Myszczynski and Chai Beauty
It’s 2005, you’ve just got home from school and you’re watching the video for Nelly’s “Grillz”. His lips are moisturised, framing a set of VVS diamond grillz worth tens of thousands of dollars. You dream of one day having a mouth as sparkly as Nelly’s, but you are a child, with no money, so instead you polish off three Kit Kats and wrap the leftover foil around your teeth.
Sixteen years later, grillz are no longer so unattainable – as well as living in the mouths of rappers and models, they’re now splashed all over your Explore page, manufactured by people making them accessible to the average Instagram user.
Tooth gems, too, have made a comeback in recent years, exposed in the mouths of influencers as they emphatically sing along to songs on TikTok. While they were once something you’d wake up with after a drunken night out on a girls holiday to Ayia Napa, the French fashion magazine L’Officiel recently declared tooth gems to be both “edgy and delicate”.
It’s safe to say that tooth jewellery is having a renaissance.
During lockdown, 21-year-old Ellen saw a photo of model Hailey Bieber showing off two tiny crystals stuck to her back teeth, and like the look. So, she watched a series of YouTube tutorials – some instructed viewers to use superglue (a bad idea), others recommended dental equipment – and finally managed to secure two red gems onto her front teeth.
“I bought so much stuff, and the first couple of times they fell off the same day, but now I’ve got the hang of it. You have to use dentist goggles and a proper UV light, or it won’t work,” she laughs. “I love jewellery, and this is a way of always having some on without thinking about it. I don’t think I ever thought about my teeth before, but it’s something my friends compliment when I FaceTime them.”
Given the fact we now spend so much time staring at our own faces onscreen, it makes sense that people might want to experiment with what they see. “It’s simple: I was going to bleach my hair, but I think I’d ruin it. I just get bored, and I’m not dressing up to go anywhere,” Ellen explains. “So having tooth gems has been a fun lockdown experiment.”
It’s not just Ellen; since the start of lockdown, London-based tooth gem artist Chai Beauty was able to quit her job and start working on her business full-time. “For the first few months, I had to reschedule or cancel. and some people weren't really coming through. But business has actually really boosted since summer,” she says. “I think it was a combination of people being bored during lockdown – they don’t really have anything to do, so everybody was on their phones looking at it on Instagram.”
According to Chai, most people prefer keep it simple when it comes to tooth gems, opting either for a single gem on their tooth, or to cover one tooth in Swarovski crystals. “If you get fully covered with crystals, it would be about £80,” she explains. “Depending on what carat you get, a single gold cap grill could be about the same. But I think some people prefer to get tooth gems because it’s a bit more subtle than getting caps.”
When it comes to grillz, subtlety is completely out. People are no longer looking for plain yellow gold caps – instead, custom jewellery makers, like 20-year-old Joshua Myszczynski, have seen a rise in commissions for more creative sets, including stones like jade and opal.
“I’ve been making grillz for about two years, but I get bored easily. I started out making plain, normal grillz, but now I’m taking it somewhere else,” he says. “I think that’s probably why it's becoming even more popular, because people are realising the possibilities of it. It’s such a small area to work on, but with a bit of precision and practice you can take it to the next level and do a lot of detailed, tiny work on them.”
Clova Rae-Smith, a final year jewellery student at Central Saint Martins, has also noticed an uptick in people looking for custom grillz over the past year. Right now, alongside her final year uni project, she’s juggling 100 commissions – a number she puts down to a surge in lockdown-induced shopping.
“Over lockdown, there was a growth in online shopping, and I think people realised that you could actually get [grillz] done from your home too. You just order a mold kit and it’s really easy and quick,” says Rae-Smith. “For me, it can take a week to two-and-a-half weeks to finish, depending on the design and if nothing goes wrong.”
All three tooth jewellery artists are sure that the grillz and tooth gems are set to stick around. Chai plans on opening a studio later on in the year, Myszczynski will be launching a collection of jewellery in the coming months, and Rae-Smith plans to take on more commissions when she’s finished her course.
So, it’s likely you’ll be seeing a lot more tooth jewellery on your feeds beyond lockdown. In fact, they could be the next impulse buy you make.