Whether you’re interested in the history of this secretive block or just want to know how to navigate your upcoming diamond shopping trip, Jewelers.NYC’s New York Diamond District “Walking Tour” is the place to start. Walking Jewelers Row should not be difficult, yet 99% of the people who go to the NYC Diamond District approach it with a bit of trepidation. “What if they don’t want to talk to me?” “What if they take advantage of me?” “What if I don’t know where to go to get the best deal?” First, take a deep breath. Navigating the diamond district is as easy as navigating a trip to the mall, you just need to know where you want to go, and then ignore everything else.
Where to start: The Northwest corner of 47th Street and 5th Avenue
Jewelers Row’s 47th Street entrance is nothing if not obvious. On 47th and 5th two very tall lamp polls extend about 30 feet in the air – one on each side of 47th Street. On top of each is a 2 foot “round diamond” shaped street lamp that lights up the area below. Directly under the diamond lamp on the Northwest corner is where our walking tour begins. First look up at the building directly in front of you. This is the World Diamond Tower and home to the World-Famous New York Diamond Dealer’s Club.
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The World Diamond Tower (580 Fifth Avenue)
There is a war going on in NYC’s Jewelers Row. No not between merchants, though that would not be uncommon on this cutthroat street. It’s the war of the old versus the new, between tradition and modernization, between the World Diamond Tower and the International Gem Tower. Between the New York Diamond Dealers Club and Extell, developer extraordinaire who is demolishing old buildings from the Roaring 20s and replacing them with new buildings from, the new roaring twenties?!?
New York Diamond Dealers’ Club (580 Fifth Avenue-Floor 10; (212) 790-3600)
At the beginning of our tour is the world-famous New York Diamond Dealers’ Club (“DDC”) at 580 Fifth Avenue. This private club sits 10 floors above the Northwest corner of 47th and 5th and it is the anchor to the NYC Diamond District. At the New York Diamond Dealers’ Club, hard-core diamond traders toss diamonds worth hundreds of thousands of dollars on the table like you and I would toss chicklets into our shopping cart at the grocery store. Billions of dollars of diamonds are exchanged on its’ 25,000 square foot trading floor every year. Yet, there is little published about the DDC, because diamond traders like to keep their business very private, so information is limited.
What we do know is that in addition to its trading floor, the club has a private dining room, diamond grading equipment, office space for its members to conduct business, and/or just unwind after a hard day on the trading floor. Also, the original entrance (shown in the picture above) has long been closed in favor of the general entrance to the 580 Fifth Avenue building, yet it signage is left in place as a tribute to the mighty Diamond Dealers Club of NYC.
Head West toward 6th Avenue, on the North side of 47th Street.
Along your walk you will see many small shops on the right side filled with diamond merchants sitting behind dozens of diamond display cases. These are mini-diamond markets of sorts, where diamond retailers wait patiently for walk in traffic (or referrals) to arrive. This is a bit like a diamond farmers’ market, but with the size of the prize many multiples higher. Many of these small shops are generational and have a loyal following of customers and their friends and families.
As a general observation, you probably won’t get a great discount at the ground level, but you will have massive selection. For the big discounts, you need to set up a private appointment at the shops “upstairs,” or go online to discount diamond titans such as Blue Nile or James Allen. These ground level shops often straddle the line between quality and price, trading one for another to find a piece that fits your budget at retail prices. The end result is that you may save a few percentage points off high street retail prices, but the primary advantage is selection, not price at the street level.
The Exchange (15 West 47th Street)
Our next stop is The Exchange. Home to four of our Top 10 Diamond District Jewelers. The Exchange is a well-known diamond district landmark. At ground level, there are a myriad of booths, but the real action is upstairs where well-respected diamond merchants such as ID Jewelry, Alberts Fine Jewelry, and Solitaire Creations reside in this famous Diamond District Landmark.
