Fred Cuellar – Jeweler of Champions

Fred Cuellar the Diamond Guy

 

Fred Cuellar, Founder and President of Diamond Cutters International is known as the Diamond Guy. He might want to change his title to Jeweler of Champions. He has designed Super Bowl Championship rings for the Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos, Stanley Cup Championship rings for the New Jersey Devils, Colorado Avalanche, Detroit Redwings, and the Dallas Stars. He’s also designed Major League Soccer Championship rings for Houston Dynamo and Los Angeles Galaxy, as well as World Series Championship rings for the New York Yankees. 

Fred, when you look at the list of championship rings you have designed over the years, it’s quite impressive. Tell us how this all started.

Fred Cuellar:

Even though I didn’t know it at the time, it all started October 6th, 1993, when Michael Jordan retired for the first time from the Chicago Bulls.

With Michael Jordan missing from the Chicago Bulls lineup they made the playoffs but got knocked out of the 2nd round by the New York Knicks.  This set up a Houston Rockets and New York Knicks NBA Championship. The Knicks led the series 3-2, forcing the Rockets to need to win games 6 and 7 to win the title.  With their backs against the wall, on June 22nd, 1994, the Houston Rockets won their first major league sports championship.

I had never lived in a city that had won a major sports championship. I remember everyone jumping in their cars, honking their horns and celebrating. It was at that moment that I thought, “Hmm. The Rockets are going to need a ring! Why can’t I make it for them?”

If Michael Jordan didn’t retire, they most certainly would have won more than 55 regular season games, which would have put them in the top seat versus second. It took the Knicks seven games to beat a Jordanless Bulls, a feat they most likely wouldn’t achieve had he been there. The Rockets needed games 6 and 7 at home to win the title. Thankfully, the Rockets won 58 regular season games in 93-94, giving them home court advantage. With Jordan, the Bulls probably would have gotten that instead; in that case, it is unlikely for the Rockets to have won both games 6 and 7 in Chicago.

If the Bulls had won their 4th world championship in a row, I never would have come up with the idea to get into the championship ring business.

Houston Rockets Hall of Fame

They say that it is possible for one man to change the world. In this case, it was my world. Michael Jordan gave me the opportunity to design championship rings simply by doing one thing: he left the building.

If the Bulls had won their 4th world championship in a row, I never would have come up with the idea to get into the championship ring business.

What’s the process for designing a new championship ring? Who’s involved on Diamond Cutters International’s side, and who’s involved on the client side?

Fred Cuellar:

There are two approaches to designing any championship ring. One, wait until there is a winner and ask them what they want. Or two, begin designing rings for the top teams that have the highest chance of winning so that after the championship is won, you’ve got preliminary renderings the champs can see immediately.

The problem with the first approach is often the team doesn’t know what they want, and a lot of time is lost. The problem with the second approach is you have to spend tens of thousands of dollars designing rings for not just the winning team, but for all those teams that didn’t but still had a fighting chance.

At Diamond Cutters International we don’t want to be behind the power curve. Weeks, yes, literally weeks before a Super Bowl has been won, a Stanley Cup has been lifted we are starting on the design.

Once the parade is over, we usually meet with the president or owner of the team. We show them different options we’ve envisioned, take their feedback, and come back with revisions. Just like with proofreading a book, we will do revisions over and over again until everything is exactly right. Then, we make a prototype.

 

From start to finish, it can take 12-16 weeks to design and then manufacture these little masterpieces.

Just like with proofreading a book, we will do revisions over and over again until everything is exactly right.

Any interesting stories about the rings you’ve designed? Reactions from the clients?

Fred Cuellar:

The pinnacle of all Championship Rings is the Super Bowl ring. It is the sports world’s Oscar. More people have walked on the moon than have manufactured a Super Bowl ring. Prior to 1996, no privately held company had ever made a Super Bowl ring, though hundreds had tried.

After the Dallas Cowboys defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1996 at Super Bowl XXX, I thought this was my best chance to throw my hat into the ring – pun intended. We were a Texas-based company, we had just finished designing the Rockets rings and the New Jersey Devils rings. We had just received worldwide acclaim for making the world’s most expensive Rubik’s Cube, the Masterpiece Cube for over one million dollars. 

