We sat in the corner of Gabriel Jacob's New York City store Rafaello & Co. surrounded by pictures of his famous clients. Signed portraits of Jay-Z & athletic jerseys adorned the walls. When Floyd Mayweather and a slew of other stars are itching for ice, they seek out Gabe.
In his own words, he's a fifteen year overnight success finally reaping the rewards of his efforts. During our talk his phone wouldn't stop going off. But he picked up only one of the calls. He gestured for everyone to quiet down before putting the phone on speaker.
"Hello?" he said. "Are you coming home?" a young voice asked on the other end. "Daddy is doing an interview" "Oh okay... well can I call you back? I have another call" Needless to say, we couldn't hold back the laughter. "Even my own daughter has to call me back because she has another call!" he said.
The conversation sums up Gabe pretty well.
Despite the glamour & glitz of his industry, & the nonstop stream of incoming business, family is his number one priority. "That's my main focus. Family. I don't care about anything else. For your kids to grow up right. It was a lot of hard ass work to get here. Every holiday I take them to toy drives, to homeless shelters, this is what mom, dad, grandma, grandpa did. I tell them look 'this is where mom & dad came from' & it's why I never spoil them."
"This took 10-15 years. It takes a lot of time, a lot of sleepless nights, especially when you have a wife & kids like me. We were a fifteen year overnight success."
This introspective side is a new one for Gabe. For the past decade or so it's been a straight hustle. Always focusing on the next project, the next client, the next piece of jewelry to craft. Always the next big move.
Until the unthinkable happened.
It was the sudden death of Gabe's cousin Eric. According to police reports, Aron "Eric" Aranbayev was fatally run down on his own block on the night of July 19th. According to Gabe, a father of four "did everything" and "was the business". Everyone from Swizz Beatz to Busta Rhymes sent condolences.
"He was the backbone to the whole thing. When I was on the road with clients he did everything. I was just customer service. He did everything else. He was big on the wholesale, working with stores & major accounts. He was a people person, people loved him. Ever since he passed away it's been very hard on all of us, very, very hard. Everything we're doing now is dedicated to him. Everything I do now since his death is dedicated to him." Gabe said.
The transition has been fraught with challenges.
"Things we'd get done in 2 days with him are now taking 2 weeks. My uncle is 65, I want him to retire, be on a yacht someplace. But since Eric passing he's had to come in & now he's seeing how much we've grown because of him."
After immigrating from Uzbekistan to East New York, Brooklyn in the 1980's, Gabe's family opened up their first shop on Flatbush Avenue. After several years, Eric & Gabe took the reigns & the rest has been history. Jacob Arabo was their biggest influence during their formative years.
"There was no competition with Jacob, we all tried to follow in his footsteps. Just like Jay-Z, Nas & all these others did with hip hop. Nowadays you have young jewelers putting everything on Instagram for attention but not putting the effort into really creating something. Craftsmen. Visionaries who really building pieces. They do it for instant gratification, for fame, but they haven't done anything. My advice is to be somebody first."
With 15+ years in the game & such a wide array of wealthy clients, I was curious to see what the craziest piece Gabe has done to date. "When Swizz [Beatz] called me up & told me to take the Basquiat & put in on a chain" he said. "It took me a few weeks to figure out how to go about. Every jeweler thinks it's all about diamonds. We were more focused on the edges, colors, enamel. We even hired a painter."
As for Gabe's personal personal favorite, it's a chain he did for Jay-Z back in 2013.
"It was the five kilogram chain we did for Hov. That chain was everywhere. He was the first to do it. A lot of these guys have been going a lot bigger now, but it's not about being bigger, it's about being first." He doesn't just work with celebrities either. Between building a battery powered diamond pendant for Cam'ron and pioneering the black diamond trend, he's done projects for Russian billionaires and Saudi royalty.
Despite the catastrophic loss, Gabe is focused again.
"What we're coming out with next is going to change everything. The next move is going to be a complete game changer that everybody will have to bow down to. Just know, that Rafaello is about to change this whole game. I'm not talking about partnering with anyone, I'm talking about creating something new. It's very serious. We're completely focused on changing everything."