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BEN BALLER | WORLD’S BEST JEWELER

March 17, 2021

Read the full interview on Flaunt.com!

“Ferg is the name, Ben Baller did the chain!”, A$AP Ferg raps in his song “Plain Jane.“ Ben Baller will forever go down in history as one of the best jewelers to ever do it. Born and raised in Los Angeles, the musician, actor, jeweler, and entrepreneur is deeply rooted in his city’s culture, but his name and brand has expanded on an international level to audiences all over the world.

With celebrity clientele ranging from Kanye West to Drake to Frank Ocean to even a diamond-encrusted belt buckle for Michael Jackson, it’s no surprise that Ben is booked up through 2023. With his career taking off initially in the music industry, serving as VP A&R at Priority Records and producing tracks for the legendary Dr. Dre, Ben has worked on over 20 Platinum albums.

But coming from a long line of family members who’ve been in the jewelry making business for over 35 years, it’s no wonder he catapulted into becoming the go-to jeweler for all your favorite artists. Coming from true humble beginnings, Ben went from minimum wage to now $30 million to his name—and he has no plans of slowing down.

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Most recently, Ben teamed up with North America’s premiere livestream shopping platform NTWRK in releasing his limited edition chrome gold mini fridge emblazoned with his “BB” logo and the phrase “This Is Not Your Practice Life.” This follows the success of last year’s drop with the money counter, with over 400 units sold out within 24 hours resulting in a $100,000 profit.

He also recently partnered with the iconic cognac brand Remy Martin and NTWRK for a special drawing for a set of iced-out keys to the city—one for Atlanta, and one for Los Angeles. The 4 gold plated keys featured nods to the city it pays tribute to, signifying an honor only bestowed upon those who rep their hometowns proudly.

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Flaunt caught up with Ben via Google Meet to discuss his family’s roots in jewelry, his past life in the music industry, his favorite collabs with Murakami and Kid Cudi, his new chrome gold mini fridge selling out on NTWRK, his highly-coveted BEARBRICK collection, anniversary with his wife, upcoming projects, and more.

Why are you the “best jeweler in the world”?

There’s really no way to say it in a humble voice. I think of the accolades, one. Because I’ve won so many championships, that being great pieces being recognized in every aspect of the game. I’ve really stepped as far away from hip-hop as I can. Newer generation that’s now trendy, microwave era, I’m talking about something that’s made a lasting impression into the game period. Two, I’ve won awards where these people on Instagram haven’t even been nominated for anything. I’ve covered all aspects of every corner like surround sound.

You come from a family of Korean-American jewelers that’s been in the business for over 35 years. What does it mean to carry on your family’s legacy?

Unless it’s your mom or dad directly, it’s really difficult. Your dad can be a great basketball player or actor, doesn’t mean you’re going to have the same skills. Maybe you have better. Some kids’ parents played in the league and they surpass them, everything’s different. Unfortunately to be real, I come from a pretty dysfunctional family as far as people immigrating to America. Some get really close, sometimes money gets in people’s heads and fucks them up. It doesn’t have to be a lot of money, it could be whatever. My uncle’s been doing this since way longer. We retired him in ‘08. If it wasn’t for him, I obviously wouldn’t have never done this.

We didn’t take it and go further than what he could’ve ever went and did, we took it further than anyone even thought or dreamed of taking it. We’re a little small store in the hood. I had bigger dreams and aspirations. People talk about it: “oh, I’m going to do this. I’m going to leave this guy or leave this girl. I don’t want to be here anymore, I hate this job.” You could talk about it until finally, alright how do I inch my way into that direction? It may take that long. It’s a marathon. If you do anything in sprints, how long does that really last? I’d have milestones. I hit a milestone in ‘05 and ‘06, another one in ‘08, then the recession hit. I hit one in ‘10, in ‘12, and ‘13. In late 2017, I got out of reach. “Hey man, we must be winning because we don’t see Ben anymore.” Nah bro, I’m in a different country now. A different area. I’d have to stop, go to sleep for 3 or 4 years, then maybe you could catch up.

When you were VP A&R at Priority Records, what was jewelry in your life at that point? 