I believed we could score a sit down. The thing was, I had to have a better mousetrap. This was the third Super Bowl victory for Jerry Jones in four years and was the team’s fifth overall. I’d have to come up with something that would blow them away!

For weeks before the Cowboys won, I laid out and studied 8×10 pictures I printed of all the previous twenty-nine Super Bowl rings. I poured over every detail of each ring to see what had been done right and what had been done wrong. I discovered that in Jerry’s first ring, he had desperately wanted a diamond in the shape of a star, but due to the expensive cost of cutting a diamond into a star, only a 1/2ct was placed in the center of each ring in 1993. Reportedly, he was unhappy with the ring because it looked too puny.

When they won again in 1994, he abandoned the star idea and made the top of the ring in the shape of a football. The ring, made by Balfour, gave Jerry the “big” impression he was looking for, but he missed having the team’s logo on top. The ring was nondescript, and in fact was a copycat of the San Francisco 49’er’s ring from 1990. In 1995, San Francisco won their fifth Super Bowl and placed five Lombardi trophies on the top of the ring. They were the first team to win five Super Bowls. The next year, when the Cowboys became the second team to win five Super Bowls, they couldn’t look like they were copying the 49’ers again, like they did in 1994. What possible design could top the five Lombardi trophy design and still let the world know the Cowboys were the world champs?

No one appeared to have the answer. Like I said, I stared at the tops of all the previous Super Bowl rings for hours and hours, until it dawned on me. The solution was staring at me the whole time! The Cowboys star has five points, and this was their fifth win. When I placed a dot at the center of their star and drew straight lines to the five inner points, I had a star constructed of five kite-shaped pieces. By not trying to cut one giant expensive star, I could give Jerry his Dallas Cowboys star by cutting five interlocking kite-shaped diamonds fashioned from marquise diamonds (the first ever created) and we would have the finest Super Bowl ring ever made!

After we got the meeting, we met initially with Jones’s daughter, Charlotte. We not only created artwork but constructed an interlocking diamond star so the Cowboys could see. When Charlotte saw the star, her jaw dropped. She picked up the phone and pressed one button. Then, she said “Dad you need to see this.” Within minutes, we were ushered into Jerry Jones’s office that was filled with cases of congratulatory champagne and flowers. We showed him the diamond star that we created for him. He too was speechless; there was a deafening silence for what seemed like an eternity. His eyes began to water. Then, all at once, he stood up and extended his hand to shake mine. He said, “If someone had told me that a little tiny Texas-based company that no one had ever heard about would come in here and get this championship ring account, I would have said they were crazy.” Then, he smiled and said, “Congratulations. You’ve done it.”

Dallas Cowboys Championship Ring

This was the third Super Bowl victory for Jerry Jones in four years and was the team’s fifth overall. I’d have to come up with something that would blow them away!

Do you have any favorite championship rings? Do any stand out as extra special?

Fred Cuellar: Diamond Cutters International was the first company to successfully cast a 100% platinum championship ring. We did it for the New Jersey Devils, the New York Yankees, and the Denver Broncos. Each ring weighs over 100 grams. That’s over three ounces of platinum! The rings are valued at over $100,000 each. Any time we make a ring that exhibits a feature that was thought to be impossible, it always feels special.

If you could design a new ring for a champion that you haven’t designed (yet!) who would that be?

Fred Cuellar: As the official jeweler for the Houston Sports Hall of Fame, Diamond Cutters International has the opportunity to do one of a kind Hall of Fame rings for sports legends. Just in the last few years, we have done the Hall of Fame rings for Hakeem Olajuwon, Earl Campbell, Nolan Ryan, Carl Lewis, Rudy Tomjanovich, George Foreman, Mary Lou Retton, and AJ Foyt! There are so many others, like Roger Clemons, Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Clyde Drexler, and more, that will be inducted into the Hall of Fame and it will be a pleasure to design theirs, too. It’s an honor to create a ring that signifies their lifetime of achievements.

It’s an honor to create a ring that signifies their lifetime of achievements.

The founder and president of Diamond Cutters International, is one of the worlds top diamond experts, as well as a three-time Guinness Book record holder in jewelry design.
Fred The Diamond Guy
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