Detroit’s Violent Obsession Over Cartier Glasses

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I ran across this great article on racked.com that highlights Detroit’s obsession with Cartier glasses. Here’s an excerpt.

Detroit hip-hop and rap lyrics in particular played a vital role in educating young men on Cartier culture. Frequent Eminem collaborator Royce da 5’9”, who’s almost never photographed without a Detroit Tigers hat and some Cartier frames, mentions them on songs like “Shake This”: “On some couple thousand-dollar suit type shit / From behind thousand-dollar Cartier scrips.” One underground group called Bandgang refers to themselves as “The White Buff Boyz,” although, as their manager told me, they recently had all of their glasses confiscated in a federal raid. And in an early track from rapper Danny Brown called “Cartier,” he raps, “And I think them wood frames better on me / Sold ’em for six, coulda got a G.” Thanks to artists like these, Cartier has received a wealth of free advertising, and, according to Rosenberg, the music has actually translated into revenue.

“The early 2000s is when a lot of the rappers started rapping about the glasses. There was a spike in sales, and during that time, we were the number one Cartier seller in the world,” she claims. Much of that free advertising came from the Streetlordz, a locally revered underground rap group. Not only did they immortalize the style on popular songs like “Uncle Jesse James” and “They Don’t Want No Drama,” the group’s breakout star, Blade Icewood, popularized the practice of putting diamonds on wood Cartier frames — hence the name Icewood.

“All of Blade’s jewelry came from us,” says Gary Yee, owner and co-founder of Golden Sun Jewelry, a custom jeweler that specializes in Cartier products. As Gary gently puts down a tray of approximately $90,000 worth of Russian cut diamonds, he explains that for $3,800 and up — on top of the $2,650 retail price for White Buffs — he will expertly solder the nose bridge with solid 14-karat gold. Then, he’ll embed diamonds in the bridge, the temple bracket, and finally, the signature Cartier ‘C.’

“People got sick and tired of everyone in Detroit having the same Cartier glasses. It’s like, ‘I spent all this amount of money and everyone else is onto it,’” he tells me as one of his employees finishes assembling a fresh pair of diamond buffalo horn Cartiers. Iced Buffs are so popular that Gary has to maintain a backlog of $6,450-plus frames. “Each day,” he says, “we sell an average of 8-10 pieces of Buffalos.”

Before the Streetlordz garnered any significant national acclaim, Blade Icewood was killed as the apparent result of a rap beef with a rival crew called the Eastside Chedda Boyz. According to locals, the initial argument that led to Blade’s death stemmed from a dispute over ownership of the name “Chedda Boyz.” Soon after, Street Lord Juan went to prison on drug charges, where he remains to this day. Street Lord Rook got locked up too, and only a couple weeks after his release, he was at a gas station when he watched his friend get shot in the back over a pair of Carties.

Today, Detroit is seeing small but meaningful improvements in its decades-long struggle with violent crime. Not only that, but the population decline is slowing and jobs are coming back. But who benefits from a more prosperous Detroit? At Zeidman’s, one of Detroit’s oldest pawn shops, I meet a 23-year-old white customer wearing a black python skin Balenciaga backpack that retails for around $3,450. He’s looking for some vintage Cartier frames to add to the four-pair collection he’s amassed in the year since moving from Chicago to Detroit. Beginning in 2015, there’s been an uptick of affluent white transplants that’s left longtime residents uneasy.

“I always liked nice sunglasses,” the kid tells me, “and now I can afford them. I work in the legal weed business and business has been good this year.”

As he buys yet another pair of Cartier sunglasses made popular by the Streetlordz, one of the group’s founding members, Rook, is rebuilding his life after his recent release from a four-year prison stint for conspiracy to sell marijuana.

Not long after the Streetlordz disbanded, a crew of ambitious high school students from the Westside who called themselves Doughboyz Cashout stepped in to fill the void as the city’s newest underground street crew and as Cartier’s unofficial spokesmen. Much like Doughboyz’s former label boss Jeezy, they make music to motivate people and often seem more focused on the fruits of their hustle than the details of the hustle itself. They dress fresh and drive the best cars in Motor City, both because it’s fun and because they want to send a message that they’re free from the poverty that gnaws away at the neighborhoods that raised them.


From the backwoods of Michigan, Thomas Dishaw is writer and health hacker. Thomas currently resides outside Philadelphia with his wife and dog. You can support Thomas' work by making a donation below or following him on Instagram. You can reach Thomas via email at tdishaw@protonmail.com.

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