Fred Cuellar of Diamond Cutters International in Houston always wanted to be on a team of superstar athletes. “There was one thing that kept me from it,” he tells JCK. “I had no athletic ability whatsoever! But as my father said, there is more than one way up the mountain.”
Cuellar’s way up the mountain has been to design championship rings for some of the best sports teams in the country. Diamond Cutters International (DCI) has designed Stanley Cup rings, World Series rings, and Super Bowl rings, and Cuellar hopes to be designing the ring for the winner of Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday.
But Super Bowl ring designer is not an easy club to get into, he explains.
“It’s one of those situations where you don’t get to make a Super Bowl ring unless you have already made a Super Bowl ring,” Cuellar says. There are just four companies that have done it, he says: Tiffany & Co., Balfour, Jostens, and DCI.
The company first entered the foray of championship rings when hometown team the Houston Rockets won the NBA Finals in 1994. “We didn’t get the bid, but we later found out that the money allotted for the rings had been diluted,” he says. “So I decided to make an unauthorized ring, a player’s ring, for the team.” Cuellar spent $250,000 to make the team rings in 14k gold with diamond embellishments.
DCI’s unauthorized ring for the Houston Rockets got Cuellar a meeting with the New Jersey Devils after they won the Stanley Cup in 1995. His pitch: That Diamond Cutters International was going to use Cuellar’s interlocking diamond logo, a design of his invention, to change the way that championship rings were made forever and elevate them to works of art. He got the bid, and the made the rings in 14k gold and investment grade diamonds.
When the Dallas Cowboys won Super Bowl XXX in 1996, Cuellar knew he wanted to design the rings. He blew up pictures of every previous Super Bowl ring and studied them for inspiration.
“I knew that [Cowboys owner] Jerry Jones had wanted a big diamond in the shape of a star on the previous ring, but it was too expensive! So I thought: interlocking diamond logo, interlocking diamond star. If I take five marquise diamonds and I grind them down to five kites, I can deliver a star that looks like a 5 ct. star. We made eight prototypes before we got the account.”
The NFL gives the teams just $5,500 per ring, and the team isn’t allowed to pony up more. So to make the rings he wanted, Cuellar introduced dollar matching. “Pay it forward: to the degree that you love, you’ll be loved. The team isn’t allowed to pay, but we are. So we said, we are going to give you twice the ring. If the league pays $1 million, we will pay $1 million. So that’s how we got the Cowboys account.”
The company has now been involved in the process for more than a dozen rings, Cuellar says, and has designed a total of three Super Bowl Rings: the Dallas Cowboys’ win in 1995; the Denver Broncos’ wins in 1997 and 1998; and the Baltimore Ravens’ win in 2000.
Cuellar expects to invest a $1 million to $1.5 million in the rings this year if he wins the project. He says a Patriots win would offer a better chance of making the money back through ancillary products, such as tennis bracelets and pendants that many players will buy for their wives or tiers of rings for staff and friends of the team. “If Seattle wins, I’ll never get my money back. The ancillary products won’t do it for us, the market just isn’t big enough. So I would offer my designs and take on a secondary role,” he says.
“If the Patriots win, that’s a different story. Now it’s hey, maybe we try for the whole the thing—design, materials, and manufacture,” he says.
The world finds out who wins the Super Bowl on Sunday night. Cuellar will find out if his bid is accepted in three to four weeks.