Chris Aire: Crafting a Legacy Beyond Jewels and Watches

Olatunde Adeniyi

Not too long ago, the CNN’s “Money” programme ran a feature on how the United States-based Nigerian-born international jeweller, Chris Aire’s hard work and passion for design led him to build a thriving business in the United States. Long before coming to such prominence, Christopher Airemiokhai Iluobe a.k.a Chris Aire, now “the King of Bling” and jeweller to Hollywood stars, zealously struggled for a pedestal of prominence – a struggle that have been rewarded with great success, although he continues to strive to greater heights.

Thus, running into him at the reception in one of Abuja’s most upscale hotels was also an opportunity for an intriguing interface with the unassuming gentleman with the aim of finding out what drives him and how – in this season of ‘Japamania’ – he mostly lives abroad but sustains a cherished bond with his country of birth.

Today, Chris Aire, an icon in the international jewellery and watch industry, stands as a testament to the fusion of ambition, innovation, and a commitment to nurturing talent on a global scale. As a renowned jeweller, businessman, and visionary, his journey from a fledgling apprentice to a trendsetter in the luxury market unveils a story not just of success but of a deep-rooted passion for redefining norms and creating lasting impact.

Beyond business, Chris Aire subscribes to a vision of genuine sustainable development for Nigeria: his interests and impact extends far beyond the realms of jewellery and watches. His foray into the international oil and gas industry speaks volumes about his commitment to Nigeria’s economic development and he emphasises the need for sustainable, long-term solutions and investments in human capital, especially in empowering the youth, education, and strategic governance.

“Nigeria is the largest oil producer in Africa, the sixth-largest global exporter, and holds the tenth-largest proven oil reserve globally; with this wealth in our natural resource exports, we can increase growth rates, elevate levels of human development, and create opportunities for those who need it most. We require efficient political governance and strong institutions that empower citizens, who are savvy in navigating both local and international politics to create a win-win for all stakeholders, instead of a myopic snatch-and-grab attitude that limits progress to increments of a four or an eight year political cycle.

“We need to be inspired by sustainable, long-term solutions that foster true prosperity. We should continue expanding our natural resource economy and investing more in our human capital, especially the youth, through education, access to funding, and well-built management that will benefit our citizens,” he asserted.

On a clear note, Chris Aire’s visualisation of Nigeria’s great possibilities somewhat aligns with that of the ‘Renewed Hope’ agenda of the current administration. When discussing President Bola Tinubu’s vision for Nigeria’s future, Aire echoes alignment in progressive convictions. He envisions a thriving democracy fostering shared prosperity and believes in Tinubu’s unique capacity to transform the nation. Aire emphasises the importance of collective support, urging stakeholders to unite for a common goal: building a great nation.

“President Bola Tinubu’s vision of hope for Nigeria aligns with my own beliefs. Nigeria has a lot to offer and can become the pride of Africa; we need a vibrant and thriving democracy with shared prosperity, regardless of class, religion, or tribe. The President’s profound understanding of the country’s inner workings uniquely positions him to achieve previously thought impossible goals.

“He (Tinubu) has the potential to transform the country and leave a lasting legacy, casting Nigeria in a golden light by creating a safe and secure environment that we all deserve. It is within his power to inspire dialogue and develop our healthcare, stabilise electricity, address our infrastructural deficiencies, create a business-friendly environment, and improve national security. I look forward to witnessing Nigeria prosper under his leadership.

“I am fully aware that he needs the support of all stakeholders, and it is my prayer that everyone puts their differences aside and truly commits to building a great nation,” he adds.

Being a jeweller, Chris Aire sees vast potentials in Nigeria’s mineral sector. Here, he also sees potential challenges that need to be adroitly addressed. Specifically, Aire acknowledges Nigeria’s mineral wealth as a potential driver of economic growth but emphasises the need for clear regulations and responsible practices. He envisions a collective effort to benefit both the nation and its citizens while ensuring safety, transparency, and community involvement.

“Nigeria – often referred to as the “Giant of Africa,” – boasts a wealth of minerals that undoubtedly have the potential to significantly contribute to the country’s economic growth. However, it faces numerous obstacles that need to be addressed. The government should continue to streamline and clarify regulations, ensuring consistency and transparency. We should also ensure that any development of natural resources is done under strict environmental standards, prioritising safety and security.

“Additionally, it is crucial that all Nigerians, especially the communities directly impacted by the development of our natural resources, benefit from those endeavours. Unlocking our enormous potential requires collective efforts from the government, industry stakeholders, and the international community.

“With the right policies, investments, and responsible practices, I believe Nigeria can utilise its mineral wealth for sustainable development and prosperity, which will only strengthen our bond with our country and the world,” Chris Aire optimistically argues the way a patriot should.

While Chris Aire’s name resonates with opulent jewellery and timeless timepieces, his vision extends far beyond the realm of fashion. Indeed, his commitment to Nigeria did not just begin yesterday but right back since the 1980s. Despite residing in the United States of America, Aire’s commitment to Nigeria remains unwavering and he actively engages in initiatives aimed at contributing to the country’s development, offering opportunities and exposure to talented individuals, especially talented youth seeking to make a difference.

“I feel privileged to be in this position and do not take the responsibility of giving back lightly. I have offered some of our youth the opportunity and exposure that I have enjoyed – education, safety, shelter, food, or introductions to my network.”

He sees youth empowerment as a key to Nigeria’s future. Recognizing the significance of Nigeria’s vast youth population, Aire stresses the need to invest in their aspirations. He highlights the vital role the youth play in driving innovation and economic growth, urging for support through education, finance, healthcare, and security.

