Self-expression through sterling silver: Calgary artist runs business making grillz

·2 min read
Phillip Nguyen makes custom grillz. (James Young/CBC - image credit)
Phillip Nguyen makes custom grillz. (James Young/CBC - image credit)

Phillip Nguyen calls his craft a combination of dentistry and metallurgy. For his clients, it's a reason to flash a big smile.

At his business, Yung Metal Syndicate, Nguyen makes custom jewelry, like rings and ear cuffs, but the main product is grillz — teeth jewelry.

It started when he studied at the Alberta College of Art and Design to figure out what equipment and metalworking knowledge he needed.

"At first, it just came to me as a personal interest and then I also realized there wasn't really a market for grillz in Calgary," said Nguyen. "I think there's a lot of opportunities and a lot of money to be made here."

Though he calls it a niche art form, he's also busy with customers, with half a dozen on the go right now. The whole process, from casting a mould of their teeth to putting the final polish on the custom piece, takes about two weeks — time that's well worth it, say his clients.

"I just feel like I can be myself when it comes to wearing my jewelry at any time," said Francis Bui, one of his clients. "I'm just always smiling around everybody when I have them [in].

"I like how he does custom pieces because there's no one in the city who really makes custom pieces."

WATCH | Calgary artist carves out a niche making grillz, the teeth jewelry with roots in hip-hop culture:

That self-expression is at the core of Nguyen's work.

"Just being able to make anything at any time that represents what I'm feeling or what others are feeling, is also a really good feeling — to know that I'm able to help somebody bring their self expression vision to fruition," he said.

Calgary artist Contemporary Vice, who has had two pieces done by Nguyen and has a third planned, likes the customization and creativity of the process.

"It's very much a collaborative thing, you have the idea so that's your input of energy and then he helps make that idea become a reality," they said.

James Young/CBC
James Young/CBC

Jose Lacera made the decision to get grillz on impulse when Nguyen was at a hip-hop event offering on-the-spot moulds.

"This is what hip-hop's all about, so I feel like Phil's bringing that aspect into the community," said Lacera.

When he received the finished piece, he says he felt "almost like royalty."

"He's blinging out your mouth and it's awesome."

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