Two Decades of Diamonds: How Avianne and Co. Became the Go-To Jewelers for Cam’ron, Lil Baby, and More
An inside look at the history of the Avianne and Co., the go-to jewelers for rappers like Cam'ron, Lil Baby, and more for the past two decades.
Image via Complex Original/David Cabrera
It’s 10 a.m. on a Thursday in January, but “All of a Sudden” by Moneybagg Yo and Lil Baby is blasting over the sound system at Avianne & Co., a jewelry shop in Manhattan’s Diamond District. Joseph Aranbayev, who goes by Joe Avianne, steps into a ceiling-high glass cube situated at the center of a marble sales floor. It’s surrounded by cases filled with everything from diamond-encrusted watches and necklaces to branded leather accessories. His attire commands attention immediately—an all-over-printed button-up shirt, Dolce and Gabbana sneakers, and shimmering rings, watches, and chains. Dark-tinted sunglasses cover his eyes, matching his slicked back hair and grizzly five o’clock shadow.
A couple of minutes pass and the glasses come off. He’s interrupted to buzz in someone at the door. It’s comedian Pete Davidson who has just finished up a consultation for a custom piece with Avianne CEO Izzy Aranbayev, Joe’s older brother, in the company’s office located further down the block. The exchange is quick, a simple handshake and hello with Joe before he exits. Ten minutes later, there’s another interruption as a man who isn’t immediately recognizable—but is, based on Joe’s reaction, very important—enters the shop. Joe pauses the interview again, removes his button-up to reveal a white tank top, leaves the glass cube, and moves to another chair in the showroom. It’s his barber. Joe is now getting a haircut in the middle of his renowned jewelry store. The impromptu occurrence falls in line with a mantra he echoes in a thick Brooklyn accent a handful of times: “You have to look like money to make money.”
Now Pop Smoke’s “Christopher Walking” is ringing out from the speakers. Joe, who’s been fairly soft-spoken up until now discussing the late night he just had at the shop catering to a special client, begins to roar with excitement. His eyes widen as his voice booms louder in the makeshift barber’s chair, like he had just realized how much money he had made the day before. It’s barely even 11 a.m. at this point. A whirlwind morning, but a typical day at Avianne and Co.
Avianne and Co., now a 25-person operation, has become one of the go-to jewelry providers for tons of celebrities and athletes in its 21-year history. Izzy, who is much more lowkey and works behind the scenes while Joe acts as the face of the brand on the sales floor, says they’ve probably created roughly 80,000 pieces in total for artists like the Diplomats, Future, Migos, Travis Scott, Lil Wayne, and Slick Rick. And with these pieces, they’ve influenced the jewelry industry and pop culture. They have a Guinness world record—we will get to that later. They taught Elliot Eliantte, one of hip-hop’s most prolific jewelers at the moment, all about the business—he used to design and make pieces for them. And they helped Adam Sandler become Howard Ratner, the unforgettable protagonist of A24's Uncut Gems, the Safdie brothers film released last year. The resume is an impressive one, but becoming the spot for rappers to create custom jewelry didn’t happen overnight.
The Aranbayev brothers immigrated from Uzbekistan, Russia (then the Soviet Union) to Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in 1985 along with their immediate family, uncle’s family, two aunts’ families, and grandparents. Joe and Izzy admit they didn’t have much growing up in the Starrett City housing projects in East New York. Nothing came easy, and they faced the unfortunate struggles many immigrant families encounter. Izzy notes that even keeping the large family together wasn’t the easiest.
Before Joe and Izzy entered the jewelry business, their father Boris Aranbayev, who many affectionately refer to as “Pops” these days, worked at a jewelry store in Flatbush, Brooklyn, before founding wholesaler and manufacturer Mair’s Sons in the Diamond District with his brother, and supplied pieces to other NYC shops in the early ‘90s. Izzy says Pops is still “the boss” and oversees the day-to-day operations at Avianne and Co. Mair’s Sons, which was named after Joe and Izzy’s grandfather, exists to this day.
