Let’s face it: Celebrity is going through a tough time right now. There’s Kanye ‘Famous,’ there’s famous famous, and then there’s the more recent kind of famous that often, if not always, requires a prefix: known to a quantifiable many, but whose personality exists mainly on an iPhone screen. Richie Nektalov, the 27-year old ‘jeweler to the stars,’ sits somewhere in the crossroads.
Richie wears sweatshirt by Louis Vuitton, sweatpants by Amiri
You might know him—as his 80k and counting followers do—as @RichieRichNY, the baby-faced Queens native who counts names like Adam Levine, Jonathan Cheban (a.k.a. Foodgod), Winnie Harlow, and Hailey Baldwin among his close friends and clients. It’s all very 2019—the conflation of glitz and glamour on-screen with the family business of selling diamonds off-screen; where being ‘someone’ IRL must be matched (if not exceeded) by your larger-than-life social media personality.
When I walked into Leon Diamond, I was expecting Richie Rich. Who I got was just plain Richie—he was chatty and warm, and oh those baby blue eyes. He was so…unexpectedly normal. Richie’s voice has that Tri-State slow staccato. Like rain on a tin roof, I could fall asleep to the sound of him talking. His language is luxury, or so a collection of words (#liverich) and images (Lambos, yachts, six-million-dollar pinky rings) that suggest a lifestyle unattainable to most. But don’t get it twisted. Richie isn’t a one-sided guy; behind the designer labels and celebrity handshakes is a kid just trying to find success in the family business.
Richie wears full look Gucci
We talk amongst ourselves while he gives me the rundown on his latest. He’s just walked the red carpet at The Grammys (a career highlight) in Tom Ford (“my guy hooked me up.”) I adjust myself to his world, to the celebrity name-dropping, the blindingly bright Richard Mille watch, the “sparkles, diamonds, and good food (Nobu, only)” that signify luxury for Richie.
It’s neither charade nor self-satisfaction; Richie talks, walks, and dresses as he does to even the playing field. “There are definitely two sides to me. But not in a bad way. I’m not a two-faced type of person. I want everybody around me to feel comfortable,” he says, acknowledging the fact that he often plays into his lifestyle to put his clientele at ease. “Just dress comfortably and show your true self. You don’t have to wear a suit to look good. You can wear a shirt with holes to look good—might as well.” But the jeans, sneakers, and hoodies he collects from the likes of Off-White, Louis, Gucci, and Valentino—his wardrobe, he says, is “bananas”—weren’t always in his repertoire. It was the advice of Kanye, who at this point could make a business with his penchant for closet cleaning.
Richie wears Gucci jacket, Gucci t-shirt
At points in our conversation, he veers into shallow waters, insinuating that his lifestyle has gotten the best of him. But it’s rather that Richie sees the best in others; he has a simple understanding of success. For someone whose entire persona is built around the art of excessive glamorizing, his values are quite simple. He tells me about a time that a client of his (who shall remain anonymous) offered their private jet to fly him from LA to NY. “I’ve flown private many times, but when a client says, ‘Cancel your flight. You can take my plane for seven hours then it will fly back with no one in it. That’s pretty cool.” It’s the 1%’s answer to giving you a ride home.
With loyal friends and clients also comes jealousy and haters. I ask if the lifestyle ever gets to him. Are there ever misconceptions about his wealth? “I get this every day, saying ‘Oh, you’re only able to do what you do because your father fed it to you.’ Yeah, I received the golden spoon from my family, but receiving it and turning it into platinum with diamonds, that’s something else.” Though it feels a little rehearsed—or maybe I’ve seen it as a caption on one of his Instagram posts—I know Richie is genuine in his work ethic, and it’s admirable.
Richie wears sweatshirt by Off-White, Parka by POLO Ralph Lauren, Jeans by Amiri
“A lot of my friends [tell me], ‘Oh, you’ve got the glitz and glamour, you’ve got it easy. All you gotta do is fly to your client and give it to them. But they don’t see all the hard work; going to the studio, waiting for a client to finish his session at 4 a.m., not eating for two days. People don’t see that. They see what I want them to, which is the positive stuff. But they don’t see the hard work—the sweat, the blood, the tears—that’s behind everything.”
Richie wears sweatshirt by Off-White, Parka by POLO Ralph Lauren, Jeans by Amiri, Sneakers by Balenciaga
“I always say, ‘all the negativity that’s thrown on you, use those bricks to build yourself higher up.’” It smells a tad DJ Khaled to me, but I like it. At one point, he asks our photographer if he can squeeze in some shots of his brother for the website he’s building. Then his other brother. Then his father. Then his grandfather, who he lovingly adjusts on an apple box. The family business is strong. And it shows in the product, even if it’s not for the everyday customer. “[We used to only sell] up to five carats. Now, the biggest stone we have is 40 carats, because that’s the demand,” he flexes, adjusting a chunky yellow gold and diamond chain around his neck.
“Random question,” Richie asks as we’re wrapping up. “Do you know where I can get a billboard made? I want one that stands over the freeway as you’re drivin’ in. No branding, no nothing. Just a photo of me sayin, ‘Ice City this way.’”