Meet the Man Who Makes Kanye West's $25K Bling
When ASAP Rocky needs rings and Mac Miller wants a grill, Ben Baller is the jeweler on call.
Ben Baller's list of clients reads like a top hits chart: Kanye West, Drake, Nas, Frank Ocean, The Weeknd, Snoop Dogg, The Black Eyed Peas, Mariah Carey, Odd Future, Joel Madden and Rita Ora. “It’s a pretty long list,” the 41-year-old music executive-turned-custom jeweler says, naming just a few celebrity clients (who pay — at minimum — $25,000 for his designs).
In just a decade, the married L.A. native who was born Ben Yang (and is the brother of power stylist Jeanne Yang) has supplanted Jacob the Jeweler as the go-to — and perhaps blingiest — jeweler to the stars, making grills for Justin Bieber and diamond-encrusted belt buckles for the late Michael Jackson.
“He has his finger on the pulse of what’s next for the hip-hop genre’s jewelry culture,” says client Pusha T. Prior to hawking diamonds, Baller made a name for himself in the music biz, working as a producer for Dr. Dre at Priority Records and later at Aftermath Entertainment. “I felt like I was successful, with my credits and certain accolades, but I still worked for other people,” he says. “Whatever success I had, it wasn’t mine. I had bigger aspirations.”
Besides a Rolodex of connections in the music industry, he also had an in with the jewelry business: His uncle and cousin are jewelers. Under his family’s tutelage, without any formal training, he picked up the trade and opened up his Los Angeles based IF & Co. business in 2005.
Baller frequently does custom “iced-out Jesus pieces” and grills, as well as unusual requests. “One time someone lost their eye,” he recalls. “They got a prosthetic made and wanted diamonds on it.” (The amount of diamonds he used: $97,000 worth.)
This story first appeared in the Oct. 11 issue of Billboard magazine.