In total, the Aranbayev family has been in the business for nearly four decades. But Izzy didn’t just want to be a supplier and wholesaler. He wanted to create a brand and design jewelry pieces. He attended the Gemological Institute of America, a nonprofit institution specializing in the field of gemology, for a year to learn the diamond business. After that he spent close to a year working at the International Gemological Institute where he learned how to certify diamonds and colored stones. Then he launched Avianne and Co. with his cousins, Gabriel Jacobs and Avi Aranbayev, in 1999. They decided against using their Russian last names and opted for something that sounded more luxurious—think Italian luxury brands like Versace, Gucci, and Armani. Izzy and Joe’s father operated his wholesale business out of the back of the Diamond Exchange on the block, which had multiple vendors within its walls, but he wanted his own storefront. They were hard to come by at the time, as the industry was booming, but their location at 28 W. 47th Street was secured because Pops knew who owned the lease. While it wasn’t in their father’s plans, he still supported the move to jumpstart the Avianne and Co. brand.
“At the end of the day, my father wanted to slow down on the wholesale,” says Izzy. “My father always backed us up, no matter what, even if he disagreed with us.”
But building a new brand in the business wasn’t easy due to the high-profile competition on the block at the time. Jacob Arabo, aka Jacob the Jeweler, who also immigrated to the U.S. from Uzbekistan, was hip-hop’s go-to custom jeweler in the late '90s and early 2000s. He’s well known for custom pieces like a multicolored Gucci link chain he designed for Pharrell or massive dollar sign chain he created for Nigo. More recently, he, in collaboration with Virgil Abloh, produced a watch with an operational roulette wheel for Drake that costs $620,000. But he might be best known for his diamond-encrusted “Five Time Zone” watches. Before him, Tito “Manny” Caicedo was the big name in Diamond District, catering to hip-hop’s biggest acts, like Biggie Smalls, LL Cool J, and JAY-Z (who rapped, “Took my fritos to Tito’s in the District, blessed me with some VS” on 1996’s “Politics As Usual”). He’s known for making the first Jesus Piece, famously worn by Biggie.
Avianne had to establish its name in the business. Footwork was their key to success, and Joe looked to his experience as a door-to-door salesman for cutlery company Cutco, and as a car dealer for Mitsubishi. The team of 18 and 19-year olds would actually be out in the streets, visiting studios, attending nightclubs, and going to clients homes, something established guys like Jacob didn’t do. They also bought ads in magazines like XXL, Slam, and The Source that ranged from $5,000 to $8,000. Think full-page spreads showing off an array of luxurious watches with crocodile skin bands and diamond faces beside the Avianne and Co. logo. Joe, who was a professional judo fighter before joining the business in 2001, got in contact with many of his first clients through friends he made at the Olympic Training Facility in Colorado.
He would travel to cities with his cousins to meet clients and bring millions of dollars worth of watches and chains. And he wouldn’t go back to New York until his suitcase was empty. He recalls flying out to Denver to show product to then-Broncos cornerback Willie Middlebrooks in the 2000s and requesting he bring along some teammates so he could sell everything he packed.
“Imagine being 23 years old and now you lock in $1 million. How would you feel? You would feel like you’re the fucking king,” says Joe. “I put it in a lot of footwork. I ended up just traveling from city to city, state to state, and just running around and hitting my people who I thought would be best fit to wear my product. We were the new kids on the block. We had to go to them. So we took the business to them.”
Joe and Izzy looked up to Jacob and Tito in their early years and strived for their level of success. Tito’s shop was on the same block as their father’s business, and Izzy says seeing Mike Tyson walk into Tito’s store when he was a kid influenced him to become a jeweler. “When he came in, I bugged out. I was like, ‘I’m going to be a jeweler just like that so the stars can come and see me,’” says Izzy. But the brothers quickly realized that everybody couldn’t afford to spend the type of money the competition was charging for custom pieces. A custom piece from Jacob could touch $1 million sometimes. So they decided to fill that void by crafting the custom work these big names wanted for cheaper.
