s a heavier option out there than gold, something about that is going to appeal to many seeking a hip-hop kind of look.

Much like the clothing designers who jumped on board with hip-hop clothing lines and styles, so too did they jump on the bling bandwagon as well. Gucci and Louis Vuitton are just a couple of the many designers and companies who developed offerings in this space, making names for themselves by these new products and items appearing in various music videos and films.

Hip-hop fashion is a bit different today than it was in the 1980s and 90s, and while the thick silver and gold chains remain immensely popular, there have been changes in these jewelry items as well. The term bling itself, as well as the inclusion of embedded diamonds in many of these chains is more popular now than it used to be. We see things like grills (or even permanent gold or platinum teeth) often these days. And the chains and necklaces seen in today’s hip-hop jewelry tend to be bigger and heavier than ever before.

Aside from the heavy hip-hop necklaces that boast big symbols, shapes, or patterns at the end of their chains, a simpler but no less hip-hoppy option that is increasingly growing in popularity is that of the Cuban link chain. These are chains (usually of 10 or 14 karat yellow gold) that are fashioned from individual links and that usually do not contain bling (diamonds) or pendants. And for those who may think Cuban link chains sound comparatively boring, think again, because there are still several choices to make and elements to customize when you’re purchasing a Cuban link chain.

As we’ve mentioned before, there is the choice of metal. True that yellow gold is the most popular, but one can always leverage white gold, platinum, or even rose gold if one of those are preferred over the hue of traditional yellow gold. There’s also the pattern and look of the chain links themselves, as there is opportunity for variation and differentiation there. Each link can be identical, or a pattern can be chosen, perhaps a more elongated or open link every fourth or fifth link. The relative openness of links is perhaps the most varying element when you look at the styles of Cuban link chains offered today. And a final way you can customize and differentiate your Cuban link chain is in its overall thickness and weight. You’ll see everything from very thin links and chains to those that are so thick, you’ll wonder how such weight is comfortably supported. Because, trust me, if the super thick chains look heavy, they absolutely are, and if you aren’t used to wearing one, it may take some time to adjust.  In fact many hip-hop artists have embraced the super thick Cuban chains. Some of these chains can range from 500-5000 Grams in weight, that’s 5 Kilograms of gold and could cost up to $175,000 per chain.

Keep in mind that while it may seem like a necklace that’s simply a chain (and doesn’t contain any amount of bling or gemstone embellishments) would be a less costly alternative, Cuban link chains are not insignificant financial purchases. Especially since the cost of gold can fluctuate to a point that such a heavy, pure-metal piece of jewelry can become prohibitive. I’m not saying this to scare anyone away, just to set expectations, in that if you want a thick and heavy gold Cuban link chain, it will cost you. But then again, any well-made piece of jewelry meant to be treasured and worn throughout a lifetime should cost you.

I realize Cuban link chains and hip-hop jewelry in general is a far cry from the classier and delicate world of diamonds and fine gemstone jewelry, but it’s really no less important when it comes to its prevalence in our society and the overall influence it can have. Remember our Isaac Mizrahi story. Remember that his decision to create a line of hip-hop clothing stemmed entirely from the fact that he caught a glimpse of someone wearing a thick gold chain. He just saw it and it sparked an idea. That kind of head-turning effect is what’s possible from jewelry that makes such bold statements, so keep that in mind when considering the purchase of a Cuban link chain or other hip-hop piece.

 

Written by Tali Nay


 

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