Major cities all around the world have commercial centers dedicated to the wholesale diamond trade. Belgium has the Diamond District in Antwerp; India has the Bharat Diamond Bourse in Mumbai; Israel has the Diamond Exchange District in Tel Aviv; England has Hatton Garden in London; Los Angeles has the Jewelry District and Philadelphia and Chicago both have their own ‘Jewelers’ Row.’ None of these, however, can compare in size and influence to the Diamond District in NYC.
Shrouded in secrecy, the Diamond District in NYC (a.k.a. Jewelers’ Row 47th Street) sells more product in one year than Nike and Coca Cola combined. Yet for all its selling power, “the District” can be confusing, intimidating and financially devastating if the buyer does not know what he (or she) is doing.
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This single city block, located on 47th Street between 5th and 6th Avenue, is home to over 2500 shops and stores located on the street below and in the office buildings above.
The First Diamond District in NYC – Maiden Lane
The modern Diamond District in NYC traces its roots back to Maiden Lane, located on the Southern tip of Manhattan, in 1795. Post the Colonial war many jewelers came together to form a small consortium where New Yorkers knew they could go to buy jewelry. The area grew very slowly over the next hundred years until the construction of 14 Maiden Lane, a 10-story office building completed in 1894 at a cost of $275,000. This building was built specifically for the diamond trade, but unfortunately, it actually wobbled when the wind blew! This required structural reinforcement on each level. 14 Maiden Lane was eventually fortified and ready for occupancy by 1900.
14 Maiden Lane was where the modern Diamond District in NYC first came to life. Its fireproof design and reinforced concrete flooring were ideal for heavy jewelry safes of the diamond merchants of the time. The 10-story building still exists today and currently stands as 9 loft apartments. Later other buildings such as the Cushman Building (1 Maiden Lane – circa 1900) were built. Eventually, Maiden Lane was home to over 300 jewelry businesses, and expansion continued to two additional NYC Diamond Districts.
The Second Diamond District in NYC – Canal and Bowery
The push to expand landed at Canal and Bowery in the 1920s and the Paramount Diamond Exchange became the epicenter of the second NYC Diamond District. This two-story building (pictured above) which has long since been demolished, was located on the corner of Canal and Bowery and had 33 diamond merchant stalls on the first floor. The second floor was dedicated office space for administrative jewelry operations and private wholesale transactions.
The Third Diamond District in NYC – Fulton and Nassau
In 1931 the expansion of the Diamond District continued to Fulton and Nassau Streets in downtown Manhattan. This was in the center of the Financial District which had experienced a major downturn because of the stock market crash of October 1929. This was the beginning of the Great Depression and office rents were cheap, so diamond merchants could set up headquarters in buildings designed for the financial powerhouses of the day. As the Great Depression subsided by the end of the 1930’s, rents went back up and Wall Street moved back in. Diamond merchants could no longer afford the cost. At the same time, there was a growing uneasiness in Europe as the Third Reich came to power in Nazi Germany. Hitler’s Army began invading other countries and Jews fled. New York saw a major influx of Orthodox Jews from the diamond trade coming from Amsterdam, Netherlands and Antwerp, Belgium in 1940 and 1941.
Present Day Diamond District in NYC
They came together in midtown Manhattan on 47th Street between 5th and 6th Avenue in the early 1940s. This non-descript section of NYC had many unoccupied office buildings – still a casualty from the Great Depression, and as such was far less expensive than the now pricey downtown area around Wall Street where the mega Investment Banks had moved back in.
Eventually the other Diamond merchants followed, and the modern day 47th Street Diamond District in New York City was born.
International Gem Tower
Today the NYC Diamond District is anchored by the International Gem Tower (IGT) at 50 West 47th Street. The IGT is home to the Gemological Institute of America, the IGT Shopping Mall and the famous Diamond Dealers’ Club. The Club maintains its trading floor in the tower. The Diamond Dealers’ Club is where the bulk of dealer to dealer trading occurs among its 1800+ members. Most of these diamonds are distributed throughout North America. Some also find their way into the stores and kiosks on 47th Street…
For us mere mortals, all of this means a deal can be found, but the consumer needs to be educated and prepared to negotiate when visiting 47th Street.
Read about our suggested Top 10 Stores of the Diamond District in NYC here.