You’ve been in the jewelry game for a long time, co-founding IF & Co. in 2004. What are some of the trends that have come and gone?
As far as jewelry trends: for a while only platinum was in and then for the longest time it’s been yellow gold. And then long chains, some people wanting 42-inch chains hanging below their belly. You got people wearing choker chains now. But if you dig back to the Major League Baseball days, you’ll see that it was perfectly acceptable for men to rock a 18-20” long chain. Rock stars were wearing 15-16” real choker chains. It’s just translated down to rappers. Instead of big ass charms, it’s smaller, more detailed pieces. I also see yellow dying a bit; rose gold is mostly what I personally wear because not everyone can pull it off, BUT white gold is coming back and been coming back heavy.
The fashion industry has experienced a lot of ups and downs in recent years. What do you think about the current state of the industry and what do you see as the biggest issue facing the industry today?
You know I feel like there was much more diversity when it came to 10 years ago. One thing didn’t look like the other, and now everyone is just fucking copying everyone. So if Fear of God did these trackpants, then not only is ZARA gonna do trackpants now but Givenchy is going to make trackpants and then you got the dumbed-down version at PacSun. Back in the day, if Gucci had something in trend it didn’t mean that everybody will do the same thing. Now everything is kind of similar. The internet is so crazy and so quick, you don’t have to wait for a month for your magazine to give you an update on something. You can get that shit within an hour or 20 minutes.
When it comes to jewelry, you see these jewelers and they literally post the same Cuban links every other day or every week. It’s pretty sad, you know? We post nothing but custom-made shit. We make our own links. We’re the first ones to make new links. We’ve recently done a spike choker chain and floral link. We build our own links. My team, you know, we don’t just study hip-hop jewelry. That’s just some common knowledge for us; it’s not a cocky thing, it’s the truth. I look at jewelry like it’s almost like architecture; I also always try to stay fresh. A big problem inside the jewelry community is that these guys give out free work; that’s a huge no-no. I get it when you’re trying to get on, you need promotion… but some of these jewelers take it too far. If your work is really all that, then the money will come. “Ben Baller costs a lot,” yeah? But he’s worth it. ALWAYS get your money upfront. Get paid before releasing any jewelry. Always overestimate your work and value. If you want to be successful, then you can’t make everyone a piece. Turn down rush jobs if that means you’d possibly sacrifice your quality. I’d rather miss a deadline than to release subpar work.
Being a part of IF & Co. as well as Superism, what are the biggest similarities and differences between the companies?
In Superism, there’s been so many different changes. We’re trying to have that decent price point right now. With Superism, I have a design team and we use a manufacturing company to produce our goods. The main difference is in IF & Co. I own my factory and manufacturing, I have my own voice and it’s under me. And I’m definitely not worried about making my prices affordable.
Both IF & Co. and Superism cater to a certain demographic; with jewelry, it’s the 5% maybe and with Superism it’s for the fly kids, not adults. IF & Co. caters to celebrities, Superism is owned by a celebrity/rapper who knows fashion better than anyone. It’s a blessing and advantage in my eyes.
Last October you retired, but then got back in the game. Can you tell us a bit about that?
For IF & Co., in October I retired. And then in January I had a long talk with A$AP Ferg, with Rocky, with Tyler. They were like “you can’t retire bro, who’s gonna make our ice?” Rocky was like, “You part of AWGE. Listen man, everyone has a role here. You’re a jeweler, you’re an icon; you can’t just walk away from it.”
I didn’t see myself that way. And then they talked me back into the game, I came back with the Yamborghini. I’m not doing 7-8 pieces a month any more: I’m doing one piece for me. If you see a BB on the back it means it’s custom and actually touched by me. With that said, I do one client per month, with the money paid upfront. Around April, May, I was pretty much booked until early 2019 and it’s not even 2018 right now. One thing that’s beautiful about the jewelry game is that you must hallmark your pieces if you want to be considered official. With that said, when you hallmark something 14K or 18K gold or platinum, you can’t lie, it legally must be what you mark it as. Right now I’m finishing John Mayer’s 40th birthday piece, I decided to put BB and VVS+ on there which means the best quality diamonds were used on average, so our quality is there with Van Cleef and Cartier.
You’re an OG in this industry so we know you’ve set, met and straight crushed goals. What are your short-term and long-term goals for Superism and IF & Co. respectively?
I wouldn’t say it is my goal, but I talked about some collaborations with some luxury watch brands. However, I haven’t gone to the point where I want to fully invest into creating my own watch line. That’s a whole other different animal. I just feel like my next goal is to finally start putting out IF & Co. jewelry into other stores. The smaller stuff can be in boutiques like a DSM, RSVP Gallery, while the higher end shit can be in high-end jewelry chain stores. With Superism, I’d like to do some collabs with Nike, adidas, Vans, Off-White™ and VLONE.
What was your highlight of 2017?
I’ll be real with you, every single month there’s been something crazy. But I think Uzi bringing me out on stage at Coachella to bring out the Marilyn Manson chain, that was one of the highlights. And because like Marilyn Manson saw that piece and touched it and said “yo, that was fucking crazy.” He loved it. Another highlight: definitely Drake bringing me out to Manchester to deliver that Stone Island chain. Bringing me on stage and doing that even when he has five back-to-back sold out shows in different cities. Overall being recognized by Drake to the people who never heard of me, for him to take three minutes at the end of his biggest sold out show in my city and to thank me for showing him love early when he began his career was a huge highlight.