History of Grillz: 4,500 Years of Gold Teeth
Believe it or not, Gold Grillz have been around for thousands of years.
You may have noticed the recent trend over the past couple years of celebrities increasingly choosing to wear grillz. World renown celebrities and athletes from hip hop legend Kanye West to Olympic gold-medalist Ryan Lochte have been photographed wearing their own custom set of gold or diamond teeth.
Where did this trend begin though? Most people choose to credit Nelly as the leader of the grillz movement because of his hit song and music video “Grillz” which glorified his decision to take his jewelry game to the next level by adding gold and diamond teeth to his image. Others will look about 20 years further back and reference rap legend Slick Rick for introducing the world to Grillz.
While Nelly and Slick Rick definitely did their part making grillz more mainstream, the complete answer to “Who started the grillz movement?” would lie somewhere around 2,500 BC! That’s right, humans have been known to add gold teeth to their smile for over 4,500 years.
Archaeologists discovered a man buried in Giza who had two gold teeth in his mouth, and carbon-dated his remains back to 2,500 BC. In addition to this, other civilizations have also been known to wear dental jewelry as a status symbol. The Mayan civilization wore Jade grillz, and inserted fragments of the gemstone directly into their teeth. Studies show that this was a very popular trend up until the 1500’s and evidence also indicates that gold grillz became popular in the Philippines starting in the early 16th century.
While grillz styles have changed over the years, dating back to 4,500 BC, one thing has remained: What they stand for. Grillz, whether they be made of gold, diamonds, jade, rubies, sapphires, silver, or any other rare metal or gemstone, continue to represent an upper-echelon social status and symbolize power and wealth.
The demographic of grillz wearers has changed over time. Now, it is no longer just rappers rocking gold and diamond teeth. Influencers, athletes, models, fashionistas, and artists across all genres are working with luxury jewelers to create their own set of grillz.
Grillz enthusiasts are continuing to evolve the industry by creating unique, one-of-a-kind designs for their own custom grillz. Rappers like Lil Wayne and Quavo have been known to spend upwards of $150,000-$250,000 for their own set of custom diamond grillz. Quavo’s grillz are a beautifully made set of invisibly set diamonds on his top and bottom teeth.
With a long and evolving history like the grillz industry has gone through over the past 4,500 + years, one thing is for certain: grillz will continue to be a staple of the high-end fashion industry.
History of Grillz in the United States
Grillz first emerged in the United States in the 1980s. African Immigrants involved in the Transatlantic Slave Trade, or African Diaspora, were first seen with gold teeth. This may come as a surprise, but Gold is one of the cheapest ways to fill cavities for teeth. So during this time, impoverished African Americans living in Brooklyn and the Bronx had gold teeth. Eventually, native New Yorkers started to like the way the gold teeth looked and started to have custom grillz made as a fashion statement.
The rise of hip-hop music in New York in the 1980s led to the creation of the grillz culture. What was once a sign of poverty now became a sign of power, wealth, and success. Since then, the gold grillz industry in the United States has evolved to the point where people are regularly investing hundreds of thousands of dollars on the daily to upgrade their smiles.