“Nigeria has a vast youth population and the development of every nation depends significantly on its youth population. Young people are significant drivers of innovation and economic growth. Ignoring them would be to the country’s detriment. We must invest in our young population, assisting them in achieving their aspirations within Nigeria.

“This will ultimately help strengthen our economy. Startups like Ecotutu, LifeBank, Kippa, and Trade Lenda, I understand, are innovations initiated by our young people who are contributing significantly to our economy. We should foster this and inspire others to do the same by providing access to first-rate education, finance, healthcare, and security.

Aire’s contributions extend to Nigeria’s entertainment industry, particularly Afrobeat music. His contribution in bridging the gap between local Afrobeat artists and international icons like Snoop Dogg and Shaggy paved the way for Afrobeats global proliferation. His belief in the genre’s potential spurred these collaborations, opening doors for countless talented youth and connecting African music with global audiences.

“On my part, I put together the very first significant collaboration between our local Afrobeat artists and international artists, which opened the doors for the proliferation of Afro-beats on the international stage today. I love all genres of music and our clientele includes a diverse array of artists. I grew up immersing myself in the legendary sounds of Afrobeat, enjoying the music of icons like Fela Kuti, King Sunny Ade, Sunny Okosun, Oriental Brothers, Victor Uwaifo, and many others and in 2010; I noticed a resurgence of this unique sound with a modern twist among our young artists

“Intrigued and passionate about adding value to the genre, I recognised the need for it to reach the international stage in a significant way. I have connections with some of the most influential people in the global music and movie scene, so I was confident more people would connect with its feel-good vibe. In 2011, I facilitated the collaboration between D’Banj and Snoop Dogg, both clients and friends.

“I also brokered a collaboration between Duncan Mighty and Shaggy, another client and close friend. At the time, international artists were hesitant about such associations, but these collaborations happened based on mutual trust between those International artists and myself. These partnerships opened doors for many incredibly talented youth. The D’banj and Snoop Dogg song was such a huge success that the International music community could no longer ignore the wealth of talent we always knew existed in Africa.

“Collaboration remains vital for the genre’s continued growth; and with the power of streaming, Afrobeats artists can continue to connect more emphatically with global audiences. Despite its current success, we have only scratched the surface of what is possible for our youth in music and movies on the international stage and I am still committed to assisting those I can,” Chris Aire said.

Entering the jewellery realm in the late eighties, Aire’s ascent was marked by an unwavering dedication to his craft. “Whatever inspires your mind also provides everything needed for the actualization of those ideas if you are committed,” he remarks, reflecting on the foundation of his success. After honing his skills as an apprentice, he took a leap of faith and birthed his own brand. His brand was not just about jewellery; it was a cultural revolution. In 2004, the world witnessed history when his company orchestrated the first-ever jewellery and watch runway show at New York Fashion Week, with none other than Naomi Campbell headlining. This groundbreaking move propelled his brand to the forefront of the bling culture, redefining luxury in a way that resonated globally.

He is known for pioneering innovations. Continuously seeking novelty, Aire introduced the legendary Red Gold Collection, a game-changer that reshaped the watch and jewellery industry. This drive to innovate recently culminated in the creation of the NBA ‘Top 75 Greatest Players’ ring, a part of the Red Gold®️ Collection. His commitment to pushing boundaries is unwavering, evident in his relentless pursuit of evolution, innovation, and surprise.

Chris Aire’s jewellery adorns the necks of Angelina Jolie and Halle Berry, Lebron James, Damian Lillard (aka Dame Dolla) LL Cool J, Dwyane Wade and several other top stars of global repute.

 “I decided I was going to make it my priority to create pieces that were designed for athletes, for entertainers, musicians, and for actors, they were my target audience,” Chris Aire said.

He is not all about the pursuit of fame and riches. For Aire, family serves as a wellspring of motivation and inspiration.

His upbringing and cultural values instilled by his parents guide his role as a father, husband, and citizen. While his work is his passion, he finds solace in spending time with loved ones, appreciating art, music, and nature.

“My family is my primary motivation and a vital source of inspiration; I think about them in every decision and seek their support in everything I do. Having spent most of my formative years in Africa, the culture is ingrained in my DNA. I’ve learned invaluable lessons about who I am and my relationship with the world, lessons which I have tried to pass on to my children.

“The moral principles instilled in me by my parents have guided my role as a father, husband, brother, and citizen. Our house rules centre on faith, respect, love, kindness, unity and a long-term mentality in everything we do,” he said. He has achieved success yet he looks farther afield. Looking ahead, Aire aspires to further his charitable efforts in Africa, expand his non-profit in the U.S., and continue his legacy of innovative craftsmanship. His vision transcends borders, aimed at fostering connections, and uplifting communities globally.

“We are all connected, no matter where we are from or what our beliefs may be; I want to continue building relationships with like-minded people all over the world and continue our charitable work in Africa – providing education, housing, food, and clean water to those in need.

“I also want to grow our non-profit in the USA, ‘Aire for Life Foundation’, which empowers communities through art.  I am committed to expanding our business interests in our various endeavours while consistently creating new and beautiful timepieces and fine jewellery that astonish and inspire,” he explained.

Chris Aire’s journey embodies a fusion of ambition, innovation, and a steadfast commitment to leaving an indelible mark on the world, both in the jewellery realm and beyond. His aspirations and endeavours continue to shape a narrative not just for Nigeria but for a world interconnected by passion and purpose.

 Adeniyi writes from Abuja

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