Bada Bling! Phillips de Pury to host Oct. 1 auction of hip hop jewels

Lil’ Jon’s diamond, fancy yellow diamona and gold

Lil’ Jon’s diamond, fancy yellow diamond and gold Crunk Ain’t Dead pendant and necklace; estimate: $200,000-250,000. Image courtesy Phillips de Pury & Company.

NEW YORK – Phillips de Pury & Co., New York has announced details of the first-ever hip-hop jewelry auction, which will be held Oct. 1. Titled Hip Hop’s Crown Jewels, the event is being produced with the support of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and “Godfather of Hip Hop” Russell Simmons. Phillips de Pury’s chairman, Simon de Pury, will preside as auctioneer.

Simon de Pury had the original idea to bring Hip Hop’s Crown Jewels to the public as a showcase of complex cultural artifacts embedded with style, and indelibly marked with narratives of class, religion, race, materialism and the American dream. This unprecedented auction is headed by specialist Alia Varsano, worldwide head of Contemporary Jewelry at Phillips de Pury, with the authoritative input of Minya Oh, author of Bling Bling: Hip Hop’s Crown Jewels. This inaugural sale of hip-hop jewelry includes approximately 70 lots with a total sale value estimate of $3 million.

This is the first time that hip hop jewelry will be presented within the auction setting, as glittering cultural artifacts woven into hip hop’s colorful legacy. A historic selection of custom-made pieces from some of hip hop’s most illustrious musicians, rappers and jewelers will be offered, including those worn by:

  • 50 Cent
  • MC Lyte
  • Biz Markie
  • Missy Elliot
  • Busta Rhymes
  • Nas
  • Diplomats
  • Notorious B.I.G.
  • Gnarls Barkley
  • Pharrell Williams
  • Ja Rule
  • Rihanna
  • Jay Z
  • Sean “Diddy” Combs (a.k.a. “Diddy”)
  • Kanye West
  • Slick Rick
  • Lil’ Jon
  • Swiss Beatz
  • Lil’ Wayne
  • Tupac Shakur
  • LL Cool J
  • Wyclef Jean
Biz Markie’s black and white diamond headphones pendant in white gold; estimate $8,000-12,000. Image courtesy Phillips de Pury & Company.

Biz Markie’s black and white diamond headphones pendant in white gold; estimate $8,000-12,000. Image courtesy Phillips de Pury & Company.

Through the design, creation and wearing of custom-made jewelry, these artists expressed instantly recognizable personal, and even political, identities. The cultural artifacts offered in this sale span the dynamic phases of hip hop history, from the golden era of hip hop (1980 through early 1990s) to the dramatic mid-1990s battle between East and West Coast sounds, hip hop’s eventual “bling bling” mainstream musical success and current position as a globally celebrated culture.


At the heart of hip hop and of this sale lies the classic “two turntables and a microphone” era of the music. The DJ (and his headphones) and the MC were two central elements to hip hop’s core. Hip hop’s legendary humorist Biz Markie owned one of the most outrageous jewelry collections of all of the 1980s-era artists. Biz Markie’s black and white diamond Headphones pendant in white gold (created with Jason of Beverly Hills) is one of the historical masterpieces of this sale, in addition to a custom-made turntable ring.

The turntable motif is quoted by an equally bombastic performer from a later era: Missy Elliot. Missy Elliot’s diamond, black diamond and gold Turntable ring is a fantastic homage to hip hop music, fully bejeweled and with completely movable parts. And where would Missy Elliot be without the original woman emcee, MC Lyte? MC Lyte incorporated regal Afrocentric style cues into her personal dress to emphasize her position as a queen among men in hip hop. MC Lyte’s gold Nefertiti ring and necklace in this sale were featured in the video for one of her greatest hits, Cha Cha Cha.

No single character in hip-hop embodied hip hop’s “bling” aesthetic like Bronx-born legend, Slick Rick. This sale will include Slick Rick’s multicolor diamond-set Eye Patch, which has become his internationally recognized trademark.

Missy Elliot’s black diamond and gold turntable ring; estimate: $6,500-8,500 Image courtesy Phillips de Pury & Company.

Missy Elliot’s black diamond and gold turntable ring; estimate: $6,500-8,500 Image courtesy Phillips de Pury & Company.


