By: Jack Stanley
It was only a few years ago that custom diamond watches were deemed gaudy and therefore a poor investment. However, that didn’t stop 777 from championing diamonds and building a business off of customizing watches, jewelry and almost anything imaginable from its Hatton Garden-based boutique. The jewelry brand run by founders Reiss Dixon and Amir Kailany, along with creative director Jack Cannon, has grown from word-of-mouth favorite among London’s new elite to being stocked at Browns in under five years.
777 is favored by rappers and footballers, but it’s the kids who keep 777 on its toes and make sure it pays close attention to pop culture and Instagram trends. “People see an over-saturation of diamonds and they want it, [kids] come to us with pictures of what rappers are wearing in America and say ‘I want that,’ and then we’ll get it done,” Cannon tells HYPEBEAST.
He adds, “50 years ago your nan and grandad and everyone else knew where Hatton Garden is, because of its wedding rings, but now the only people who know are the kids — and the only reason they know is because of rappers like Fredo and that lot rapping about it.” 777 also recognizes its clients’ propensity for one-upmanship, always wanting a better watch or necklace than the last person. “We found our influences through somewhat of a snowball effect. We were doing a few pieces for celebrities, and then everyone wanted bigger and better so we had to up our level,” Dixon tells us as he’s surrounded by iced-out Rolex Datejusts, chunky Cuban Link necklaces and diamond-encrusted Cartier Juste un Clou bracelets.
Inside 777, London’s King of Diamond-Encrusted Customs
Exploring the otherworldly artworks of the Brooklyn-based painter and sculptor.
This idea of impermanence and relationships, is that a concept you've always explored in your work?
Yok & Sheryo
The focus of my work is always personal. I think that's one of the more important things I examine in my practice. I don't keep a diary or journal, but my work becomes personal because I put a lot of who I am into it. When someone looks at these images, they might encounter playful elements in them. But, there are underlying socio-political issues hidden within [the compositions]. For instance, we don’t celebrate old age in our society, we celebrate youth. These paintings have been an outlet for me to examine these issues. It’s an ongoing dialogue that I have with myself and with the outside world, you know?
For sure. Can you describe any other concepts you are examining in your practice?
There are concepts of time and mortality — two things that are inevitable to all of us as humans, right? We don’t talk about these issues, because I don't think most people want to. I have friends who are in their ‘80s and ‘90s. I see them regularly as well as my friends. I wanted to celebrate diversity and touch on those concepts that I mentioned in the “Lovers and Friends” show.
Erchen: It’s very important that each restaurant does different things. We’re inspired by many different eateries in Asia. So Soho is quite minimal, it’s very food focused. It’s in Soho so loads of people are coming in and out and they only want to spend maybe 30 minutes. With Borough we were inspired by the late night grill places and drinking places in Tokyo. We have a highball machine here. Everything revolves around the late night eating style. I think the inspiration comes from a different area but they’re all kinds of Asian eateries and it filters through different restaurants.
Wai Ting: It’s just trying to bring different elements of Asian culture to London. At Borough we did the KTV room downstairs, and we’ve got the hatch there, almost back to our street food days.
Those were never meant to be literal. That's not how I ever saw them. It's not “aging superheroes” at all. The superhero costumes are essentially metaphors. In our society, we admire these superhuman characters because they’re almost immortal. By placing these costumes on elderly subjects, it touches upon this idea of mortality, but also vulnerability. The latter is such an important part of the human condition. I’m attempting to reference the vulnerability that my grandmother was experiencing with dementia and Alzheimer's. I think that putting her in a Wonder Woman costume was to symbolize her strength.
HYPEBEAST: One of your biggest shows last year was “Lovers and Friends” at the iconic Double Diamond House. Tell us about the notable influences surrounding the body of work that were presented at the show.
Seeing 777’s production line feels like watching a scene out of Uncut Gems — think raw stones, metalwork, lots of noise and little-to-no messing around. And much like its American counterparts, it will customize anything, making 777 unique and unconventional in the UK. Kailany started exploring the world of customizations by altering Cartier belts, FitBits, keyrings and more, but as Dixon explains, “requests are getting weirder and weirder — people want diamond Cartier bracelets for their two year olds.”
Although Dixon and Kailany have worked with some of the world’s most sought-after luxury items for some time now, it’s not always been this way. Dixon started his journey 15 years ago when he was just 16, running errands and making tea in a local jewelers before becoming a store manager at 21 and going his own way six years ago. Kailany began his career in The Netherlands and the UK, creating jewelry as a natural way to express his artistry.