I loved it, but working in the corporate world is interesting. I was making good money. If you deserve to make money, then you should make money. Meaning if you have points on a record: points would translate to somewhat ownership, but not really. If you’re making good money at a record label and doing well, you should be rewarded with the right salary. A lot of people are doing well, and they haven’t hit it yet. I hadn’t necessarily hit it yet at Priority, even though we had successes. The structure of the label back then, it’s not necessarily set up for anybody to eat but the CEO. Some people can, some people can’t. You have to be in the right position.

I went in there literally out of my means. I wanted to wear Versace, whatever the flyest clothes were. Have all the cool shit, drive a fly car. It’s funnier every time I think about it, what made me happy or what I really looked forward to and that lifestyle. I wake up daily now and I laugh. Everything I wanted then, whether it was jewelry or anything—even if a watch is completely inflated in price. Watch prices now are the worst they’ve ever been. Some watches that cost $50 or $60 grand, they’re $150, $200 grand now. Even at that price if I really really wanted it, I’ll go buy 10 or 20 of them. It’s nothing I really care about.

How do you view jewelry now?

I’m wearing jewelry now because my cousin who passed away was a big jewelry guy, so I wore jewelry to his funeral. For most of the pandemic, I haven’t worn earrings or chains. I have a small little chain, but I don’t really wear anything. Things have been sitting in the safety deposit box, I haven’t had any desire. Okay well, what happens when we do open up? Because I finally have faith that we’re at least going in that direction, unless we have one more fuck up. Am I going to wear my best clothes? I see people dressed to the tee every day, dressed really well. I’m impressed, good for you.

I don’t have the motivation necessarily to get up and do that. I will never not have the motivation to not go get money, but it’s different things. I’ll be out here and there. Seeing people wearing heavy jewelry, it’s the business that I’m in and I sell to. But at the same time, they’re not my direct client. They’re not exactly what I’m going after. Anybody that wants to wear heavy jewelry, go in my store. Buy some cool things I made. If you want something custom from me, it’s a different process in the last 2 or 3 years now.

I heard you’re booked until 2023, is that true?

Yeah, for the most part. 2023’s my next opening.

What pieces are you most proud of within the last year?

It’s really crazy. I hate putting one person in control or responsible for so many of my successes in the jewelry game, but it’s Murakami. Things I did with [J] Balvin or [Kid] Cudi, those things are masterpieces. If it wasn’t for those pieces, there’d never be a museum. Cudi’s piece right before the pandemic is a year old now: the custom Kiki piece with all Murakami skull and flower, lay-inspired necklace.

 We’re doing this so many years before anybody else was: making a custom link, making our own links. Other people made them because we did it. It’s funny, I don’t take offense at all. It’s nice for me to give back. Whether you believe it or not or you’re in denial, I have receipts. I’m a receipt collector. All the Murakami collaborations are some of the greatest pieces I’ve been involved in. I have one right now literally weeks away, which could’ve been done quicker but a lot of setbacks. I have a crazy Murakami piece dropping real soon.

How was your convos with Murakami? 

They’re really good, we have a translator. We talk a lot on WhatsApp, a lot on FaceTime. When we first met doing business 4 or 5 years ago, how much better his English has gotten now is amazing. I think he’s slightly insecure about it, which is crazy because he’s such a brilliant artist. One of the greatest living contemporary artists in the world. We talked last night on Clubhouse. I decided to jump on, he brings me on stage like “what’s up?” It’s funny because he was asking me questions as if we didn’t know each other. [laughs] The conversations are good, he gives me a lot of inspiration. Obviously incredibly talented, very creative. I’m excited to be a part of his world.

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When did you first get the idea for the gold mini fridge?

Right around summertime last year, I said “you know what’d be crazy? I need a gold small fridge.” It has to be small, but it has to make sense. As small little things came along, a really nice sample. What solidified it was my wife came in, she told me “hey just so you know, really big make up artists and influencers put their cosmetics inside a little small fridge. A lot of times it’s hard to get a small small one, so this is literally ideal.” I said “you want one?” She said “yeah babe, I want one.” That right there now made it multi-purpose.

Of course it’s large enough for a studio, it keeps snacks. I have 2 different pictures I promoted: one with Snickers, Japanese drinks and White Claw. One had caviar and mini bottles of champagne, upper echelon type shit. After I dropped mine, Kylie Jenner was bringing out a cosmetic fridge. I gave some of the really big makeup influencers the fridge idea. This is much nicer, it’s all digital. It looks rich, it’s a conversation piece. The best release I’ve done in NTWRK so far.

