From Kim Kardashian to Doja Cat, ‘teeth jeweler’ Gabby Elan talks the growth of grillz

    In conversation with celeb grillz-connoisseur Elan Pinhasov and Sotheby’s Cassandra Hatton, we learn what’s driving the new era of luxury jewelry.
    The rise of grillz reflects a soaring enthusiasm for customization, personalization, and asserting individuality through bespoke jewelry. Photo: Gabby Elan
      Published   in Hard Luxury

    Today’s luxury jewelry industry is thriving on record-breaking auctions, social media-spurred trends, and vibrant self-expression, right down to people accessorizing their mouths via the use of teeth jewelry, also known as "grillz."

    The global jewelry market is forecast by Market Intelligence Data to grow 7.95 percent from 56.5 billion (406.6 billion RMB) in 2022 to 60.9 billion (438.3 billion RMB) in 2023.

    And according to the 2022 China Jewelry Trade Development Report, released by the Gems and Jewelry Trade Association of China, China’s jewelry market was valued at approximately 719 billion RMB (99.9 billion) in 2022, around the same as 2021.

    One particular growth area is teeth jewelry, also known as grillz.

    Along with hip-hop’s forever-rising cultural influence impacting the popularity of grillz, the younger consumers and trends defining the space are evolving as the industry expands rapidly.

    “The stigma of grillz used to be: why would you wear that? It’s trashy. But with everyone now wearing them, it’s refreshing to see,” says Elan Pinhasov, one half of the New York City-based jewelry brand Gabby Elan, which was founded in 1991 by his father, Gabby Pinhasov.

    "The stigma of grillz used to be: why would you wear that? It’s trashy. But with everyone now wearing them, it’s refreshing to see."
    On TikTok, #Grillz has 2 billion views. Photo: TikTok screenshot
    On TikTok, #Grillz has 2 billion views. Photo: TikTok screenshot

    The father-son duo craft grillz for a loyal clientele consisting of A-listers like Pharrell Williams, Doja Cat, AAP Rocky, Chris Brown, J Balvin, Kim Kardashian, and Dua Lipa — all of which are easily some of the most influential celebrities on the planet. This has spurred a mainstream adoption of tooth gems, gold caps, and grillz, as well as a pivot toward more personalized, daring jewelry purchases.

    Since working in grillz, Elan Pinhasov says that the most detailed piece he has created was a “Last Supper” design for American actor Luka Sabbat, featuring an intricate presentation of the work of Michaleangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci that took around a month to paint.

    “You have to understand and dissect every customer,” Elan says. "When they are not sure what they want, you have to really look into this client, and find out more about their life, their history, and what would represent them accurately. I'm always doing research whenever I get a new client. I'll be looking up all their records, the album they're best known for, color themes. Sometimes people don't know how to express their preferences, and we try to find that for them."

    Luka Sabbat's "Last Supper "grillz by Gabby Elan. Photo: Gabby Elan
    Luka Sabbat's "Last Supper "grillz by Gabby Elan. Photo: Gabby Elan

    Elan’s clients range in age from 18 to even the 60s, and hail from a variety of careers. Grillz attracts both men and women equally. For the jeweler’s Asian consumers, quality is key, with no expense spared. Consumers in Asian countries usually go for either 18 or 22 carat standard at Gabby Elan; in London, it is 9 carats and in America, 14.

    “Grillz are just another way to express yourself and show individuality. The trend has transcended from celebrities to regular people,” says Elan. "To customize a smile is very unique. It's the first thing that people see. You can tuck your wrist, watch or bracelet away in your sleeve, but you can't hide your smile."

    You are what you wear (on your teeth)#

    The role of jewelry as a connection to the human character shouldn’t be overlooked.

    “They help us understand different parts of the story of hip-hop and how it has evolved to where it is today,” Cassandra Hatton, Sotheby’s Senior Vice President, Global Head of Department New York, tells Jing Daily. “Hip-hop is the largest cultural movement on the planet. Jewelry, clothing or arts, it’s difficult to find a category that hasn’t been influenced in some way by it.”

    Bespoke jewelry is being propelled by the rising consumer desire to own something unique, prompted in large part by the constant stream of trends from the music industry and social media. The value of custom pieces is also being accentuated by auction houses, such as British-founded multinational organization Sotheby’s.

    In July this year, music artist Drake bought the late rapper Tupac Shakur's gold, ruby, and diamond ring for 1.01 million (7.2 million RMB) — the most expensive hip-hop sale in the history of global auctions.

    Drake purchased Tupac's custom-made ring for over 1 million. Photo: Drake Instagram
    Drake purchased Tupac's custom-made ring for over 1 million. Photo: Drake Instagram

    Sotheby’s Hatton explains that at auction, jewelry tends to transcend what it was initially invented for. “Objects are just vessels for meaning. You know, the Tupac ring to me wasn't even a ring. Clearly, because the value far surpassed the value of the materials, you know, the gold and the diamond and ruby are worth nowhere near a million dollars,” she says.

    The one-of-a-kind ring designed by Shakur shows the power of instilling personality and character into jewelry, while also illustrating the influence that pop culture can have on the luxury industry.

    Ultimately, though, it is the level of rarity that drives popularity at Sotheby’s auctions, says Hatton.

    “What I'm looking for first is importance, whether it is an influential object or something that people would recognise. Then, it’s dependent on how scarce the object is. If you have lots and lots and lots of something, then condition is very important because you're going to compare all those things to each other. If you've only got one, then the condition doesn't matter.”

    Just recently, Sotheby’s London Autumn Fine Jewels Auction generated over 7.5 million (53.9 million RMB) in sales, the second-highest total it has ever achieved in the city.

    Art becomes reality#

    A thread connecting the success of Sotheby’s auction and Gabby Elan’s is the expansion of celebrity culture. In the music industry, artists are becoming more than just musicians — they embody a whole lifestyle and personality that is then imitated by fans, says Elan.

    “Everything that they do catches on, whatever they're wearing, people want to wear. Wherever they go, people want to go,” he says.

    Grillz might have once been reserved for famous rappers, but the connectedness of social media has given superstars a degree of relatability, making the trends that they set filter through faster than ever before.

    What’s more, Gen Z consumers are exposed to a plethora of archival celebrity photos that are generating nostalgia for an era that they were not even a part of.

    “Everybody from Gen Z is dressing like they’re from the 1990s,” says Hatton. “It’s like when I was in the 1990s looking back at how people dressed in the 1960s and 1970s. There’s a contingent of people who aren’t nostalgic, then there are people who are just inspired by that time period.”

    Jewelry’s new face seems to be driven by a consumer that champions customization, self-expression, nostalgia, and most unashamedly, a love for popular culture.

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