Grillz are meant to get your attention.
Grillz are an age-old artform of adornment, yet it remains a mystery just how an artist becomes a master crafter of flashy mouthpieces. Jonathan Raksha, a 22-year-old Canadian jeweler to the stars, has done just that by translating his love for hip-hop’s in-your-face expression into a bustling career.
The shining mouth-pieces that sprung up in the era of Etruscans, permeated hip-hop in its early extravagant years and have been enjoying a resurgence since the late 2000s thanks to Nelly, which so casually accent the faces of so many individualistic youths—are, in their essence, jewelry, but beyond that are a statement.
A statement that you don’t abide by traditional standards of beauty. That you are your own person with a unique understanding of how you appear to the outside world. That you, to put it simply, don’t give a fuck.
You probably wouldn’t wear your grill to your day job, and you’d likely put it away before meeting the parents of a significant other, but for those who put self-expression over acceptance, the grill remains the boldest way to say that you always put your money where your mouth is.
So who are the mysterious figures behind the scenes of the ongoing grill phenomenon—those daring enough to venture into the mouths of customers on the daily, constantly chasing inspiration on how to best personify a person in a piece of fine metal that fits snugly over one’s teeth?
On a Saturday afternoon in early March, 22-year-old Jonathan Raksha, founder of jewelry brand Maison Raksha, calls in from Los Angeles, where he is meeting with clients for a round of grill fittings and sales.
Though originally from Toronto—his phone sporting the same area code as 6God Drake—the in-demand jeweler, for whom grillz is just an entry-point into a much larger industry, has had a busy year that’s taken him across the country in pursuit of new projects related to his quickly-growing empire.
Just last year, Raksha was studying Jewelry Arts at George Brown College in the 6, getting a background in traditional goldsmithing by working with high-quality metals and learning the basics of design.
It wasn’t long until the entrepreneurial student, who grew up listening to Southern and Bay Area rap, turned his appreciation for hip-hop’s trendsetting stylists into a full-time hobby by creating custom grillz, teaching himself to design the dental-adorning pieces. Eventually, it became his profession.
By virtue of his knowledge of classic techniques and willingness to experiment in accord with his clients’ desires, Raksha has amassed a reputable list of clients, including new rap icons like A$AP Rocky, Mike WiLL and DeJ Loaf, all of whom incorporate grillz into their unique looks.
Another contributing factor to his rise? His digital savvy. Despite having a booming business, Raksha is a one-man band, and he communicates with the bulk of his new and existing clients through Instagram, Twitter and e-mail.
In an effort to offer a peek into his fast-paced life, Raksha offered to chat about his process and background in a series of Instagram Direct Messages, seen below.