Jacob Arabo's office is no bigger than a church confessional, with
newspaper and pictures taped over the window. There are a few
cheap chairs and one Formica desk. Yet some of the world's
richest athletes can be found hunched inside the room, squinting
through a jeweler's loupe. "I have found that they don't care if
you have the nice office or the leather chairs," Arabo says.
"They can get that at Cartier. My customers care about quality
Arabo is the jeweler of choice for such NBA stars as Stephon
Marbury, Allen Iverson and Reggie Miller and for boxers Mike
Tyson, Roy Jones Jr. and Prince Naseem Hamed. Shaquille O'Neal
dropped $170,000 for one of Arabo's bracelets. Many NBA players
consider a visit to Arabo's shop in the Diamond District of
Manhattan a must on any trip to New York City. "Players have an
agent, a lawyer, a doctor, a masseuse," Arabo says. "Now, some
must have their own jeweler."
Arabo, 35, emigrated to New York City from Tashkent, Uzbekistan,
in 1979, when Uzbekistan was still a Soviet republic, and at 17
began working on West 47th Street. In 1985 he was able to rent a
counter in the Kaplan Diamond Center and began selling his own
designs. Soon rap's biggest stars were wearing Arabo's garish
jewelry. The fusion of music and sport has brought NBA
millionaires, and Arabo estimates that about 30% of his clients
He is reluctant to talk about sales totals but says that his
annual revenue is about $20 million. Still, he says, he doesn't
live like a millionaire. Arabo has five employees, including his
wife, Angela, and uses some 15 contractors, but he does the
designing himself, often in consultation with clients. "Musicians
and athletes are the same," he says. "They all want something no
one else is wearing."
A pendant and a chain Arabo recently made for heavyweight boxer
Monte Barrett is based on one of the medals Barrett won in a New
York Golden Gloves tournament. A wax and then a rubber mold were
made based on Arabo's sketch of two interlocking gloves. The
rubber mold was then filled with platinum, the metal of choice
for athletes and musicians, and then 16 carats of diamonds were
added to the back of one glove. The finished pendant weighed
nearly a third of a pound and cost Barrett $22,000. "The
president of [Island] Def Jam [Music Group], Lyor Cohen, bought
me a watch Jacob made for my birthday a few years ago," says
Barrett. "Now I won't go to anyone else."
Arabo is close enough to some clients to be considered part of
their entourages. He attended Derek Jeter's birthday party at a
Manhattan club and to a private party at Marbury's house in New
Jersey. The importance of a jeweler in some athletes' lives was
underscored this summer when jeweler Brents Bullock of Ocala,
Fla., went to dinner with NBA free agent Tracy McGrady and
Toronto Raptors officials as the team courted McGrady. "I am at
their beck and call," Bullock says of his clients.
The calls Arabo loves most are from Marbury, the New Jersey Nets'
guard who ranks with rappers Puff Daddy and Jay-Z among Arabo's
best clients. One of Arabo's favorite pieces is a $250,000
bracelet Marbury purchased. "It's about three inches wide and
looks like a basketball net," says Arabo. "It's platinum with 130
carats of diamonds."
Arabo is a familiar sight at championship fights, says Barrett.
His advertising comes from his customers--Jay-Z mentions Jacob in
his song Girls' Best Friend, BET shot an episode of Rap City in
his store, and Chris Rock stopped by recently to tape a bit for
his HBO show. As a result, Arabo says, "I don't really see myself
as having any competition."
Jeweler Chris Aire, owner of 2 Awesome International in Los
Angeles, disagrees. In addition to rappers, Aire also sells to
O'Neal, Elton Brand, Shawn Kemp and other NBA players. Aire, who
moved to L.A. from Nigeria in 1984, says he was "discovered" by
Gary Payton. "Jacob Arabo? Never heard of him," Aire says.
Arabo sidesteps a chance to start an East Coast-West Coast feud.
"Next I am going to do pink gold with platinum and diamonds," he
says. "It will be something completely new. But you won't see it
for two years."
Barrett is willing to wait to see Arabo's new designs. "It's just
like boxing: There are different classes of jewelers," Barrett
says. "Jacob doesn't compete with the others. He's in the
heavyweight class all by himself."