When you ask Drina Baron-Zinyk what makes a good ring, she will tell you that the best sports ring is the one you put a lot of thought into. Not the glam, not the glitz, but the ring that tells the story of how that athlete and their team got to this point.
“As long as that ring tells the story, all the way through from beginning till end, I feel that it ends up being a perfect ring,” she explains. “I find that every single ring that we design, when we work with a team, we put a lot of thought into. We’ll ask them, and it’s not just, ‘Do you want a big ring?’ It’s not about budget, it’s not about that. We say, ‘Tell us about your championship run. What does it take to get to that championship game?’ And, they tell their story.”
In 2019, when the Toronto Raptors finally fulfilled 24 years of promise to their fans and brought the National Basketball Association championship to Canada, Baron Championship Rings were thrust into the limelight. Their ring design, proudly declaring “NORTH” in front of the iconic CN Tower made international news and was highly sought after by fans of the team.
The road to the unveiling of that ring was long, with many twists and turns, but is something Baron-Zinyk speaks of fondly.
“Back in ’82, my parents had started the business but as a retail,” says Baron-Zinyk. “They did things like engagement rings. My dad (Richard) decided that he wanted to do something different and do school rings because there were no Canadian companies that manufactured school rings, they were all American. He was like, ‘Why isn’t there anything in Canada?'”
Over the years, the business, then known as Baron Insignias, started doing sports teams. Something that Baron-Zinyk says drew herself and her brother, Mike, into the fold.
“As he started doing sports rings, we got more interested in the business, got involved, and started getting teams in British Columbia, Toronto, and the Ontario Minor Hockey Association, which was actually one of the first associations we ever got,” she recalls. “With them, we said, ‘We want to be your official ring supplier so that in every championship, we have the rights to the OMHA logo,’ and it worked out well—so we started getting other associations.”
However, the siblings wanted to take the business even further—right into the mainstream.
“In 2015, my brother and I decided we wanted to take the company to the next level, so we asked my father if we could buy him out,” explains Baron-Zinyk. “We bought the business and we rebranded it Baron Championship Rings. We still do the school rings and everything, but we wanted to specialize in championship rings and do it well.”
Baron started actively pursuing US schools, and even though they kept hearing things like, “We’ve never heard of you—we’ve only heard of Jostens,” they started making in-roads.
“When the Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA championship in 2016, we knew some people through Team USA Basketball because we’d done their rings, so we went and did a presentation,” says Baron-Zinyk. “We went outside the box, doing something that no one had ever done before with setting the diamonds in the “World Champions”—everything we did on that ring had never been done before. Then, the Cavs called us and said, ‘We pick you!’ We were like, ‘Uh, what?’ So, we asked why they picked us and they said ‘you gave us the best design’.”
Part of what makes Baron’s rings so eye-catching is the story behind each ring—which Baron tries to capture in each one.
“They’ll say, this was our final score, but if they tell us they had a motto, or anything like that—even how many years it took to get them there—we put that all in the story, even if it’s just through stone counts, but put it with a certain image,” explains Baron-Zinyk.
She says that the Cavs experience was a door-opener for Baron. Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert purchased over 2,600 rings to give to everyone from the players to the sponsors, to the concession staff. The other effect was that other teams were suddenly drawn to their designs, teams like the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League, Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League, New York FC, LA CF, and Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer, the Rochester Knighthawks of the National Lacrosse League, several NCAA programs, and the Toronto Raptors’ affiliate 905 Raptors.
However, landing the Toronto Raptors in 2019, when they won the NBA championship, may have been their biggest coup.
“We didn’t know—you don’t take for granted that you’re going to get it just because you’re Windsor and they’re Toronto,” states Baron-Zinyk. “We fought hard for that one, but it worked out well. It was kind of cool. Toronto is where my parents started their business and that’s where I was born and lived there until I was 10. I felt like I was coming full circle.”
The added success has allowed Baron to focus on giving back. Their charity, Leave No One Behind, has given out, according to Baron-Zinyk, roughly 10,000 free rings to players on teams that could not afford to celebrate their team’s championship. Starting in 2017, they also started putting aside one dollar from every ring sold to go towards funding players and teams in need, providing jerseys, helmets, turf, basketball nets, and sports balls.
On a personal level, Baron-Zinyk sees herself and her company as advocates for women’s sports as well.
“When it comes to rings, you have your male versions of the rings, but the female ones are getting just as large—which is amazing to see,” she says. “Having two teenage daughters in sports, for me, when I think of the future, it’s all about recognizing more of the female sports with their rings. When you work with a team, just because they’re female, doesn’t mean they want a small, dainty ring.”
Baron will be bejewelling the Canadian Under-18 Women’s Hockey team that won the IIHF World Championship in January, but they’ve also done the rings for Canada’s Olympic Soccer Team, the LA Sparks and Seattle Storm of the WNBA, Baylor’s NCAA Division I women’s basketball team, Wayne State, and a variety of national cheerleading and dance championships.
“When it comes to Baron and you talk about the future and legacy, what’s important to me with the business is showing my girls—my two daughters—never giving up,” states Baron-Zinyk. “It’s not just about working hard, it’s also about being honest and leading with listening to your employees.
“I find, sometimes, I’m looking at my girls and I think that in women’s sports, there’s so much unfairness in certain things and I want them to see that there is fairness out there, there is equality—you can be just as great as that boy right there. Be you, be true to yourself, and be strong.”