If you fancy a miniature Dunk or Air Max that you can wear as a pendant to show your love for sneakers, then New York's Gabriel the Jeweller is your man. Just don't confuse him with Jacob the Jeweler – that dude's in the joint after being nabbed by the FBI on money laundering charges! Gold, silver or bronze, Gabriel makes the cutest sneakers you'll ever see dangle from a chain... he even made a pair for $12,000!
Who are you?
Gabriel Urist, jewelry designer.
You ever had a fight with Jacob The Jeweler?
I never had any beef with any jewelers. I only have love and respect for all jewelers.
Tell us a bit about jewelry making.
It’s a lonely process. A lot of jewelers share a studio, workshop but a lot of jewelers work alone. I have respect for people who are dedicated to their work and have knowledge of all these tools and metals.
How long have you been making jewelry?
Jewelry came into my life when I was 17 and I just got hooked and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. I started off as a polisher, then I was a model maker, a wax carver, a caster, a bench jeweler. Always doing my own thing on the side, working for fine jewelry houses, learning the techniques. I have been self-employed now for three years, doing wholesale orders and custom pieces.
How did you start making sneaker jewelry?
I was talking to my friend Jakuan (360 Toy Group) in his store, I got the idea, I ran it by him, and he said I should do that. So I came back a week later with the first prototypes, and I started selling them to friends of his, just thru word of mouth, and got a real positive response. Then I put some pieces in my friend’s store on Rivington and sold some to another store in New York. Right now, I’m only selling them to two stores in New York.
How many models?
Each store has Hi Top Dunks, Lo Top Dunks, Blazers, Jordan 8s (the Bugs Bunny ones) and the sneaker sole medallion. I’m working on Jordan 4s.
Yellow Gold, Pink Gold, Gun Metal, Sterling Silver.
You make it all?
I do all of it myself. There are no factories involved, no outsourcing. All the production, all the assembling, all the polishing, all the finishing... everything is done in-house.
Do you limit your production?
There’s only a certain amount that a man can do.
Biggest lesson since you been making sneaker jewelry?
Sneaker culture is huge. It’s like a drug.
I heard Phil Knight called you.
Nike approached me, they saw some of my pieces in the store. I met with a couple of designers from Brand Jordan, they’re great guys. We’re talking about doing collaborations. We’ll see what happens.
It’s a big company and things take a long time but hopefully we can do some Christmas gifts together, we can work together.
How about doing something special for Phil Knight?
Yes, a Platinum Jordan 4 with diamonds all over.
How do you feel when you see people wearing your stuff?
Makes me feel happy.
What gives you the most satisfaction in your work?
Getting paid, getting orders, getting repeat customers.
Does your family know what you do for a living?
My grandfather wears a sneaker pendant. He’s a Rabbi. He likes it for the craftsmanship.
The most difficult sneaker to turn into jewelry?
It all depends on the detail on the shoe. I think the FLOM Dunks would be intricate pieces, very difficult to make, very beautiful, because they have all the pictures of the money from all over the world. There’s so much detail on there, all that detail engraved on the sneaker.
You’ve collaborated with Matthew Barney, Miguel Adrover, supermodel Omahyra and legendary artist Futura. Who would you like to work with in the future?
Prince, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Rem Koolhaas, Danny DeVito and Puffy.
Anyone famous wearing your jewelry?
?uestlove from The Roots bought one of my sneaker pendants from Rival NYC on Hudson Street.
I met this guy at a BBQ and he said "oh you made those, that’s nice". And my friends tell me they see people wearing my stuff.
Who would you like to see rocking your sneaker jewelry?
I want to see Fat Albert wearing a sneaker pendant.
What’s the most expensive one you’ve made?
$US12,000 Platinum Dunk with diamonds.
Did you ever imagine you’d be the Harry Winston of Sneaker Jewelry?
Where do you want to take this whole thing?
I’d like the sneaker jewelry to take me all around the world... I heard the Colette store is a real beautiful store in Paris. I’d like to go to Paris.
So what’s next?
Paris, Tokyo, Berlin.
Good luck in Paris!