Cannon, who founded his own brand Hatton Labs, got into the jewelry scene because he wasn’t “brave enough to make a clothing line.” Discussing his own label, he says “being in this environment, with the people that I’m with, making grills and bits and bobs for people, I noticed a gap in the market — there wasn’t anyone making contemporary, affordable silver jewelry.” Hatton Labs is very much unlike 777 in terms of price point or customizability, but its core values are the same — make fashion-forward pieces for the kids of today.
Together, the trio run 777 with a vision to expand their bustling diamond jewelry business, “In terms of diamond-set watches we think we’ve rejuvenated it, and we’ve changed the game in terms of quality,” says Dixon. With this in mind, Cannon assures that 777’s customized watches will become a “monster in itself… We’re going to be working on interesting watches that meet all of the price scales so that they can be affordable or reach hundreds of thousands of pounds.”
This piece in particular evolved as I worked on it. I didn’t have this idea solidified from the beginning, it presented itself along the way which sometimes happens and sometimes doesn't. It's just part of the process. And I let that process kind of take me where it needs to go because at some point if a painting is going to be speaking louder to you than you are to it, then that's when you know it's there. It’s a conversation.
One of your more recent projects is the Superhero series. What was the concept or inspiration behind it?
Good advice is work a lot, experiment a lot, and see a lot of art. Find out who the artist is who you really admire and what do you like about their work, what can you bring into the work, but also how can you experiment with materials and make paint do something that's your own language. At least for me, that's always been really important to my practice.
“All of the footballers, rappers and customers say to us that they don’t know how it works. So we show them everything every step of the way."
“We’re shaking it up around here. That’s what it’s about.”
Sheryo: Not as much as we like to. Now, we’re very busy with studio work and traveling to different locations in Southeast Asia.
Yok: Yeah, we’re busy finding places to do installations. It’s our new thing. We also travel often to learn niche handicrafts. We get stoked about going to places like Indonesia and spend months learning how to do Batik and making other local artisan works.
“There are elements of creativity in what I do but it's very process-focused work.”
This contemporary, more is more approach makes 777 stand out in Hatton Garden — a historic district renowned for its fine watches and jewels. But 777 doesn’t cater to the older generation, instead, it puts its focus on fashion-forward pieces such as diamond-set vintage Cartier glasses and Cuban Link chains for Virgil Abloh’s Louis Vuitton Millionaire sunglasses.
All in all, 777 prides itself on being able ice-out pretty much anything imaginable — and it’s not just £250,000 GBP Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Skeleton’s that 777 specializes in, “we’re going to start offering customers entry-level customs… We’ll take a watch that’s a little bit old, like a Rolex Datejust, and we’ll use colored diamonds so that we can pass the discount back on. We want people to be able to buy their first watch or their first buss down,” Cannon explains.
Furthermore, 777 notes how it continues to make a name for itself in the saturated jewelry scene in London. Pulling out a Cuban Link necklace, Cannon demonstrates how 777 pushes its unique aesthetic, “We add the 777 prong-set, a layer of gold on top [of each link] to give everything a blockier effect. These are things that are new in the industry… we capitalize on this, we aren’t going to wait for someone to do this, we’re going to do this now because we know this is the new-new, and this is what people want.”
777 also has its own setting called London Max. “It’s called that because we want to take up the most room and put the most diamonds in there — and by doing things like that, [we make] a more impactful thing.” Holding its custom Rolex, Cartier and AP watches, you can feel the texture and definition the London Max setting provides, completely covering every millimeter of the surface. “We choose each stone by hand, one by one to match the quality of them,” Kailany explains.
Do you believe artists have a responsibility to shed light on societal issues in their work?
I think the realism in some of these oil-based works, especially these 12-foot black and white pieces where you can see all the details is important — it’s necessary to depict age in a really physical way. In other works, I have some things planned where I don't need that realism. I’m always experimenting with things and finding ways to execute ideas that translate what I’m trying to explore.
What attracts you to realism?
Yeah she had been to my shows before! My grandma's someone who would always say, “You're so special. I love you my grandson. Like no matter what you can't do wrong.” And all of her grandchildren felt that way. It was so nice. She had this amazing way of making all of us feel special.
Had your grandmother seen your work?
The closest thing I've come to painting myself, had been this last series where I'm taking different people of different ages and races like the people who I am closest to in my life. It could be my grandfather, my godson, homies or whomever I love and bringing them together in my compositions. They necessarily don’t even have to know each other in real life. That concept, I’d say, was the closest thing to a self portrait from me. But when it actually comes to physically painting myself, it’ll probably happen when I'm old.
