Anthony John Machado, better known as AJ, got the call from Miami cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph roughly two weeks before the Hurricanes’ opener.
Rumph, the 2002 first-round pick out of UM, had purchased from AJ’s Jewelry during his six-year professional career. He’s not alone. Dubbed the “King of Bling,” Machado claims more than 700 active NFL players among his clientele.
Put on speaker phone while fellow ex-Hurricane Vince Wilfork was in Machado’s Cutler Bay office for an unrelated purchase, Rumph told Machado that defensive coordinator Manny Diaz was looking for a prop to incentivize turnovers forced by his players — similar to what Alabama does with its wrestling belt — and, of course, “to bring the swag back.”
The initial thought was a rope chain that players would get to wear after forcing a turnover.
“Naw, man,” chimed in Wilfork, recently retired after a 13-year NFL career. “We got to do the Cuban link, AJ!”
The consensus among the three was a collective “Hell yeah!”
“In Miami, what are we famous for? We’re famous for the Cuban chains,” Machado says. “But we need to add a little something to it.
“So we did a big U charm — orange stones, green stones in there to flash it out.”
Ten days and 900 of those orange and green sapphire stones later, the 6.5-inch-wide “U” was attached to the 36-inch, 2.5-kilogram, 10-karat gold chain. The final product was wrapped up, secured in a box and shipped up US-1, accompanied by security, from the jewelry store in south Miami-Dade County to the Coral Gables campus.
It took more than three quarters for the chain to make its debut, but then it happened.
Malek Young intercepted a pass early in the fourth quarter. Before he could return to the sideline, Miami’s director of player development Joel Rodriguez awarded him with the long, thick chain that looked like something that would humble Flavor Flav.
Young, responsible for the first forced turnover of the season, would have his face plastered all over the Internet as websites and people on social media rushed to post a screengrab of the telecast that showed the sophomore cornerback from Coconut Creek sitting on the bench with the chain draped around his neck.
Barstool Sports posted one, proclaiming, “Miami is winning the National Championship.” ESPN’s Jemele Hill had another: “When you’re going straight from the game to Liv,” referencing the popular Miami Beach nightclub.
At AJ’s Jewelry, Machado’s son Josh yelled for him to come out of his office and see what was happening, their masterpiece prominently displayed.
“It was a good feeling seeing my UM coming back and that we made it for the team and the university,” said Machado, a big Hurricanes fan.
How much did Miami pay for it? Per Machado’s confidentiality agreement with all his clients, he won’t reveal that information. Possibly the most well-connected custom jeweler in all of sports, it’s one of the many reasons his clients, a list he says has easily surpassed 1,000 professional athletes, trust him.
Sitting down in his office for an interview Sunday, Machado’s phone lit up. Former UM and NFL running back Edgerrin James was calling. He raved to Machado about the turnover chain and discussed his next purchase.
Word of mouth, Machado says, has been the key to his company’s growth. While he’s biggest in the NFL, especially around the draft, he estimates he has sold to 80-100 players in the NBA (including LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem) and MLB (including Marcell Ozuna, Dee Gordon, Giancarlo Stanton, who has recently hooked him up with Bryce Harper).
AJ’s the store isn’t nearly as flashy as the diamonds it sells. It’s essentially a long glass counter — some jewels on display, others locked into one of a few large safes — tucked inside US-1 Discount Mall, a flea market about a half-hour drive southwest of the heart of Miami.
While Machado has developed ample business to move to a prestige location downtown or in South Beach, he prefers to stay where it all began in 1993.
“This is where we started,” he said. “This is our foundation.”