To many, the New York City Diamond District is a mysterious land of opportunity, overlaid with a hint of danger. The street itself seems like a throwback from the 1970s, with buildings, cars and even the cast of characters all seeming to play the part.
Depending on who you ask, the number of jewelry businesses ranges from about 1500 to over 2600. Many of these reside in one of 20+ multi-booth diamond exchanges on the ground floor of 20+ buildings on 47th street. This number is a little misleading, primarily because over half are business to business companies that deal directly with other jewelers on a wholesale basis. This, in part, is where the diamond district gets its reputation for deep discounts. While it is theoretically possible to buy from one of these wholesalers, it is far more likely that you will be dealing with a retail establishment that offers custom made engagement rings, bracelets, earrings, etc. While discounts do exist at these stores (this is the diamond district after all), don’t expect 50-60% off unless you are diamond buyer for Zale, Fred Myer or Helzberg Diamonds.
These NYC Jewelers do offer discounts to “off the street” buyers, BUT that is because their overhead is generally lower. Many operate out of a “store” in a giant diamond bazarre with about 10 square feet of space. By way of comparison, the Zales Diamond Store near my parent’s home in the White Plains Mall is about 1000 square feet…
There were many diamond districts in NYC over the last two centuries. The first was on Maiden Lane downtown. Socialites the world over wanted to buy their diamonds on Maiden Lane and would often refuse to wear diamonds purchased elsewhere. Then in about 1920 the diamond district migrated to Canal and Bowery. A second diamond district emerged on Fulton and Nassau in 1931. These two locations co-existed for several decades, but started to thin out when Orthodox Jews in the diamond trade fled the Netherlands and Belgium when Nazi Germany arrived. They came to New York and set up shop in the Diamond District’s current location on 47th Street between 5th and 6th avenue. Once this happened the other two “districts” folded and players moved uptown.
Today, Jewelers Row sells about 24 billion dollars’ worth of diamonds each year – about the same revenue number as McDonalds. If you’d like to find a great jeweler then look at our Top 10 list for analysis.