Mark Barata at his East Village shop. Photos by Jason Ruiz.
The Arts District is home to numerous boutiques, exhibits and cafes that proudly display the creativity that courses through the city’s veins. That fertile atmosphere of innovation was something that Long Beach native, Mark Barata, couldn’t ignore when shopping around for place to plant his custom jewelry store.
“The Art's District really appealed to us because this is where people come to be creative,” the 29-year-old founder, chief executive officer and first-generation jeweler said. “I wanted to be in an area that’s known for artists.”
So, since 2005, Deviant Design Group--the largest purveyor of gaudy rings, iced out skate decks and other custom ornaments for the action sports community--has rested at the corner of Elm and 3rd, welcoming anyone from walk-ins to X-Games gold medalists.
“I’ve done custom jewelry pieces from a couple hundred dollars to a couple hundred thousand dollars,” Barata said. “I give everyone the same amount of respect when they walk into my store. I’m going to do the same thing to the guy with a budget of hundred grand as someone with a more limited one.”
The opportunity to become the jeweler-of-choice for professional skateboarding icons like Ryan Scheckler and Paul Rodriguez started with a chance encounter while designing computer chips for luxury cars. Professional skateboarder and reality TV star, Rob Dyrdek, was looking to soup up his 996 Porsche Twin Turbo when he walked into his shop. He left with a faster car as well as a friend and future business partner in Barata.
“He’s the one that kind of paved the way for me in action sports,” Barata said. “He’s the one that was being interviewed by ESPN and when asked about his jewelry he said, ‘You have to talk to this guy Mark, he does all my jewelry.’”
Not only did Dyrdek help finance the beginnings of DDG, but he also helped to stockpile Barata’s growing roster of high-profile action sports clients. Using the technology he mastered while studying at the Jewelry Arts and Design College in Los Angeles, Barata uses 3-D computer models and laser scanning to create custom pieces that the human hand could never execute. Barata said that in addition to removing the limitations of the human hand, the technology is much more cost effective than traditional methods.
“If someone was going to try and hand carve a sphere, it’s virtually impossible,” Barata said. “With a computer, everything is absolutely flawless. There’s something very romantic about hand-carved jewelry piece….I can achieve designs that human hands can’t possibly achieve.”
Barata pioneered the integration of contemporary technology into this art form that dates back to earliest times of human existence. He’s one of a few certified instructors of 3-D design in the country and is constantly looking for ways to advance his craft and deviate from the norm. As Barata put it, “Skate kids have gone from driving Honda Civics to driving Ferraris” and their jewelry requests have mirrored their vehicle choices.
Utilizing expensive laser-scanning technology, he’s produced replica sneaker pendants, assault rifles which are accurate down to the nuts and bolts and even a scaled down version of Christopher “Big Black” Boykin’s face, a gift from Dyrdek who co-stars with Boykin on MTV's Rob and Big and Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factory.
“I’m a firm believer when I say that there is no other jewelry store in the country like Deviant Design Group,” Barata said.
The 29-year-old doesn’t fit the quintessential mold of a jeweler. He’s young, covered in tattoos and plays classic rock while his customers survey the one-of-a-kind adornments that are designed in-house by Barata and his crew. He prides himself on the experience people get when visiting his store as much as he does the lustrous things he designs. When you’re here, you’re family.
“We’re not 80-year-old guys sitting here in a suit and tie trying to hard sell you on a gemstone. We want it to be more of a creative, inviting atmosphere,” Barata said. “We kinda want to be the anti-jeweler.”
Barata even owns and operates a handful of small-scale gold mines in Ghana. He takes donations from friend’s clothing companies and outfits the village with DDG and other skate company’s gear. Although the high cost has postponed the extraction of gold from the ground, the romantic in him hopes one day he can provide his customers with an even more unique jewelry experience.
“I’d like to say that I’m probably the only jeweler that has taken gold from the ground and gemstones from the actual mines themselves and have been able to trace back their entire story and turn it into a beautiful jewelry piece that someone will enjoy for the rest of their lives,” he said.
Deviant Design Group is located at 256 Elm Ave. Visit them online at deviantdesigngroup.com