Ice Cold: An Exhibition of Hip-Hop Jewellery Lands in New York City

Jewellery is an amazing vehicle for self-expression, so it’s no surprise that musicians and performing artists have long found ways to incorporate luxurious creations into their on-stage and off-stage personas. In May, the American Museum of Natural History will present ‘Ice Cold: An Exhibition of Hip-Hop Jewelry’ to explore the power of adornment and its relationship to rap music since it originated in the 1970s. The Mignone Hall of Gems and Minerals in the Meister Gallery is about to be transformed, so let’s go behind the scenes…

Jewellery worn by the world’s greatest hip-hop artists rarely falls into our remit here at, but that’s not to say we don’t appreciate its significance in the luxury arena. It’s safe to say that some of the most outlandish, ostentatious and weighty diamond designs we’ve seen in recent years have been hanging around the neck of global superstars… the music industry is certainly not suited to wallflowers! 

An inside look at Ice Cold: An Exhibition of Hip-Hop Jewelry at the American Museum of Natural History

‘Ice Cold: An Exhibition of Hip-Hop Jewelry’ will trace the history of hip-hop through dozens of jewellery creations from the 1980s to the present day, including Slick Rick’s gem-encrusted crown that features on the exhibition’s advertising poster! We’ve also been told to expect the Notorious B.I.G.’s legendary gold ‘Jesus piece’, the diamond-studded Roc-A-Fella medallion for the record label co-founded by Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj’s sparkling ‘Barbie’ pendant, and pieces from Erykah Badu, A$AP Rocky, Joey Bada$$, A$AP Ferg, and Tyler, the Creator, among others.

The timing of this exhibition is significant. In 2023, New York City celebrated the 50th anniversary of hip-hop and five decades of culture-defining music, personality and style. Bars, restaurants and even the Brooklyn Library got in on the action by hosting concerts and special events, which radiated outwards from the original home of hip-hop, The Bronx. The pieces on display don’t just mark hip-hop music milestones, but also wider fashion and cultural movements too. For example, there are the oversized gold chains worn by rap’s pioneers in the bold years of the 1980s; the record label diamond and platinum pendants of the 1990s when emcees turned business moguls, and the multi-coloured, avant garde jewels of the 2000s that have helped stars stand out in the social media age. “These jewellery pieces are not just magnificent in and of themselves,” says AMNH President Sean M. Decatur, “they’re an important part of hip-hop history and culture as artists claimed and transformed traditional symbols of luxury and success.”

Some of the stars of the genre who appear in Ice Cold: An Exhibition of Hip-Hop Jewelry at the American Museum of Natural History

Another special aspect of this exhibition is its team of curators and advisors. There’s guest curator Vikki Tobak (the author of Ice Cold: A Hip-Hop Jewelry History) who describes jewellery as “a cornerstone of hip-hop culture”; music icon and senior advisor Ricky “Slick Rick” Waters; guest curator Kevin “Coach K” Lee of Quality Control Music; Karam Gill, the creative director and filmmaker behind the 2021 documentary series, Ice Cold, and Roc Nation executive Lenny S Santiago, among many others. 

A suite of gem-encrusted necklaces worn by Tyler, The Creator, part of Ice Cold: An Exhibition of Hip-Hop Jewelry at the American Museum of Natural History. Credit Cam Hicks

“From being a culture formed in communities and neighbourhoods, and then stepping into its power and starting to impact global pop culture, hip-hop and its jewellery tell a bigger story,” Vikki Tobak, guest curator. 

If you’re visiting the Ice Cold exhibition, don’t forget to look around the Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals, which contain some special specimens. Some of our highlights include the 563-carat ‘Star of India’ sapphire, the nine-pound almandine Subway Garnet, and the 632-carat Patricia Emerald!

Ghostface Killah wears an incredible medallion pendant and Eagle bracelet, crafted in 14k gold by Jason Arasheben in the 1990s, which features in Ice Cold: An Exhibition of Hip-Hop Jewelry at the American Museum of Natural History. Credit Atsuko Tanaka

‘Ice Cold: An Exhibition of Hip-Hop Jewelry’ will commence on May 9, 2024, at The Allison and Roberto Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals within the Meister Gallery of the American Museum of Natural History. Entry is included with general admission to the Museum and more information can be found here.

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