Sparkle and Sound: How Diamond Jewelry Has Endured in Music

“Jacob the Jeweler, baubles, Lorraine Schwartz, oughta do. It’s big balling baby, when I’m courting you.” — Beyoncé ft. Jay-Z, “Upgrade U”

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When Marilyn Monroe sang about diamonds in the 1953 film, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” the platinum-haired bombshell name-checked the likes of Tiffany, Cartier, and Harry Winston. Today, one would add the Beyoncé-approved jewelry designers Lorraine Schwartz and Jacob the Jeweler to that legendary lineup. For those unfamiliar with these contemporary purveyors, their context in the lyrics of Bey’s “Upgrade U” should make their trades resoundingly clear: two status-defining celebrity jeweler whose glamorous natural diamonds are anything—and everything—but modest. Both, along with Ben Baller (and yes, still-classic diamond companies like Harry Winston and Cartier), have become the go-to diamond jewelers for today’s hip hop celebrities.

From the lyrics to the fashion (from diamond pendants to diamond-crusted grills for teeth, and everything in between), the past several decades have seen diamond jewelry emerge as an integral aspect of music and hip hop culture. And these days, the more expressive the baubles, the better. It’s not just the Rihannas and Beyoncés of the world, either. Of course, as hip hop’s once male-dominated landscape broadened, more female rappers and singers arrived on the scene displaying more feminine, blinged-out looks, however the history and prevalence of natural diamonds in the hip hop community extends well beyond gender lines.

Hip Hop Jewelry Hall of Fame: The Gold Chain

Layered iced out chains & diamond chain pendants set in gold worn by 1980s hip hop artist Kurtis Blow

In the beginning, it was all about the gold. Take Kurtis Blow’s 1980 self-titled album cover, for example, which features a shirtless Blow waist-up, wearing five gold chains. The album, often regarded as one of the first hip hop records to gain notable recognition, went on to achieve gold-status in sales, and Blow’s jewelry style was widely imitated by other emerging artists. As much as musical recognition and actual sales drove an artist’s prestige, gold chains became status markers of their own: the bigger the chain, the heavier the weight and value (presumably), and thus, more notoriety. In a somewhat circular fashion, a key aspect of a hip hop artist’s success often hinged on that status, and one’s status only heightened with the money-making nature of success.

Personalized brown and white diamond chain in the shape of missy elliot set in bronze & worn by missy elliot at the AMAs
Rapper Missy Elliot’s necklace is seen backstage during the 30th Annual American Music Awards (AMAs) at the Shrine Auditorium on January 13, 2003 in Los Angeles, California

Alas, as goofily-outlandish as some become in their exaggerated sizes, gold chains could only get so enormous before their weight posed a hindrance to its wearer. Gold and diamond pendants in the shape of big-money icons like dollar signs and Mercedes hood ornaments became a popular form of adornment instead. As those pieces became more ornate in size and detail, diamonds emerged as the obvious choice of embellishment. Why have anything less than the best, especially across a musical and cultural landscape that very much delivers on one-upmanship? Throughout the 90s, more female artists such as Lil’ Kim, Mary J. Blige, and Eve came out blazing their iced out chains, too. More visible, wearable, and very often valuable than cars, mansions, and other signifiers of one’s rich lifestyle, diamond bling became the ultimate sign of celebrity and stature. Sports car models and fashion trends may become outdated and fade, but as the famous slogan goes: diamonds are forever.

Platinum diamond name chain spelling "chingy" & "g.i.b" diamond letter chain worn by Chingy at the Billboard Music Awards
A close-up of Chingy’s chains and jewelry as he arrives at the 2004 Billboard Music Awards.

Iced Out Jewelry: Sparkling Musicians & Their Celebrity Jewelers

As the desire for more bespoke, one-of-a-kind diamond jewelry pieces grew, celebrity jewelers such as Ben Baller (and his diamond company IF & CO.), and Jacob Arabo, more popularly known as “Jacob the Jeweler,” became minor celebrities in their own right for their ‘hip haute couture,’ baubles. Colorful, gemstone-encrusted grills, personalized diamond letters and logo images, for example, are continual images on IF & Co.’s Instagram feed, while Arabo’s flashy, five-time-zone diamond bezel watches, some selling for upwards of $1 million dollars, bear an instant recognizability. And with over 200 references in various artists’ tracks throughout the years, Jacob the Jeweler has become an especially rarefied figure in the hip hop universe.

Today’s generation of hip hop artists—today’s generation of celebrities in general—have more control of their public images than ever, thanks to social media. And for many of the most notable and followed ones, natural diamonds continue to be top indicators of fame, fortune, aspirations, and timelessness. Whether it’s Cardi B rapping about million dollar deals and rocks in her diamond watches, Rihanna’s jewelry or more figurative comparisons of love to the stars and cosmos (aka “diamonds in the sky”), or A$AP Rocky’s “mouthful of diamonds,” the alluring siren call of diamonds has only gotten louder.

Platinum diamond nose ring and diamond statement earrings worn by Cardi B at the 5th Rihanna Diamond Ball
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 12: Cardi B attends the 5th Annual Diamond Ball benefiting the Clara Lionel Foundation at Cipriani Wall Street on September 12, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/WireImage)

In this time of social distancing and sheltering at home, we created a playlist that’s heavy on the diamond rocks and upbeat for the spirit.

Megan Thee Stallion & Normani – “Diamonds”
Drake & Future – “Diamonds Dancing”
Rihanna – “Diamonds”
Cardi B – “I Like It”
Gucci Mane ft. Kodak Black – “Big Boy Diamond”
Ariana Grande – “7 rings”
2 Chainz ft. Ty Dolla Sign – “Girl’s Best Friend”
David Bowie – “Diamond Dogs”
Pink Floyd – “Shine on You Crazy Diamond”
Kacey Musgraves – “Ribbons and Bows”
Elton John – “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”