Nicki Minaj’s Jeweler on Designing for the Stars and How to Spot Fake Bling on the Red Carpet

  • Elliot Avianne

  • Elliot Avianne

  • Elliot Avianne

  • Elliot Avianne

  • Erica Mena Engagement Ring

  • Elliot Avianne

  • Elliot Avianne

  • Elliot Avianne

  • Elliot Avianne

  • Elliot Avianne

  • Elliot Avianne

  • Elliot Avianne

  • Elliot Avianne

Elliot Avianne, celebrity jeweler for New York’s Avianne & Co., has racked up an extensive list of famous clients since joining the store as a sales clerk when he was 18. “I didn’t know anything at the time,” Avianne told us. “I didn’t even think that I would be doing this.” Six years later, he’s worked with everyone from Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj to Chris Brown. We spoke to the in demand jeweler about creating unique pieces for some of the biggest celebrity teams around (Young Money, Cash Money, Freebandz, Rich Gang), dealing with difficult requests, and being prepared to fly away at a moment’s notice.

So Nicki Minaj was your first big celebrity client?
Elliot Avianne: Yeah, definitely. She came to the store and everything. She bought a bunch of stuff — her first big diamond watch is from us. I made her a Roman piece for her new album at that time, then she introduced me to Birdman. He didn’t deal with me right away, though. I started dealing with Lil Wayne first — almost everything [Wayne] is wearing is from me — and then Birdman started dealing with me, too.

What are the steps to creating a custom piece for a celeb?
We look at the situation they’re in, and we try to work off that. They basically give me the idea and I help them create a vision. I work with my model makers on designing it on the computer. After that, I cast it in whatever metal they want. Once it’s casted, I give it to Izzy and he prepares the diamonds for it. Then I give it to my diamond setters and they set the diamonds in the piece. I tell them where to put the diamonds and that’s about it. The last step is to polish.

Who has been your most difficult client to work with?
I don’t really have any difficult clients, but I did have situations in the past where I had to redo some stuff. For example Nicki Minaj’s Roman Piece, she wanted it exactly the same size with her Barbie piece so I had to redo the whole piece. So I’d say I’ve been in a few difficult situations not clients.

Was she bitching you out about it?
[Pause.] No. It was just one of those difficult situation. I have a great relationship with Nicki, so I didn’t take it personally.

Who is your most demanding client?
Birdman. He’s the most consistent with buying jewelry every month. He doesn’t just buy jewelry for himself, he buys for his whole team. And he never buys one piece.

How do you handle difficult celebs?
I just try to please them. If they give me a deadline I try to finish it before a deadline.

You created Bow Wow’s engagement ring for Erica Mena, right?
Me and Bow have a close relationship, so he called me to get it right. He told me he wants the center stone to be the main focus, which helped me come up with the design. It’s a three-carat round cut DVS one diamond stone, 18-karat yellow gold double shank, halo micro pave setting.

What do you think are some misconceptions people have with celebrity jewelers?
People think I have the easiest life and the best life. They follow me on Instagram and say, “Oh you travel, you’re with these people and those people.”

What is the craziest thing you have had to do for a celebrity last minute?
A few weeks ago Chris Brown called me at four in the morning East Coast time and was like, “I need you to come out here before Christmas.” He wanted to buy a ring as a gift for his girl. So that was random. I had pre-made stuff so I brought bunch of rings and he picked one. Every day is like that. I can’t plan stuff because I might get a phone call today and have to fly out tonight or tomorrow.

How do you meet your clients?
I meet people in random places. I met this girl in Brooklyn who was a manager of a club, and she introduced me to Safaree, Nicki Minaj’s ex-boyfriend. I developed a close relationship with him, he introduced me to Nicki, and then Nicki just started dealing with me.

Who are some of your other big clients?
I deal with Future, Ciara, Yung Thug, Rich Homie Quan, French Montana. I’ve pretty much dealt with a lot of artists at least once.

How long does it take to make your jewelry?
My turnaround is quick, and everything is done in house. It always depends, but usually 10 business days.

What was the most expensive piece of jewelry you have ever made?
Probably $250,000 for one piece for Birdman. He bought a Cuban with a matching bracelet.

What is your favorite piece of jewelry you have made for a celeb?
Future’s new piece. When I first met him he wasn’t really into jewelry so I made him his logo in a round medallion in yellow gold. Last year I made him an upgraded version in white gold, just a lot bigger, with bigger diamonds and the Freebandz logo. It was one of the nicest pieces out last year.

Which celebs do you still want to work with?
Jay Z is definitely on the top of the list.

How do you spot fake jewelry?
A lot of celebs wear fake jewelry. I can tell because my eye is already trained for that. Just the size of their stuff or if it’s worth more than they’re actually worth, that’s what gives it away. If the colors start fading, or if it doesn’t fit properly on their necks. I don’’t wanna put anybody on the spot, but people know.

[Photo: Jen Marigliano for VH1]