Futurama Diamond Exchange (66 W 47th Street)
Home to stores such as Pico Jewelry, Forever Diamonds and Klim Jewelry the Futurama Diamond Exchange at 66 West 47th Street is a well-known (but unusually named) New York Diamond District Landmark.
Next: Cross the street at the corner or 47th and 6th and turn left.
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International Gem Tower (50 W 47th Street)
The International Gem Tower (“IGT”) is the New York Diamond District’s newest addition. Completed in 2013, this 34 story building houses some of the most valuable treasures on Jewelers’ Row. Unlike most of the other buildings and personnel on 47th Street, IGT does not gain its security from being chameleon like – almost invisible and blending into the environment. In fact the building stands out like, well, a diamond. The windows themselves look like diamond facets, and one could mistake the shape of the building as a branded diamond with its floor to ceiling mirrored window design.
The first three floors of IGT serve as retail space dedicated to precious gems. The balance of the building is dedicated office space, 65% of which must be attached to the New York jewelry trade per the charter of the building.
The International Gem Tower offers extreme security to protect the valuable contents inside. G45 Guard Service (“the best in the world”), biometric access and underground loading make this building one of the most secure in any city on the planet. Upstairs the combination of lower rise neighboring buildings and floor-to-ceiling windows provides an abundance of natural-light, which greatly assists any business that deals in light and glass! Interestingly, the International Gem Tower is an approved Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ), which means all transactions conducted on the IGT premises, receive the same customs treatment that they would if the commerce occurred outside of the United States. The Gemological Institute of America (GIA), discussed next, is also housed in the International Gem Tower as its anchor tenant.
Gemological Institute of America (50 W 47th Street)
On the ground floor of 50 W 47th Street is the Gemological Institute of America. GIA is the preeminent diamond grading lab in the world, the one by which all other diamond grading labs are measured. GIA is the main tenant of the International Gem Tower and their business is the only one whose signage is on the outside of the building. While other diamond businesses in the IGT try to remain invisible to those not in the know, GIA screams out. This location makes sense given the number of diamonds that are graded by GIA for 47th Street Jewelers Row diamantaires every year. At the New York location GIA also has one of the best diamond education centers in the world (yours truly trained with GIA :)).
Diamond Center of America (36-42 West 47th Street)
This icon of Jewelers Row is home to 7000 square feet of retail space and at total of 84,000 square feet of wholesale space. The Diamond Center of America building, built in 1924, has 16 floors, most of which you’ll need an appointment to reach.
City Jewelry Plaza (20 West 47th Street)
Home to 30 different diamond booths at ground level, and a myriad of private offices 25 floors above, this mid-sized diamond building sits in the middle of the NYC Diamond District.
The New York Jewelry Center (10 West 47th Street)
Built in 1926, the New York Jewelry center is one of the original artifacts of the NYC Diamond District. This 155-foot-tall, 14 story building has run into decay over the years and Extell (developer of the International Gem Tower mentioned above) is said to be demolishing this iconic building to replace it with another IGM like structure at some point in the future. If you have an interest in photographing the New York Jewelry Center, better get to the Diamond District in NYC quickly, because at some point soon it will be gone!
National Jewelry Exchange Building (2 West 47th Street)
This 1911 era 78,230 square foot 12 story building houses 15 office units. Like its neighbor above, the National Jewelry Exchange Building was recently sold to an unknown buyer who later turned out to be Extell. Extell plans to demolish this building as well as the New York Jewelry Center so if you want to see the National Jewelry Exchange Building before it’s gone, better head out soon.
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Jewelers on Fifth (578 Fifth Avenue)
The last stop on your tour takes you back to where you started, but on the South side of 47th and 5th to Jewelers on Fifth. This gateway building is home to over 50 booths in the well-known 47th Street Diamond Exchange.
While there are many more buildings in Jewelers Row, these 10 are some of the most prolific for anyone looking for great diamond jewelry. Make sure you do your research and make an appointment if you want to visit a merchant upstairs. Also, read up on the 4C’s (in the footer below) and diamond certificates so you can talk the talk.