Bolo Quesada was 13 when his older brothers inspired him to get his first pair of gold grillz.
“He was a specific type of person who had grillz,” says Quesada, who is now in his thirties. “It’s gone from the boys dope to now the average kid who gets them. “
Grillz, dental jewelry typically made of gold and encrusted with diamonds or other precious stones, has exploded in popularity. And grillz stores have sprung up across the country, including in Richmond, where Quesada works at The Grill Guys, which opened just before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Painted as black as a gaping tooth in a row of brightly colored buildings on 23rd Street, The Grill Guys is making up for lost time.
The popularity of the grillz exploded in 2005 when rapper Nelly glorified the fashion accessory with a loud, bubbly piece of music called “Grillz,” starring Paul Wall, a Houston-based entrepreneur and grillz icon.
“Call me George Foreman because I sell grillz to everyone,” raps Wall in the clip featuring a cameo by famed grill maker Johnny Dang.
After that, the kids molded gum wrappers onto their teeth, recalls Valentina Casas, a 26-year-old bench worker at The Grill Guys.
Dental jewelry has gone out of fashion throughout history.
Archaeologists discovered that the Etruscans used gold wire dental accessories to hold false teeth in the 7th century BC.
The Mayan nobles left traces of teeth engraved with jade, which signified status.
In the 1980s, southern hip-hop brought valuable teeth to the cultural scene. And in the 90s, Oakland became a hub for grill designers.
Alexander hopes to organize knowledge exchanges with other jewelers in the area, and he wants to make grill culture something Richmond is known for.
How it’s made
At The Grill Guys, Quesada makes a mold of teeth, then makes a wax liner into which the gold is to be injected. Casas files, details and then polishes the coin, the residual gold dust glistening on his hands and clothes. Under the microscope, she scrutinizes the work, making sure it gets the “deep cut” that makes the gold coating look like individual teeth. If there is a mistake, the only solution is to melt the gold and start over.
Alexander takes one last look at the room before encrustation with precious stones. The process takes about two weeks.
Each grill costs about $ 95 a tooth. Customers typically start with at least six.
Grillz are mostly removable, worn strictly for fashion and not for practical uses like mouthguards. But real commitment definitely holds them together. For these customers, Alexander recommends that they go to someone in the dental industry, like Dang, the famous grill maker.
According to the American Dental Association, there are no studies showing that removable screens are harmful to the mouth, which cautions that there are also no studies showing that long-term wear is safe.
Lamar Barr started with a set of fangs and six lower gold teeth when he was 15 years old. He recently switched to a 10v10 diamond set at The Grill Guys.
“The player’s spokesperson,” Quesada joked.
Because dental care is expensive, many clients use oral jewelry to repair crooked or missing teeth, Alexander said.
Giving people a reason to smile is what Alexander bases his business on, hoping his customers “smile often,” a tagline and hashtag used by The Grill Guys.