It sold out in 60 seconds on NTWRK?

It sold out in just over a minute. Most of my releases sell out within about 30 seconds. It’s pretty crazy, especially because of how old I am.

You only made 888 units, what’s the significance of that number?

People in China are paying up $2 million for the last 4 numbers of their phone number to be 8888. It’s a very big significance, considered good luck in the Chinese culture. Even though I’m Korean, 8’s a very lucky number. Anything to do with 8: people are born in ‘88, the year of the dragon. That’s why he calls himself G-Dragon, Ji-yong was born in 1988. They’re very powerful numbers for good luck, wealth, and prosperity.

What do you like about NTWRK?

Everyone shops on different platforms. Girls are on anywhere from Revolve to ASOS, whatever it may be. Women shopping has gone so much further beyond anything guys. Guys will go on a sneaker or streetwear website. When you go on Revolve and you go see their clothes, you see a girl walking down the runway in the actual outfit. They’ll say model is 5’11”, wears a Size 1 or 2. You the guy, model is 6’1”, 145 pounds wearing a Medium. What the fuck? This is crazy.

I’m looking at shopping apps thinking this is cool. I was only using a desktop. The laptop’s cool, it was fun, convenient and essential. Now especially if you have a 12 Pro Max, if you have the bigger phone, that’s my new laptop. I’m watching my movies on there, I’m getting all my news. I’m doing my purchases on there. When you think about shopping at home on Amazon, then you think about NTWRK app, it’s this QVC of shopping from home. It’s a really attractive-looking app. Everything about it, they cover every angle. Also one of my very close friends started that app, he’s a friend of mine. I figured hey man, why don’t I start something and have carte blanche, instead of going somewhere where I’m not going to be treated right?

How does this compare to last year’s drop with the exclusive money counter? Which broke the app. More via StockX.

I broke the app 4 or 5 times out of 7 or 8, they kept the service stronger. Even this time, they’ve gotten the app as strong as possible to withstand 70K people trying to buy at one time. I didn’t just break the app, I broke the app from comments. From the social aspect of people leaving comments thinking I’m giving away one for free, that ended up breaking the back end of the store.

This was after they’ve already upgraded. With this fridge it was so function-able, something that people could actually use. Whereas a cash counter is cool, it applies to a certain audience though. Someone who traps, a D boy wannabe. I made it a fun novelty item but the fridge, no matter who you are — it could be a kid. If you could afford it, you put it on the side of the bed table. Put it for make up, your mom wants to use it to put milk, who knows? It’s the most usable item I put out to date.

What do you want people to take away from the fridge? 

It’s a great piece. When people go to people’s houses, more often “is that a gold fridge in your bedroom or in your office? That’s cool man.” It has my motto: “This Is Not Your Practice Life.” I tell people all the time, people think this is a video game. This is your real life, act accordingly. This really opened up now that I’ve done so many different random household appliances. Now I’ve made that niche or lane to where we’re going to start making luxury household items. Things you’d see, maybe we do a gold blender. I have some things down the pipeline, it’s exciting.

How’s your BEARBRICK COLLECTION?

It’s good, it’s chillin’. It’s in the other room, it’s flourished to beyond the maximus. I’m in a weird place with my BEARBRICK right now. I’ll be designing one soon, 20 years in the making almost. Now I’m building another place to live. The unfortunate situation is not many mansions have a 40 foot long wall for that purpose. You don’t really have an open wall that big. Warehouses do but in a home, it’s not realistic. I built this man cave with no intention to build a BEARBRICK wall, but now it’s a part of me. I’m doing everything I can to keep them. I don’t need the money, that’s the best part. 70% chance I’m going to have to get rid of them. If I do, I’m going to make a lot of money on them. That doesn’t mean I stop the love, I have to figure out how I do it. I can’t do it piece by piece and select, someone’s got to take all of it. It has to make sense, someone who I feel like this person will do right by this. We’ll see.

What is your favorite one and which one is worth the most?

The Fendi is my favorite one, 1000%. It’s impossible to get. I’ve seen maybe one and everything’s on the Internet. I’ve never seen another one my color. I could probably get $60K to $100K for that one bear.

Do you ever miss hooping? I know Baller is from your hoop days at Berkeley.

