Vikki Tobak’s new book ‘Ice Cold: A Hip-Hop Jewelry History’ showcases decades of trend-setting style
SINCE THE EIGHTIES, three key forces have defined trends in jewelry: drug dealers, rappers, and Jacob the Jeweler. “When hip-hop brought jewelry into the game, the fat dookie ropes and the chains and medallions, it was mimicking how the drug dealers were dressing in Brooklyn or Harlem,” notes A$AP Ferg in journalist Vikki Tobak’s latest book, Ice Cold: A Hip-Hop Jewelry History. As hip-hop artists emulated the expensive looks of street-level kingpins, designer Jacob Arabo — dubbed Jacob the Jeweler by Biggie Smalls himself — was there to customize their pieces with innovative prowess. “You could say I was the pioneer that started adding diamonds to men’s watches, because at that particular time, only women’s timepieces had them,” he says. “This became a revolutionized moment in fashion for men who now wanted bling.” Published by Taschen, the book explores years of style and innovation, with Slick Rick, A$AP Ferg, LL Cool J, and others recounting their relationship with jewelry and its significance in music.
“A lot of brands didn’t want to do things these stars were asking for,” Jacob says. But soon they were eager to capitalize on hip-hop’s success with collabs like this custom Rolex x Wu-Tang Clan piece, flaunted by RZA.
New York, 2001
What Time Is It?
Jacob the Jeweler’s Five Time Zone watch, seen on A$AP Ferg, was a revolution to the industry when he introduced it in 2002. “Back then, there was no iPhone to check different time zones quickly, and world-time watches didn’t really exist,” Jacob says.
New York, 2017
Roxanne Shante changed the game when she arrived in the 1980s — a teenage girl dissing the industry and looking fly while doing it. Her style became a source of inspiration, complete with her signature door-knocker earrings.
All Eyez On Him
The Day-Date President, originally released in 1956, and customized here with a diamond-covered face for Tupac Shakur, may not be one of the most expensive Rolexes ever offered, at an estimated $45,000 — but it’s one of the rarest. Pac reportedly gave Biggie his first one as a gift in the early Nineties.
Los Angeles, 1994
Long Live Virgil
Virgil Abloh, who launched Pyrex and Off-White before becoming Louis Vuitton’s first Black artistic director, broke boundaries in fashion by combining luxury motifs with Black codes. Here, the late trendsetter wears grillz and stacked rings.
The O.G. In His Kingdom
There isn’t a person alive whose impact on modern-day jewelry trends is as great as that of Jacob the Jeweler, seen here in the 1990s at his Diamond District shop in Manhattan.
New York, 1990s
Life After Death
Biggie’s Jesus pieces are iconic. Jay-Z famously wears one of them as a tribute to his late friend. “It’s part of my ritual when I record an album: I wear the Jesus piece and let my hair grow till I’m done,” Jay wrote in his 2010 memoir, Decoded.
New York, 1997