“Imagine being 23 years old and now you lock in $1 million. How would you feel? You would feel like you’re the f*cking king.”- Joseph Aranbayev
Initial customers ranged from everyday citizens to wealthier businessmen. Some of the first high profile clients included professional boxers like Andre Berto, who Joe knew from his time training in Colorado, and R&B group Jagged Edge, who they met through group members Brian and Brandon Casey’s mother. She came by the shop looking for custom pieces. Working with such a big musical act of that era was pivotal, and after that Avianne’s reputation was largely built off word of mouth once others saw the level of work they were capable of providing. Just Blaze, 50 Cent, Jadakiss, and Jam Master Jay all shopped with them, but one of its biggest clients around that time was Harlem rap group the Diplomats, whose members had a large influence on the style and sound of the early 2000s. Who can forget Cam’ron wearing a pink fur coat and matching headband at the Baby Phat fashion show in 2003? Izzy designed the diamond rings he wore in that picture.
“I liked their energy and their personality. I liked the fact that they was young dudes, in their early 20s, selling diamonds that was high quality,” Cam’ron says. “They treated me like family. I was buying a lot of jewelry. I spent millions of dollars in there.”
Cam’ron has remained a loyal client since then and they’ve made well-known pieces together. In 2005, Avianne designed the Harlem rapper’s spinning globe chain, the first motor-operated pendant ever, and the battery-operated stop light pendant.
“When you make your history, you don't realize you made your history. Like me, I just do what I like. I'm very outside the box, so I just thought of it and they made it come to life,” says Cam’ron. “For them to bring it to life, you can't just go into the jewelry store and tell them, ‘Yo, look, I want my chain to spin around even when I'm not spinning it.’ The average jeweler is not going to be able to make that happen. The fact that they can even make that happen was impressive to me.”
The idea for the spinning globe came from Brian De Palma’s cult classic 1983 film, Scarface. They felt Cam’ron was as big in the rap game as Tony Montana was in the drug game, so they referenced Montana’s “World Is Yours” sculpture that sits in his Miami mansion’s foyer. Cam’s version read “Killa Cam” across the banner. The globe was placed between a set of hands and spun using a battery-operated motor, which Izzy said an engineer who was a friend of the family had to create.
“We just clicked. We understood one another because we saw the same things, and right away I told him, don't worry about it. I got you,” says Izzy, who smoked his first blunt with Cam on the set of the “Hey Ma” music video and landed a role as the jeweler in the rapper’s 2006 film Killa Season. “He was the iciest motherfucker out there and everybody knew I was the one who was doing it. So it worked both ways. We took care of one another.”
By 2005, the Avianne name was established. They had plenty of co-signs from influential rappers and celebrities like Cam, and business was going well. But there was a rift within the company. Cousins Avi and Gabriel, who declined our request for comment, would split from Avianne and begin Rafaello and Co. alongside Rafael Aranbayev, their uncle, in 2009. Rafaello still operates its own storefront on the block. While remaining brief on the subject, Izzy says it boiled down to “too many chiefs” being in the same room and that the family members each felt they could make it on their own.
“My father and my uncle, they were partners,” Izzy says. “We had a big split, and we ended up starting from scratch. We just kept going. That’s when Elliot came on board. We taught him the ropes, took him to a few events, and he ended up building his lane, getting his connections.
Elliot, who declined our request for comment, helped usher in a new era for the New York jewelry brand, working with top-tier clients like Future, Drake, and Lil Uzi Vert. Izzy’s wife used to babysit Elliot when he was younger and he initially worked at her salon in Great Neck, Long Island, before being brought over to the shop when he was 17. Izzy says during his decade with Avianne and Co., Elliot was never complacent. He helped produce pieces such as Takeoff’s Solar System chain, the Trap House pendant Cardi B gifted Offset, Travis Scott’s multicolored Spitfire piece, and countless others before leaving to start his own company, Elliante, in 2018. He is now one of the most in-demand jewelers in hip-hop.
“From just a dream and trying to become a famous jeweler, I became master class in this s*it.” -Izzy Aranbayev
“People weren't happy at the end of the day. What's the point of working if people aren't happy? Let’s just go our separate ways and move on,” says Izzy. “It came to a point where [Elliot] had to be his own chief. We had a great run. We killed the game together. We’re still killing the game. He’s doing his thing, I'm doing my thing.”
