spring 2019 fashion issue

Richie Rich’s Name Is the Most Subtle Thing About Him

The Instagram jeweler to the stars — of reality TV, anyway.

Photo: Gillian Laub
Photo: Gillian Laub
Photo: Gillian Laub

Every boom time has its Richie Rich. First there was the kid in the comics, a bow-tied, chubby-legged child millionaire born of the post–World War II economic expansion, who eventually morphed into ’80s-inflationary Richie Rich, who went on “zillion-dollar” adventures and was often compared to a young Donald Trump. In the ’90s, the character was played onscreen by Macaulay Culkin, a real-life Richie Rich, and the years that followed saw the moniker aspirationally adopted by members of the petit bourgeoisie: a DJ, a music producer, a fashion designer in the orbit of Paris Hilton. So it’s unsurprising the current swell of decadence leading up to what is surely our End of Days has produced a bumper crop of Richie Riches. On Instagram alone, you can find at least ten in various states of flex, among them a “creative director,” an “entrepreneur, Capricorn, born in L.A.,” and a regional sales manager in Portland, Oregon.

At last follower count, one of the best known was Richie Nektalov, 26 and recently anointed “jeweler to the stars,” according to the New York Post, a title whose history is at least as weighted as the diamond-encrusted chains and walnut-size engagement rings that are his stock-in-trade. “I tip my hat to Jacob,” he says, as in Jacob the Jeweler, the most famous holder of the title, who is currently bouncing back after two years in prison for falsifying records. Nektalov dreams of opening showrooms worldwide under the name Richie Rich. “I’m just trying to do everything,” he says. “Honestly, I haven’t even done anything about that,” he adds when asked if he has run into any trademark issues. But who fits the role better than he? “The slicked-back hair, the chubby cheeks,” Nektalov points out, sitting in his office, which contains a large painting of a Platinum AmEx card belonging to “Richie Rich” and a model of a $100,000 diamond-encrusted remote-control Bentley he made for the rapper The Game.

Also, the family money. Nektalov is a third-generation diamond scion. His office is located on the lower floor of his family’s business, Leon Diamond, a Diamond District wholesale mainstay named for his father, who emigrated from the former Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan in 1974. According to Nektalov, the size of the product has grown along with the business. “Used to be the biggest rock was five carats,” he says. “Now we have rocks in the window that are 40 carats.” He nods. “Time has changed. Engagement rings used to be a perfect size with it being a carat. Now, a girl gets a carat, she won’t speak to the guy anymore.”

Richie grew up in a mansion with marble floors and gilded N’s on the staircase. He attended parties with Nicky Hilton, whom his older brothers had cultivated as a client (another client: Floyd Mayweather), and at school, he says, he kept an extra locker of jewelry — “Not expensive pieces” — to sell and trade to classmates. Still, Richie, who describes himself as a “black sheep,” struggled to find his place. “Like, a lot of people try to comment, ‘Oh, you were given a golden spoon, a platinum spoon, a diamond spoon,’ ” he says. “Yeah, my father helped me out. He still helps me out. But if a person’s not gonna take the silver spoon and turn it into a gold or diamond spoon, then it’s pointless.”

From @richierichny. Photo: Courtesy of Richie Rich @richierny

After high school, Richie followed his brothers into the business, but it wasn’t until a few years in that he discovered what his personal contribution might be. “I realized that Instagram could reach out to billions of people,” he says. “Especially the celebs that I wanted to target.”

His family — members of the famously insular Bukharan Jewish community who are perhaps especially on guard after the death of Nektalov’s uncle, who was gunned down at the behest of a crime boss in front of the shop in 2004 — were aghast at the idea. “We are kind of old-fashioned type of business people,” says Leon Nektalov, who sits in his glass-enclosed office upstairs. It is lunchtime, and outside sit generations of Nektalovs and their progeny, chewing on hunks of pita. He also disapproves of Richie’s decision to jettison suits and ties. “I think a person who is in the diamond business should be all dressed up,” Leon says, “but he’s saying it’s the style now. That’s the way people recognize him.” Richie describes his current look as “Gucci,” running his hands over his brightly colored hoodie. “I love Gucci. Gucci’s like my whole closet.”

Richie recalls his early social-media forays as a lonely time. “Many people were like, ‘What are you doing?’ ” he says. “ ‘You’re not gonna gain any business. You’re just opening up your life to everybody.’ ” His Instagram makes frequent reference to this dark period: “Very few believed in me,” reads one caption of a picture that features him on a cliff looking pensively at the sunset. “#LA.”

Still, he persevered. He built up his @richie_nektalov Instagram account, posting photos of himself leaning against luxury vehicles, on the decks of #yachts, in the vicinity of bottles of Ciroc and tagged celebrities, musicians, and “I shouldn’t say the wealthy, but,” in an attempt to get quality followers.

Many of his targets assumed he was a spammer. One of them was Jonathan Cheban, a public-relations executive and minor planet in the Kardashian universe who has lately rebranded himself as Foodgōd, a social-media vector known for his videos of sybaritic gastronomic experiences, including “truffle showers.”

“Foodgōd blocked me,” says Nektalov. He pronounces the latter syllable of the name “gawd,” although the symbol over the o seems to indicate a long vowel, suggesting the correct pronunciation is closer to “choad,” but of this New York cannot be certain, as Cheban was not available for comment, “or fact-checking, or anything,” an employee told us.

