Rocking Dior calfskin trainers, diamond-encrusted Cartier glasses and a chain with a bedazzled “A” logo pendant, it is hard to distinguish Abtin Abbasi from the blinged-out clientele at the launch of his new flagship store. Influencers, rappers, ex-Love Islanders; all gathered at A Jewelers in London to celebrate its launch in February. Camden mayor Maryam Eslamdoust was present to cut the ribbon, and his ruffled livery collar wasn’t even the most ostentatious adornment in the room.
At 32, Abbassi is now one of the youngest jewellery shop owners in Hatton Garden – the centre of diamond trade in the UK – as well as possibly the only one of Persian descent in an area predominantly populated by Jewish-run stores. Over the past ten years, he has become the go-to jeweller for the biggest British names in rap, grime and hip-hop, including Fredo, Mist, Young Adz and slowthai, as well as top footballers like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Paul Pogba and Alex Iwobi.
Interest in Abbassi’s world – with its impenetrable lingo and high-rolling clientele – is at an all-time high after the release of the critically acclaimed Safdie Brothers film Uncut Gems, starring Adam Sandler as a fast-talking jewellery dealer in New York’s Diamond District. Like Abbasi, Sandler’s character Howard Ratner provides jewellery to hip-hop stars (and NBA millionaires) from inside a bulletproof-glass enclosed showroom. But Abbasi says that’s where the similarities end.
“The film reminds me of how stressful and intense this business can be on a day to day, running around chasing things, dealing with hundreds of phone calls.” he says. “What I will say though is none of [A Jewellers’] problems are based on owing people money or being dishonourable. In this business, if you want to be successful your name and reputation is everything. Once that’s destroyed you're finished – you can’t fix it, there’s no coming back.”
Like many an entrepreneur forged in the ends, Abbasi started off on the playground, buying and selling sweets at school and graduating to sportswear, trainers and mobile phones by the time he was in college. He’d sell out of the back of his backpack or car boot at barbershops, colleges and football pitches. The first time Abbasi stepped foot in London’s jewellery quarter, it was at the age of 18 to sell a secondhand watch.
“Someone through a network of people offered me a Breitling,” he tells me over the phone. “I didn't know anything about watches, but I knew that it was cheap for what it was, so I just took a chance and I bought it. And I was told by people to go to Hatton Garden to sell it.”
Abbasi managed to sell it for £700 profit and quickly moved onto jewellery, marrying a knack for art and design with his interest in old-school hip-hop chains and medallions.
“It just became an everyday thing,” he says. “Buying and selling, along with gold which I started learning how to test and where to sell it. Then further down the line I started learning about diamonds and how to buy and sell them.”
Abbasi moved to the UK aged two from Iran, growing up above his dad’s pizza shop in Neasden, northwest London. He recalls a tranquil upbringing up until his teenage years, when his dad stumbled into financial trouble: “A lot of money was stolen from him,” he says. “We lost our house. Then we basically were completely bankrupt, to the point where we couldn’t afford normal things. That’s around the age where I really started becoming really hungry and started trying to do whatever I could do to make money.”
After dropping out of his business management course at university to sell full-time, Abbasi launched A Jewellers in a tiny office in 2008, a stone's throw away from his shop's new location. But it was the creation of the company's Instagram account two years later that saw him become an industry leader. In an era where “drip” is a talent in itself and stunting a full time occupation, his highly Instagrammable pieces curated a cult following. The account currently has over 158,000 followers and accrues thousands of likes for their most extravagant pieces: over 9,000 on an image of a diamond-encrusted chain and pendant of the Ladbroke Grove street sign made for AJ Tracey, 14,000 on a picture of “the world’s first custom AP ring”.
Abbasi’s creations soon found favour with young superstars like J Hus and Aitch, and he has even made pieces for boxing legend Floyd Mayweather and Juan Pablo Escobar Henao, the son of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. Among his most expensive work is a custom piece for Chelsea player Eden Hazard, who requested three pendants on diamond tennis chains – each one featuring a picture of his sons. They cost £100,000 in total.
“From this small tiny office that we used to work from, we slowly started becoming the biggest in the UK, selling more than the shops downstairs from us,” Abbasi says.
The past two years have been spent perfecting a shop that exudes the same aspirational glamour as the brand’s online presence. The store has seven rooms, including a large showroom and VIP room in the back, decked out with cream carpet, plush mustard chairs and emerald green walls with gold detailing. His launch afterparty was what the kids would call a “movie”, held at Mayfair’s MNKEY HSE with bottomless champagne and attended by famous customers.
Rappers and reality TV stars such as Basketball Wives’ Draya Michelle and Love Islanders Anna Vakili, Jack Fowler and Francesca Allen were all papped against the heavily branded backdrop, posing in the A Jewellers photo booth and cosying up to A Jewellers pillows. Abbasi understands the power of influencer endorsement. It’s helped him build an empire from an Instagram account that now boasts a following of over 150,000 fans.
“After the party, I got everyone to post [pictures from it] and we did a video of the opening with a production team,” he tells me. “We posted it and it just went viral. And that's how I announced the big opening.”
Aside from marketing, social media has been crucial for access, allowing him to infiltrate an industry that is a notoriously closed shop. In Hatton Garden’s roughly square mile, there are more than 300 companies and over 60 shops, with the majority run by Orthodox Jews. Many of them arrived in Britain as refugees from the Nazis, and until relatively recently Yiddish or Hebrew was mainly spoken by the gold dealers.
“We've basically gained everything from Instagram, rather than having a fancy shop in a good area,” he says. “Even if I put my shop outside Harrods, there's no way that that shop is going to be busier and I'm going to be able to do more business, than just being in a small office with my Instagram account.”
But social media has been a double-edged sword. In some ways, it makes an already risky industry even more so. In October 2016, Kim Kardashian was famously robbed at gunpoint at a rented luxury mansion in Paris, and tied up while robbers stole jewellery reportedly worth up to $11 million. Her tendency to post her whereabouts were thought to have partly aided the burglars and she since revealed that she no longer posts Instagram Stories in real time. Abbasi has similar worries.
“The way I move is like I’m being followed 24 hours a day, that’s how I have to be to avoid getting followed or robbed or something happening to me,” he says. “Because I'm famous on Instagram – 20,000 people watch my story. They all know I’ll be wearing a nice watch, I'm out in the nice fancy places.”
“It's a dangerous business and I’ve taken a lot of risks. In the past, before I had a safe location to do business in, there were a number of occasions where people tried to set me up for robberies.”
Abbasi no longer does deals in public or anywhere outside of the shop unless he knows the person “really well”. Still, he considers it a small price for the payout that social media has given him in the long run. Having already charmed UK rap artists, he hopes to make the same inroads with rappers in the States. In the meantime, Abbasi is confident that most of his customers are just one DM away.
“I'm reaching out to everyone in the UK and Europe,” he says. “People are coming into us every day from all around parts of the UK. Northampton, Birmingham, Manchester, it's not just London anymore – we sell to all around Europe. And most of it is from Instagram.”
Update 29/4/20: The piece was updated to reflect that the pizza shop was located in Neasden and not Mill HIll.