Phillips de Pury will offer for the first time important estate jewelry pieces from two of the greatest MCs of all time: Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur. Representing East and West Coast hip hop respectively, the meteoric rise of these two stars defined hip hop in the mid-1990s – and their intense and tragic rivalry made them cultural legends long past their untimely deaths.

One of the crown jewels central to this sale is a diamond, ruby and gold Crown Ring worn by Tupac Shakur, engraved Pac & Dada 1996. While Tupac’s songs included political and socially charged messages, his Crown Ring is a rare message of his private and romantic relationship with Kidada Jones, daughter of Quincy Jones.

Also included in the sale is a unique and historically important Tupac Shakur diamond and gold M.O.B Ring with Tupac’s original tissue paper lining intact. This ring is a charged symbol of Shakur’s controversial link to Suge Knight, founder of Death Row Records.

While Notorious B.I.G. rapped about Versace, Rolls-Royce and Rolex (and was known to have more than one Rolex in his collection), his yellow gold and stainless steel Rolex watch with diamond bezel, which is entered in this auction, was his first prized possession, a personal mark of success.

Pharrell Williams’ multicolor diamond and white gold Gucci link necklace; estimate: $200,000-250,000. Image courtesy Phillips de Pury & Company.

Pharrell Williams’ multicolor diamond and white gold Gucci link necklace; estimate: $200,000-250,000. Image courtesy Phillips de Pury & Company.


In hip hop’s evolution from the Bronx to the boardrooms of Madison Avenue and the catwalks of Paris, the musical art form has always aspired to and celebrated the trappings of the “good life.” Pieces such as Sean Diddy Comb’s princess- and baguette-cut diamond and platinum bracelet embody the boom, says Minya Oh: “Sean Diddy Combs personifies hip hop’s bling lifestyle. He’s elevated ‘ghetto fabulousness’ and ‘urban luxury’ into public theater.” Listed by Forbes as one of the highest-earning celebrities, and king of an empire that includes music, television and fashion, Sean Diddy Combs and his taste in diamonds personifies the luxe lifestyle.

Contemporary artists now pay homage to their hip hop forefathers by embracing the early motifs of hip hop jewelry such as the Gucci link and Dookie rope, but remix the styles to reflect the multi-billion dollar market that hip hop now commands. One example of this tribute included in the sale is Pharrell Williams’ Gucci Link Necklace, with its oversize links dipped in pink, yellow and blue multicolored pavé diamonds.

One of the most outrageous artifacts in the sale doubles as a defiant missive to hip hop critics proclaiming the demise of “crunk,” a catchy Southern style of hip hop. With a pendant standing 7.5 inches tall and 6 inches wide, Lil’ Jon’s diamond and fancy yellow diamond and gold “Crunk Ain’t Dead” pendant and necklace created by Jason of Beverly Hills is fittingly documented by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s “largest diamond pendant”.

These extraordinary artifacts feature the iconic motifs and visual hallmarks of hip-hop: the Turntable and Microphone; the Dollar Sign and Crown; the Gucci Link and Dookie Chain; images of Jesus and Nefertiti. Together, this constellation of signs and symbols wrought in gold, platinum and diamonds presents not only a rich portrait of hip hop culture, but of its vital international contributions to art, music and fashion.


This auction supports the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History’s continued efforts to establish its permanent hip hop archive. Buyers will be given the option of donating their pieces to the institution’s permanent hip hop archive.

Hip Hop’s Crown Jewels will also benefit Rush Community Affairs, Russell Simmons’ coalition of nonprofit organizations including Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, the Hip Hop Summit Action Network and the Diamond Empowerment Fund.

The limited-edition Hip Hop’s Crown Jewels auction catalogue will be available prior to the Oct. 1 sale. This beautiful document includes significant contributions from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, Simon de Pury and Russell Simmons, and promises to be a valuable addition to hip hop history.

Auction Date:

Hip Hop’s Crown Jewels
Oct. 1, 2008

Opening Reception:
September 24, 2008

Preview Dates:
September 22-30, 10 am – 6 pm
(open to the public)


Philips de Pury & Company
450 West 15th Street
New York, NY 10011
212 940 1200