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Tooth gems by Graciella Masterton
Photography Ericka Clevenger (@erickaclevenger), nails Lori How (@frmrbabynails) taken at GirlxfriendlaCourtesy of Graciella Masterton

How Graciella Masterton’s butterfly tooth gems took over Los Angeles

The tooth jeweller and musician discusses Mexican upbringing, the Mayan origins of tooth gems, and how she brought butterfly smiles to the world

Four Swarovski crystals glisten under a pair of lined lips and clear gloss. Two are classic circles; the others are marquise cuts. They adorn the top incisors, beside a lone gem on the tooth to the right. Together, they become a holographic butterfly, with Graciella Masterton’s small gap acting as the body between the wings.

When Masterton shared her creation back in January 2021, it was eight months before tooth gems became TikTok’s favourite Y2K accessory, and a year before WWD predicted a full revival for 2022. Since then, decorative teeth jewellery has dominated the beauty space and Masterton’s trademark butterfly smiles have turned into a beloved placement.

Becoming a trend-setting tooth jeweller wasn’t always in Masterton’s intended plans, however. She was first a model and make-up artist, who would get her own teeth embellished with diamonds by Michelle from Sugar Tooth Jewels. When she saw that Michelle was offering training, Masterton thought it would be the perfect side gig. “I loved doing make-up, but I knew it was going to take me time to build a portfolio and be able to do make-up full-time, which was the dream at first,” she says. Her plans all changed after starting @toothgemsbygrac13lla and seeing how much people loved her designs.

Born in LA, raised in San Miguel de Allende Guanajuato, Mexico, Masterton’s connection to tooth artistry and gems is tied to her cultural history and Mayan origins. “As a proud Latina, [that] made them more special to me,” she says. “This shit is a part of something way bigger than a gem and some dental-grade composite. It’s history.” Growing up in a “tiny little town” in Mexico, she wasn’t exposed to a lot of pop culture but, she says, she learnt to “find inspiration in everyday life and romanticise the seemingly mundane”. Here, she tells us more.

Growing up, what informed your understanding of beauty and the way you presented yourself?

Graciella Masterton: My mom was strict growing up – I wasn’t allowed to wear make-up and had to dress ‘appropriately’. Of course, my mom telling me no, just made me want to do it more. I didn’t know what I was doing: I would poorly apply the stolen make-up that I hid from my mom. I don’t think I thought I was pretty, so I was focused on being funny, and making my friends think so too. 

San Miguel is a tiny little town that didn’t have a lot of places to shop for make-up or clothing. I also wasn’t raised on pop culture and wasn’t really exposed to it. My dad loved hip-hop and rap – I was put on to that more than anything. One day at a sleepover, I saw Gwen Stefani singing “Rich Girl” on MTV and I swear my eyes dilated. She single-handedly introduced me to that world.  

Did that change at all once you moved to Los Angeles?

Graciella Masterton: 100 per cent. I moved here during eighth grade and was introduced to so much, all at once. It was a culture shock, I definitely had some catching up to do. But I also found that I fit in really well here. I was always an expressive child and teen, but I don’t think I knew what the right outlet was. Once I moved to LA, I got way more adventurous with make-up, fashion, hair, nails, everything really. I realised how easy it was to access things I wanted to wear that I only saw in music videos or movies. I felt more comfortable expressing myself in LA than I did in Mexico.

What are your thoughts about teeth as a fashion statement? What do you think tooth gems add?

Graciella Masterton: Teeth have been a fashion statement for centuries. Ohaguro, the custom of dyeing your teeth black, was considered alluring and beautiful in Japan. Grillz have been around since the 17th century, and the Mayans have drilled and filled their teeth with precious gemstones since 1800 BC. It’s nothing new, but tooth gems add a whole other element: they catch your eye when you speak and smile; they draw you in the same way all body modification does. They can be subtle and chic or an all-out statement.

How do you feel about people getting tooth gems while being ignorant of their origin in ancient Mayan communities?

Graciella Masterton: With all body modifications, it’s important to look into the history behind them. I understand it’s not common knowledge, but this shit is a part of something way bigger than a gem and some dental-grade composite. It’s history. I don’t think that should stop anyone from getting a gem – just don’t go around thinking you started a trend as soon as you get one. Regardless, I love how popular tooth gems have become, and I think everyone should experience how they make you feel.

The Swarovski butterfly is my absolute favourite, and one I wanted to actually get myself. How did you come up with that? 

Graciella Masterton: I saw a tooth jeweller in Seoul Korea create a similar design using different sizes of teardrop-shaped gems to create a dragonfly design. I never thought about creating designs other than what my clients asked for. I sat one day and started playing around, seeing what I could come up with. I had just bought these navette-shaped Swarovski because they caught my eye. After a while, I came up with that perfect little butterfly. I applied the whole butterfly on one tooth at first. It was cute, but it wasn’t a hit yet. It was hard to get people to want crazier designs because they weren’t popular then. [Some time later] I randomly revisited the butterfly and put it across my two front teeth. After that, it was a wrap.

What is it like working at Girlxfriendla?

Graciella Masterton: Absolutely amazing. I’ve known Milla Press, the founder of Girlxfriendla, for as long as I’ve been doing tooth gems. Working in an all-female and femme non-binary space has been the best experience. The environment is unlike anywhere else I’ve worked. Milla is trying to make the tattoo industry feel safer for other women and queer people because there aren’t many tattoo shops like this that exist. I can wear whatever I want to work and not feel sexualized which I’m not used to. I feel heard even though I have zero complaints. I love who I work with! We’re family.

You recently started making music as well. How do you think the music industry interacts with the beauty world?

Graciella Masterton: They’re both forms of self-expression and are so intimate. I think of beauty the same way people think of their rising sign in astrology: how you come off, the way you are perceived. But make-up gives you some control over that. It allows you to be whoever you feel like being. Music creates a safe space for you to feel how you want to feel, say what you need to say. The industries go hand in hand – behind every amazing musician is an amazing beauty team curating every serve.

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