It was back in 2006 when St. Louis rapper Nelly hit number one on the Hot 100 with “Grillz,” his ode to the blinged-out oral grin, proclaiming “If I could call it a drink, call it a smile on the rocks.”
Now, over a decade later, Fred Bennett Jr., of Seattle Gold Grills attests the same.
“They’re your smile,” he says, not just an over-the-top trend. While these lavish oral accouterments have clearly captured the heart of pop culture, they’re also one of the most personal accessories you might treat yourself with.
Custom-fit, no two grills are alike. And with over 20 years in the business, Bennett has seen for himself their ability to change not only how others see you, but how you see yourself. For instance, where once there might have been a gap toothed grin, with a grill, your missing enamel shines bright.
“The thing about teeth,” smiles Bennett, showing off a single-tooth gold cap, “is people, if they’re missing a tooth and they want it covered up and they don’t wanna spend six thousand dollars, they’ll go get a grill to cover up that tooth, just like that.”
So how exactly did Bennett get into the business of grills in the first place? It runs in the family. Bennett’s father still runs his own jewelry shop, and that’s where Jr. picked up his specialized skills. He opened Seattle Gold Grills, out of a SoDo loft, and business has been booming, with Bennett’s son now fully immersed in the shop as well.
“I started my son off with waxes, and he’s pretty much mastered that now,” says Bennett, “But he’ll go through polishing, diamond setting. It’s stage by stage, you have to master one thing at a time, like I had to. You have to put time into it.”
A certified GIA gemologist, Bennett’s passion for jewelry is apparent, and he rattles off a list of colorful gemstones he’s chomping at the bit to use in custom grills, but SGG is about so much more.
“We didn’t understand when we started this but grills are not like anything else,” he explains. “As soon as you look at the face,” says Bennett, “the first thing that you see is the smile. A lot of times, people have a crooked tooth, or a chipped tooth. Smiles are expressive. And we can help people be confident.”
People often ask “How does it work?” says Bennett, who ships molding kits to customers all over the country and beyond. “We ship the molds to you, you ship it back, and we make it.”
“For example, If you were getting a top and bottom grill, I would send you three kits. So after you do the first one, you send me a picture so I can inspect and walk you through the other ones. The second two will be right every time.”
SGG even has a short video that shows customers how to correctly make their own wax molds at home, along with instructions. And at SGG, they do every step of the fabrication in house.
From initial wax to the “rock” — a solid model of your chompers — to metal and stone-setting and that final polish, their small crew has the skills and equipment to do it all. As we chat, Bennett takes a customer’s solid yellow gold grill and runs it through a plating bath, adding a layer of bright white gold.
What’s the most popular request? “Just the natural gold,” says Bennett, “but then you got people who want to do diamond cuts (patterns etched by hand into the metal), or diamonds, or gemstones. A lot of people want fangs.” Really? “Yeah, just two teeth,” he says, “I think that’s the biggest seller on my website.”
“We do everything jewelry, but grills are number one,” says Bennett, “We didn’t think it was going to be that way, but that’s how it turned out.” And the audience? Multicultural, and family-oriented, he says, “We’ve got brothers, sisters, couples, boyfriends, girlfriends, fathers, daughters.”
“We do the fitting right here at the shop. Sometimes people need adjustments and I make it fit every time, nobody walks out of here without it fitting right.”
And there’s plenty of repeat business, too. “People lose them, guaranteed,” Bennett laughs, regaling us with stories of customers who’ve left grills in napkins while dining out, or accidentally spit out a single tooth cap with their chewing gum. “It might be rare, but grills can be easy to lose.”
While Tony works away in the corner on a cross pendant flooded with tiny, brilliant diamonds, Bennett shows off in-house CAD designs for countless jewels the team at SGG has created. “It’s one-stop shopping,” he says, “and we end up becoming a lot of people’s personal jewelers.”
Whether you’re on the hunt for the perfect gold link chain or a diamond-studded new grin, it’s easy to see why. The passionate SGG team is all smiles, and all about yours.