Now sitting at a glass table situated towards the back of the Avianne and Co. showroom, Joe pauses to answer a FaceTime call. South Carolina rapper Blacc Zacc is on the line. Joe begins breaking down the watch he’s working on for him at the moment, showing him how the watch bezel will sit on the face, asking him to imagine what the piece will look like on his wrist once it’s flooded with diamonds, and beaming with enthusiasm about the potential of the final product. When the conversation ends, he shows off his phone’s camera roll, which is filled with hundreds of photos of custom watches and chains.
“From just a dream and trying to become a famous jeweler, I became master class in this shit,” says Izzy whose delivery oozes with confidence as his voice builds to loud shout. “I’m the Diamond Chef. I can look at diamonds and I’ll know the colors of them, I'll know if it's treated, if it's lab gold. I’ll know everything.”
The custom process starts with a client’s idea and can take anywhere from four to six weeks—but bigger projects can take months. Takeoff’s $500,000 solar system chain, for instance, took seven. The team will sit down with the client and sketch out a rendering of the piece. From there, suggestions are made, what Joe refers to as “putting our sauce” on the idea. Once finalized, the mockup is turned into a wax mold before being cast in metal. If it is approved by the client, the process continues and the cast is polished and prepped for diamond setting by the production department. Each diamond is then individually examined to ensure cut, clarity, and color before being set on the piece. The piece is then sent back to Joe and Izzy for a quality control inspection. If it passes, the pendant is polished one more time before final delivery to the client. Everything is taken care of in-house and within the U.S.
“The most beautiful thing about any order that we take, no matter what size it is, is you see it from inception to its final stages. It's like a baby growing, and that's what I love to see,” says Joe.
A piece they created for Slick Rick in 2019, one of the originators of hip-hop’s obsession with jewelry, is even in the Guinness Book of World Records as the biggest pendant. It’s a 12-inch-by-eight-inch rectangular gold plate set with 16,000 diamonds, which have been used to depict the shape of Africa.
"We don’t sell jewelry. We don’t sell ice. We sell art,” Joe says. That’s a mindset he feels other jewelers don’t have. “To them, this is a way of making money. When you put on a chain that's from us, and you’ve got somebody who has a chain from Joe Schmoe, that person is going to feel embarrassed, and it's happened before. They move away from the person who bought a piece of jewelry from us, or they tuck their jewelry in.”
That’s why directors Josh and Benny Safdie, better known as the Safdie brothers, reached out to Avianne during the making of Uncut Gems. The introduction was all thanks to Cam’ron, who Izzy says called him one day and said he was going to bring the directors over to the shop with some of the cast. To prepare to play protagonist Howard Ratner, Adam Sandler shadowed Izzy for roughly two months. The actor wanted to learn everything from how to properly examine a diamond to how he should handle phone calls and money exchanges. Izzy also designed the Star of David pinky ring and the red-faced Rolex Sandler wore throughout the movie.
“Izzy, Joe, and Elliot at the time, they were running the game. Their pieces were rival to none, maybe Ben Baller out west. But their pieces had, and have, an outsider art quality to them. Only they could make them,” Josh Safdie, who even received his own custom Uncut Gems pendant from Avianne and Co. at the film’s Los Angeles premiere, says via email. “It was an energy on the block. They were kingpins. We needed to work with them.”
Izzy and Joe were supposed to have minor roles in the film as the jewelers Cam’ron left Ratner for—yes, Cam’ron was supposed to be in Uncut Gems—but the scenes didn’t make the movie. Izzy’s 16-year-old son Jonathan did land a role, though, playing Ratner’s son Eddie. He made a lot out of the little screen time he had—the scene at Ratner’s Manhattan apartment that involved his father forcing him to take a shit in his neighbor’s room to avoid running into his mistress, Julia, played by Julia Fox, is a particularly memorable bit of comic relief. Jonathan, who showed up for the Complex shoot looking much older than his movie character, wore an Avianne snapback, a green bubble coat, and matching Billionaire Boys Club sweatpants. His two diamond necklaces, shimmering watch, and Gucci link bracelet on his left wrist were atypical of the usual teenager’s accessories, which made them that much more noticeable. He told his father he got his acting chops from watching him.
“I was surprised myself that he got the part. I was like, ‘Where did you learn to act like that?’ He was like, ‘From you,’ says Izzy. “You see that in me? OK, cool. At least you picked up something good from me.”
