8,500 stones, including black diamonds. Seven inches tall. Five inches wide. That’s what it takes to bring a monster to life. And the only one that can accomplish such a task? Why celebrity jeweler Johnny Dang, of course.
Throughout his nearly two-decade long career as the King of Bling, Dang rose to the top among the who’s who of Hollywood’s greatest jewelers. Starting from his humble beginnings as a Vietnamese jeweler in Houston, Dang’s claim to fame can be attributed to him single-handedly helping popularize the grill among Hip-Hop’s greatest artists. Today his clientele consists of the biggest A-listers in film and music, including Cardi B, Beyonce, Snoop Dogg, and most recently, Godzilla!
The Nerds of Color was able to take the opportunity to speak to Dang about the stunning piece he made for Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and about his amazing career overall.
NOC: Thank you for being here for us and agreeing to talk to us. It’s such an honor to talk to someone as iconic as you. I wanted to ask, you came from epic but smaller beginnings in Houston, running a jewelry store where you fixed and repaired jewelry. And then the grill comes up, and you ended up getting huge. At what point did you think to yourself “I’ve made it?”
Dang: Actually, at this point I can tell at this point right now. I started as a single jeweler at flea markets. Up to now, I have 55 employees in a 14K square feet building. And I think that’s good, I can say I’ve made it. But of course, other businesses, I want to grow out more and more. As a jeweler I want to improve more. I’m always thinking I’m not good enough and I want to learn more. Because every business and every thing has its own limits. So I’m still improving my business and my jeweler skills a lot.
It’s that perfection that makes you the “King of Bling!” So on that note, I wanted to ask specifically, you being the “King of Bling,” and Godzilla being the “King of the Mosnters,” can you talk about your relationship with the Godzilla franchise? How did you get involved in the project and what drew you to doing this gorgeous piece for the project?
It was such an honor to get an email from Warner Bros to create a Godzilla. I said “What? Make a Godzilla?” Godzilla was one of the very big movies [this year]. And everyone knew I loved the movies. And as “The King of Bling” I love to create different pieces. I’ve been making a lot of, not only grills, but a lot of different custom jewelry. So I got an email from the company asking me to make a real Godzilla. And I said “Wow! Of course man!” I accepted it right away. It was my honor to get it done. That’s how we linked up and got started. And then to go through the process, it was not an easy process. We had to start from the design. Make it look real good. Convert to printing wax. I involved my whole team put a lot of work into getting the piece done. We’re happy with it!… They got more than 8K black diamonds, blue diamonds, plus sapphires, and 2 rubies in the eyes. The most difficult thing was the 3D look, the detail in the back of it, the detail in the face — Every single diamond was set by hand.”
Wow! Would you say this was your most challenging piece?
Honestly this was one of the most challenging… because custom jewelry — every single piece has a difficult thing with it. So I enjoy making every single piece: big, small, or different sizes. That’s what I like to do. I think that’s one of the parts that makes me and my business successful is that I like what I do. I spend a lot of time and make sure things come out A-1!
You should definitely be very proud. They’re gorgeous pieces. And you’ve dressed the best of the best — Beyonce, Cardi! Who was your favorite to work with and what were the challenges of working with them?
I’ve been working with a lot of artists. Most of the artists are my favorites. Some of them are very difficult, challenging, weird, crazy… But I do my best to adapt to it, and get used to it. So I love it. I love every single rapper and every single member of my clients… We don’t have a traditional “customer-store” relationship. We’re like family. Like Rick Ross. He’s been spending money with me for over 15 years. Three-Six Mafia, Jessie J… I’ve been making jewelry for them a long time. DJ Khaled — I’ve known him for so many years. And 2-Chainz…The thing is they not only [request] one piece… they get a new album, they have a new look for the jewelry… so they’ve been asking me to make jewelry for them for years and years. The best thing for me is that I try to keep business and relationships really well, for a low cost… much cheaper than regular jewelry stores.
Because we are The Nerds of Color, I wanted to ask, being of Vietnamese descent, did you find that there were any difficulties in rising up to where you are today that could have been because of racial issues or people not necessarily seeing you, a Vietnamese man, as someone people associate with the hip-hop scene?
The thing is every human being [I’ve worked with] — we’d sit together… be intimate friends and regulars… I just do my best, I treat everyone fair, I don’t create problems, so no one ever gives me a problem. Everyone will be nice with you. There’s no reason to hate me or not be nice to me just because I’m Vietnamese.
Did your parents know you were interested in being a jeweler, and were they encouraging of this when you first told them about that?
When I first started, I needed help from family, so my parents and my brothers helped me in the beginning. So they’ve been around with hip hop. So it was like a family business. Of course now my parents have retired. But when we started, they helped with whatever I needed — watching the store, watching the employees, opening the safe… All the success I have today I got from my parents. I got from my mom. Because that’s how they taught me from the beginning… no matter what you do you have to be honest, a good person, not harm people. Because whenever you do bad, you get bad in return… They raised us like that from the beginning, and I used that in business.
Crazy story, but true, but when I started I didn’t have money. I needed capital. So I worked with a big diamond dealer. And the man gave me an extra $15K accidentally without knowing it. And I returned it to him. I said “hey you gave me an extra $15K without billing me!” And that created trust between me and him. And after that he gave me unlimited diamonds! And that’s the kind of thing you get in return. You be good. Don’t lie or steal from people.
That speaks a great deal about who you are as a person. That’s what makes you the “King of Bling” If I can ask, did you see Godzilla: King of the Monsters yet?
I haven’t yet. Maybe tomorrow at the premiere. I can’t wait. I’m a big fan.
Will you be presenting your piece tomorrow?
Yes I will.
Do you know who will be wearing it? Will Godzilla be wearing it?
(Dang laughs) Maybe me!
So after this challenging Godzilla piece, what’s next for The King of Bling?
This piece for the movie gave me a lot of ideas. Hopefully I will work for different movies. Because creating characters for movies made me very interested… It’s a different thing to do… You can do any type of promotions [for movie], but to make a piece of jewelry to promote a movie, that’s [different]… the reason lots of artists buy jewelry is not for them to wear the bling, but because people talk about it. When people talk about it, it promotes them… it’s the best promotion. And my dream is that hopefully the next movie company comes out and gives me a different character, so we can make something new for the movie.
If you could choose the next movie or character you want to create jewelry for, what would it be? Avengers? Pikachu?
Honestly, I’m not picky. If any company wanted me to create any character, I’d love to be a part of it… maybe one day we’ll be there to make a real Batman out of 20K diamonds! (Dang laughs)
When that day comes, we’ll be there watching and cheering!
Following the interview, Dang, as discussed, premiered his blinged out Godzilla at the World-Premiere of Godzilla: King of the Monsters, where actor O’Shea Jackson rocked the piece on the carpet, next to Dang himself:
Godzilla: King of the Monsters hits theaters May 31, 2019!