You specialize in portraiture, have you ever made a self-portrait?
Yok: We would look at our drawings and imagine how it would be great if they were worlds that you could go inside, touch and move around. That's where the installation inspiration came from, I guess.
Sheryo: It was kind of natural, really, a progression from 2D to 3D. Yeah.
What about installations are you both most fascinated by?
Yok: We’re working on an immersive installation at the Paddle 8 auction house at the Lower East Side of New York City. We’re creating this nine-foot wooden sculpture of a middle finger with Donald Trump’s tombstone on top.
Sheryo: It’s this pretty big basement spot. We are making sculptures as well as creating the upholstery and benches. It has a really dingy and dark vibe. It’s kind of a lounge room setting. It’s going to launch this coming fall season.
What are you both working on right now?
Archie: We aim to hire people that are extremely multidisciplinary. But at the same time they don't have to have done everything, because in this studio, Jeff and I have not done everything and the principle of this studio is that we won't.
What most people don't have that Dillon, Phil and Ana all have is the rare layer on top of professionalism and the ability to design — the ability to not have ego, to want to learn, and to want to try things that aren’t comfortable. When you’re uncomfortable, good stuff happens because you’re able to fall back on and grow your basic skill set. Dillon didn't design shoes before he got here — he just wanted to. Now he's a shoe designer. To Phil's earlier point, that's why PLAYLAB is a school.
When you decided to grow your team, what qualities were you looking for in new members?
Dillon: Residency programs and other resources for artists — let’s make a school someday.
Jeff: I want to make a penny press called “Penny, Pressed.” The image that goes on the penny press is a penny. I'm not even sure if that’s legal, but it's in the works. I also want to make more art. I think we need more of it and that everybody thrives off of it.
Archie: I want to do it all. I want to see PLAYLAB continue to thrive and grow and morph and change, and I want to be surprised by it every year. I love the projects we work on, but I love the studio more than anything. The studio is the project because it's art.
What's next for PLAYLAB? Is there something that you've always wanted to design through PLAYLAB that you guys haven't touched yet?
What is the typical workflow of a studio that has “no particular focus” but also has many projects to focus on at once like?
Jeff: We have so many things going at once, so there's no typical day. On any given morning everyone knows they can walk in and we'll be like, "What you thought you're going to do today is not going to be anywhere close to what's going to happen, so let's shift gears." It's changing all the time, which is how we like it.
Dylan: Day to day is not a real thing in this studio. There's a rough energy level and thought level that we have to keep consistent, but in terms of projects we are always pivoting. When I come into the studio with a rough idea of what the timeline of my day looks like, it generally gets moved around because we're working on projects simultaneously that are all so different in nature and are always changing.
Do you find that working on multiple projects simultaneously makes each separate process stronger?
Phil: Yeah, sometimes your work for a project will have to be put on hold, but then you interweave it with some of the learnings you have from encountering another project in that time gap. Now you can bring some of those teachings back into that first project that you had to put on pause, and sometimes that can really work to the project's benefit, even if it's really subconscious.
Anna: It's really helpful that we're not working on all branding projects or all experiential projects. I can get inspired by something that we reference for a branding project at 9 a.m. EST, and at 1:00 p.m. EST it's one of the main ideas for a separate experiential project.
“The real magic of the project wasn't the two weeks that it existed and was beautiful - it was the drudgery of the work to get there.”
By: Eric Brain
What is your approach to creating these paintings?
What’s your creative process like?
“We have our in-house diamond setters that have practiced the setting and standard that we want from them. They drill the watch once they’ve marked it out — that can take maybe three days,” he adds. The process is another thing 777 prides itself on, with attention to detail and customer service being of utmost importance. “We want it to be a journey for the customer, we show them the stones that we’re going to put into the piece so that they feel a part of it,” Dixon explains.
“The whole process is about two weeks per watch…. Our diamonds are usually from Antwerp, and for us, quality is everything,” he adds. Kailany jumps in, adding, “All of the footballers, rappers and customers say to us that they don’t know how it works. So we show them everything every step of the way, it’s like a marriage. They completely appreciate that.”
Unlike its traditional surroundings, 777 is looking to the future. “We aren’t trying to run away from these people down here, we know we’re ahead of the times and the fashions, a year down the line they’ll only want to come down here and buy black PVD watches with green emeralds in it anyway,” Cannon says, alluding to the watch Virgil Abloh is making for Drake. “We’re the only store on this strip — or the only one in London maybe with what we’re doing with Browns — to do this and that’s what allows us to do creative stuff... We’re shaking it up around here. That’s what it’s about,” Cannon explains.