Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

How Chris Aire hustled his way to become Hollywood's 'King of Bling'

From Vladimir Duthiers, CNN
updated 6:04 AM EST, Wed December 18, 2013
Nigerian jeweler Chris Aire (right) is a master craftsman, famous for his magnificent designs made of diamonds, gold and other precious stones and metals. Nigerian jeweler Chris Aire (right) is a master craftsman, famous for his magnificent designs made of diamonds, gold and other precious stones and metals.
HIDE CAPTION
Chris Aire's creations
Celebrity clients
Celebrity clients
Chris Aire's creations
Chris Aire's creations
Chris Aire's creations
Chris Aire's creations
Chris Aire's creations
Chris Aire
Chris Aire's creations
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Chris Aire is a famous jeweler whose A-list clients include movie and music stars
  • Born and raised in Nigeria, Aire moved to the U.S. at a young age to follow his dreams
  • His sparkling creations have earned him the title, "King of Bling"
  • Aire urges people in Africa to support their local designers and luxury brands

(CNN) -- Chris Aire is known as "the King of Bling," the jeweler to the stars whose dazzling creations are worn by the likes of Angelina Jolie, 50 Cent and Shaquille O'Neal.

But although he might be regularly rubbing shoulders with Hollywood superstars, famous musicians and elite athletes today, there was a time when the Nigerian-born designer could only dream about approaching a celebrity.

More than two decades ago, Aire used to hang outside five star hotels and trendy bars in Los Angeles in the hope of showing his designs to a potential star client.

"I had my little coach bag," remembers Aire. "I had everything in it 'cause seriously I didn't know any of these guys. So walking up to them you really have just a minute -- if even that -- to say 'yo, this is what I've got,'" he adds. "I had instances where people thought I was selling hot items -- 'this dude out here man, he's got some stolen stuff.'"

Read this: Africa's first design museum

But after a year of frequenting celeb hotspots, exhausting his savings in the process, Aire's big break finally came following an L.A.-based encounter with Gary Payton, the NBA star playing for the Seattle Supersonics at the time.

"I was just hanging out at a hotel waiting for him because I knew he was going to be there," remembers Aire. "And when he came down, the press rush that he had, he would have been justified in saying, 'hey man get out of my way."

Chris Aire's dazzling jewelery journey
Chris Aire on responsible diamond sourcing

Instead, Payton invited Aire to go later that year to a charity event in Miami and show him his creations. There was only one problem: Aire had no money.

Undeterred, Aire decided to max out his credit card and buy an airline ticket to Miami, even though he couldn't afford a return flight to L.A. But when he got to Florida, Payton was so impressed with his designs that he immediately placed a $50,000 order, buying a platinum basketball pendant for himself and other jewelry for his friends.

"That sale transformed my life," says Aire. "Not only did I pay for the flight ticket, I had enough to start building and doing a bunch of my own collection."

'Leap of faith'

The son of a successful Nigerian businessman, Aire grew up in the West African country's Ivue Uromi region. His father wanted him to go into the family oil business, but instead Aire left Nigeria aged 18 to go to college in the United States.

But while working on getting his education, Aire had also to find a way of supporting himself. His first job was flipping burgers in a fast-food restaurant overnight.

Read this: Tribal beauty of vanishing life

"I would work from 10 pm to 6 am in the morning and then I'll go home, get a couple of hours nap and then go to school at nine," recalls Aire. "I was at school from 9 until about 4 pm -- and then I went home, got ready and repeated that again, five days a week."

After graduating from college, Aire tried his luck briefly as an actor and singer, before making his foray into jewelry with the help of a friend whose father was a jeweler.

Starting from the bottom, Aire worked his way up, learning the craft and understanding everything about gold, diamonds and other colored gem stones.

After six years of apprenticing under his friend's father, Aire had managed to save $5,000. He then decided it was time to strike out on his own and form his own company.

"It was a leap of faith and I took that leap of faith," says Aire. "I was very confident in my faith because I believe whatever it is that puts the inspiration in your mind has within it its own fulfillment."

There is going to be a time when Africa, starting with Nigeria, becomes the envy of luxury market.
Chris Aire, jeweler

'Massive wealth'

Since then, Aire has managed to build a thriving company whose A-list clientele is a roll call of cinema and music superstars. In 2004, Aire made fashion history when he became the first jeweler to stage a runway show at New York Fashion Week.

His sparkling creations include a diamond encrusted cuff -- priced at $1.7 million -- and a $500,000 diamond-coated guitar for hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean.

But even though he mixes with the rich and famous, Aire has not forgotten where he came from. He frequently visits Nigeria and is optimistic about the future of both his country and his continent.

"I think there is going to be a time when Africa, starting with Nigeria, becomes the envy of luxury market," he says. "There's massive wealth here but the Western impression of Africa has always been a country of people in need of charity, in need of aid, but Africa really is the last frontier."

Aire also believes that people in the continent should support local designers and luxury brands, which in turn can speed up the growth of African businesses.

"We have to embrace our own so that the next Louis Vuitton or Chanel comes out of Africa. So we are positioning ourselves to be that breakout brand from Africa."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
African Voices
updated 7:40 AM EDT, Tue March 25, 2014
The veiled female rapper tackling Egyptian taboos head on
Meet Mayam Mahmoud, the 18-year-old Egyptian singer tackling gender stereotypes through hip-hop.
updated 6:50 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
As the head of Kenya Red Cross, Abbas Gullet was one of the first emergency responders at the Westgate shopping mall.
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Wed March 19, 2014
Gikonyo performs a medical check-up for one of her patients at Karen Hospital in Kenya.
Leading pediatric surgeon Betty Gikonyo reveals how her life changed at 30,000 feet and her mission to save the lives of countless disadvantaged children in Kenya.
updated 8:46 AM EST, Tue March 4, 2014
Biyi Bandele
As a child, Biyi Bandele immersed himself in a world of literature. Today he's taken that passion and turned it into a career as a celebrated writer, playwright and now director.
updated 6:26 AM EST, Wed February 26, 2014
Sanaa Hamri in Los Angeles, 2011.
Music video and film director Sanaa Hamri shares her story of how she made it from the streets of Tangier to the big film studios in the United States.
updated 5:34 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
African Voices meets James Ebo Whyte a passionate storyteller with a series of successful plays to his credit.
updated 5:16 AM EST, Mon February 17, 2014
Actress Lupita Nyong'o attends the 86th Academy Awards nominees luncheon at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 10, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong'o has become a new critics' darling after her breakout role in last year's hit movie "12 Years A Slave."
updated 8:29 AM EDT, Thu March 27, 2014
Celebrated designer Adama Paris reveals how she was tired of seeing "skinny blonde models" on all the runways, so she did something about it.
updated 11:48 AM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Packaging can change how people see things. And when it comes to sex, it could maybe help save lives too.
updated 7:06 AM EDT, Fri March 21, 2014
Global perceptions of the tiny country in east-central Africa are often still stuck in 1994 but local photographers are hoping to change that.
updated 5:39 AM EDT, Fri April 4, 2014
Lightenings strike over Johannesburg during a storm on December 14, 2013.
Ending energy poverty is central to a resurgent Africa, writes entrepreneur Tony O. Elumelu.
updated 5:45 AM EST, Fri February 7, 2014
A group of young students have taken stereotypes about the continent -- and destroyed them one by one.
updated 6:14 AM EDT, Tue April 1, 2014
Grace Amey-Obeng has built a multi-million dollar cosmetics empire that's helping change the perception of beauty for many.
Each week African Voices brings you inspiring and compelling profiles of Africans across the continent and around the world.
ADVERTISEMENT