"We don’t sell jewelry. We don’t sell ice. We sell art," -Joseph Aranbayev
But the silver screen is new territory. Rap music has certainly been where Avianne and Co. has really carved out a lane for itself in its two decade history—they’ve been referenced in songs by Future (“I purchase Avianne now she lit, huh,” on 2016’s “Wicked”), 21 Savage (“I’m draped in Avianne, I ain’t got a deal,” on Travis Scott’s “Outside”), Smokepurpp, and A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie. But their appeal transcends rappers. Their webstore fulfills roughly 10,000 orders each year. The site stocks everything from $153 10-karat diamond stud earrings to $132,000 14-karat diamond solitaire stud earrings. Custom Jesus piece pendants, bridal rings, and much more subtle options like gold chains are also available. If you want your own custom piece, orders start at $3,000. Can’t afford jewelry? Avianne-branded snapbacks and sweatsuits are also up for grabs. At one point, a customer strolls in to pick up a gold rope chain that costs a couple hundred dollars. Later the same day, Joe finds joy in explaining how Avianne & Co. recently crafted custom medals for his daughter’s gymnastics team.
“I came into this business with the mentality that I’m going to be that company that treats everybody equally. I don’t care where you’re from, who you are, what’s your skin color, what’s your religion. It doesn’t matter to me. It’s business,” says Joe. “I don’t care if you're spending a dollar with me, or you’re spending $1 million with me. You will get the same service, the same treatment.”
That welcoming attitude, and a lack of armed security, led to a multimillion-dollar jewelry heist at the shop. On a Sunday afternoon in August 2019, the store was robbed of $4 million worth of product in broad daylight. Employees, including Izzy and his son, were tied up by three assailants who posed as customers as they ran through the cases of expensive goods. Izzy says the trio expressed interest in purchasing a ring, and he was happy to bring one of them to the back room, size him, and show him some options. One member of the group took advantage, pulling a gun out on Izzy as he went to size his finger. His son and nephew happened to be in the room at the time, picking out watches to wear to a Bar Mitzvah later that night. Nobody was seriously harmed, but the robbery did halt some of Avianne’s expansion plans, which included opening new locations in Los Angeles, Miami, and Las Vegas. After the robbery, they had to regroup and instead renovated their current space and revamped security. Joe recalls another dangerous result of working in the jewelry business when his car was shot at 40 times several years ago, but didn’t speak much on this past summer’s robbery. He did say he learned a very important lesson: Make sure you're secured at all times.
“Yeah, it was a wake-up call at the end of the day. I’d rather pay $100,000 a year to fucking protect myself than come to work and not feel safe,” says Izzy.
Looking to the future, Joe says he wants to operate on Fifth Avenue, an area just a few hundred feet away from Avianne’s current operation, but with an entirely different connotation. He cites Jacob the Jeweler, who’s currently stationed on 57th Street and 5th Avenue. However, Joe acknowledges now isn’t the right time. Still, the brand continues to grow its online presence, posting its dazzling pieces on social media. Joe’s son Dylen has recently started vlogging for the shop as well, helping extend the Avianne brand to a new generation, the same way it has been for the past 21 years. And Jonathan, while wanting to focus on a budding acting career at the moment, could be involved with this business down the line, too.
"A lot of people do a lot of flossing, but I don’t think that they would be doing it without Avianne.” -Cam'ron
In a lot of ways, the Avianne brothers are nothing like the troubled Howard Ratner. They are successful, professional, and level-headed. But at one point, the brothers sat down huddled around a small table to marvel over some of their past diamond-covered creations, and it was reminiscent of how Ratner stared at the black opal. They looked at the pieces intently as if they had never seen anything like it. Almost as if even they were impressed with what they were able to create. Cam’ron says that passion has made Avianne what it is—just two years ago, they made the newest Dipset bird logo in response to what Cam calls the “ugly” Dipset pendants other jewelers had produced over the years.
“[Avianne is] originators for this generation. And I’m not just talking about my generation, I’m talking about the next generations,” says Cam’ron. “They gave people the vision to be creative when it comes to jewelry. I think that they stepped outside the box and they gave other jewelers the idea to come up with all this creative jewelry that they got now. A lot of people do a lot of flossing, but I don’t think that they would be doing it without Avianne.”