But one night, in his dark period, Nektalov ran into Cheban at the Mercer hotel. “He was in the lobby,” Nektalov recalls. “On the way to an event. As I approached him, his security held me back. Then Foodgōd gave him the green light for me to speak. I didn’t mention anything about being blocked,” he says. “I just told him I was a New York–based jeweler and gave him my card.” Eventually, he got an email from his publicist. Foodgōd was also the son of a diamond dealer, and perhaps this was partly why he was moved to offer the younger man some life-changing advice. “He was like, ‘I’m not gonna be posting someone with their full last name and like underscores, that looks weird,’ ” Nektalov recalls. “ ‘If you want me to start doing business with you, you gotta change your name.’ ”

Since then, Nektalov has designed several pieces for Foodgōd, including at least two diamond-encrusted nameplate necklaces and one with a dangling spoon for, uh, caviar. Design, he says, comes naturally to him.

“I get a lot of messages on Instagram, ‘Oh, teach me,’ but no one actually sat me down and taught me,” he says, although he did spend two months in Israel learning the tools of the trade. “It’s all about your mind-set,” says Nektalov. “I just hear the clients out. Like, if they wanted a water bottle made, instead of having ‘Poland Spring’ written on it, I would have their name written on it.”

Cheban was big, but Richie Rich’s first A-list client, he says, was Mel B, formerly of the Spice Girls. At the time, she was married to producer Stephen Belafonte, who was looking for a ring similar to a Richie design, a blinding seven-carat diamond surrounded by a small army of other diamonds that she had seen on Instagram. “They gave me a budget for the stone that they wanted,” he says. “I had like 20 minutes to answer them. I sat down with my brother, worked out some numbers, called ’em back.”

Three years later, this and other pieces designed for Mel B by Nektalov, including the seven-carat radiant-cut ring, would become weapons in the couple’s ugly divorce, which Mel B claimed left her with a mere $1,000 in her bank account.

But the shout-out from the then-happy couple gave Nektalov the sheen he needed to sign up other celebrity clients. From there: “We did Travis Scott. We did Lala Kent. We did Porsha Williams. We did Lilly Ghalichi, twice.” Attempts to reach the former Spice Girl, rapper, media personality (?), Real Housewife, and Shahs of Sunset stars for comment did not elicit a response or were not made because the writer thought she might be having a brain aneurysm. But those figures do appear on Nektalov’s Instagram.

Richie Rich and his father at Leon Diamond. Photo: Gillian Laub

To peruse his page, now located at @richierichny, is to enter an inferno in which children are gifted “iced-out armpieces” for their 10th birthday, daughters of celebrities are fitted with grills, and bulldogs are weighed down with diamond-encrusted medallions of their furry faces. Meanwhile, diamonds ripped from faraway places find themselves pressed into service as glittering toys crammed side-by-side into rings, bracelets, and sushi-roll-shaped pendants, literally in chains, sullenly rotating to an endless soundtrack of Fat Joe’s “All the Way Up.” All the devils are here: YouTube hellions Jake and Logan Paul, mug-shot star turned model Jeremy Meeks. Various Hadids. Next-gen Kardashians. Latter-day Kanye. “I met him out in Art Basel with a few celeb friends,” Nektalov says. “He got a custom-made Cuban necklace. Yellow gold. Forty carats of diamonds.”

In this netherworld, all relationships are transactional. “I would work with anybody, as long as they have respect for my work,” says Nektalov. “We’ve done pieces for the prince of Saudi Arabia,” he says. “I would love to work with him,” he says of Putin. “The person I would most love to work with is Oprah.” He’s thinking maybe a brooch, one that turns into a ring. “She’s such a classy person.”

If the past is any indication, Richie may one day achieve this goal. “He’s doing good,” his father admits. “He’s become friends with these wealthy actors and musicians, and he likes to help them out and give them better prices.” He stops short of saying that his son has made a significant difference to the bottom line. Most of Leon Diamond’s clients are not, of course, wealthy celebrities. Most people can only dream. Like the woman who posted this recent comment on Richie’s Instagram: “My boyfriend and I had put our story on hold to move in with his mom bc she has parkinsons and dementia and needs 24/7 care. Started our own business at home so the jewelry is sadly on hold for now. I will own one of your pieces one day though. Im on a mission!”

When asked if he ever feels weird encouraging this kind of covetousness in our increasingly unequal society, Nektalov goes on about a toy drive he did over the holidays, how his parents always taught him to give back. “There are many times I tell my clients that if they are buying something that is a waste, there is better places to spend that money,” he says.

But moments later, he’s talking about The Game’s Bentley. “Probably doesn’t have it anymore,” Nektalov says wistfully.

For just a moment I think he is about to get reflective, about how arbitrary and fleeting it all is, even the title of “jeweler to the stars.”

But no. “I’m all about positivity,” he says. “That’s why I picked the slogan ‘Live rich.’ Because like, if you’re not fortunate enough to live a luxury lifestyle, just have that thought, ‘Live rich,’ in your mind-set.”

*This article appears in the February 4, 2019, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!


See All
Richie Rich’s Name Is the Most Subtle Thing About Him