I miss it tremendously. Hopefully in my new place I build, that’s one of the requirements. Build at least a half-court, more so to get back in shooting. How much I love music on 1 to 10 is a 10. There’s no such thing as 11, 12, or 13 at a scale. How much I love basketball? At a 10. Other people, it could be 10 too, they’ve never ever given it up , never ever stopped. I’ve completely stopped a few things: I don’t keep up with music anymore. I keep up with basketball, but I don’t keep up with the playing aspect or shooting around. I also hurt my knee, it’s been messed up for 7 years. I go to physical therapy to get back, but that’s one thing.

The other thing was my kids, one reason to come back is maybe for them. Me and my wife had a discussion the other day, it might not be in the books for them. I started basketball at 7years old, my boys are both right there. They might not be fundamentally sound yet, but they’re into gaming. Fatherhood took over a lot of things.

How do you go from producing with Dr. Dre to not caring about music? 

To be completely real, the business aspect put such a bad taste in my mouth. That right there makes you look at it differently. I continued DJing. The transition of hip-hop to where it is now, is it rap? I don’t know. I watched this Biggie documentary last night, the first 30 minutes. Diddy’s talking about “you close your eyes and envision a story being told.” I’m not the smartest person or anywhere near the dumbest person. My Journey through music throughout 4 decades, I can’t close my eyes and see a story. I don’t see shit. It’s the same shit. It doesn’t feel the same.

How’d it feel to celebrate 9-year anniversary with wifey?

9 years married, 11 years together. It’s good, we went on a date last week. The first time we’d been outside in over a year, it’s pretty sad. I bought an RV so we go camping with the family, it’s a house on wheels so we can go anywhere and still be quarantined. My son has respiratory illness, it’s the only disease specifically made for COVID. That’s the .0001%, it attacks that. He doesn’t have the best odds, we don’t play with It. We went on a date, it was very very weird and good. I spent $80 on a parking space and it didn’t sound that bad to me. Even people I know that have nice cars, “why the fuck did you give that guy $80 bucks? I don’t want to argue with nobody, it is what It is. Really really nice restaurant in Beverly Hills, a fancy place right in the heart.

Being hit by a paparazzi was weird, partially embarrassing. Yo bro, I understand if I was Brad Pitt or somebody more relevant, it’s silly. It’s a waste of camera space. They don’t really get to catch me with my wife too. They get me out the car, boom. Once we sit down, people tagging me taking videos and pictures of my car. 100K, 200K follower pages: hey man, Ben’s SF90 Ferrari’s outside on the street. To be honest, I don’t post where I’m until I’m already home. It becomes dangerous, especially what’s going on in LA. It felt great to be out on a date with my wife out, eat somewhere nice and not have to worry about the kids. It was very foreign and felt good again. I see people eating all of the time but it was special.

What’s the premise of Behind The Baller Podcast?

Behind The Baller Podcast is about giving people an insight and game, not necessarily Ben Baller and definitely 100% not Ben Baller jewelry. I’m at 162 episodes, not even .1% of the show has to do with jewelry. It’s everything else but that: business podcast, lifestyle, being a better dad, being a better person, trying to be better each day than you were yesterday. It’s not the most traditional business podcast, but we’re globally ranked the top 5% in the world. It’s gone quite a bit of ways since the last time you did an interview with me. 

What projects are you most excited for right now? 

The Murakami thing is very big. The things I have going with NTWRK are really big. My biggest thing, obviously everyone’s jumping into the NFT space. I have that planned as well as my baseball card career right now is at a peak. I sold about $25 million in baseball cards with my name on them last year, this year will probably break that. Every single person you could think of prevalent in sports or hip-hop culture, anything, has gotten into some sort of collector space. Now that the hobby’s gone so enormously big, having Ben Baller Did The Card, which my acronyms are BBDTC: Ben Baller Did The Chain. The fact the baseball cards are the same, I’ve trademarked that as well. I have a big deal with Topp’s baseball card company, it’s really huge. It’s a project that’ll last all year long.

Anything else you want to let us know?

I’m doing a collaboration with the Lakers. I have a Laker collaboration dropping: official NBA LA Lakers Ben Baller New Era hats. I have an upcoming collaboration with the Dodgers, so a lot of big things, it’s cool. I have a project with Remy Martin coming out soon too, 6lack’s involved. I’m always busy. I just make time for things.

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