Streets of Dreams: The Diamond District

The Diamond District, located in Midtown Manhattan, has been the center of the diamond trade for over a hundred years. Marcus Lemonis, the star of CNBC’s: The Profit, has a five part series covering five interesting city districts around the U.S.. He decided to to cover the business and trade aspects of NYC’s diamond district. Diamonds are a valuable commodity and have been used as one of the most precious gemstones in jewelry throughout history to the present day. The traditional diamond engagement ring and a wedding proposal conjure up images of love, romance and fidelity. Marilyn Monroe sang; Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend and Madonna’s Material Girl hit video illustrates the allure of sparkly white diamonds. Elizabeth Taylor and her jewelry collection as well as her signature, White Diamond perfume is another pop culture reference to the gemstone’s desirability. The show portrays West 47th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues, as rows of store fronts with jewelry displayed in windows and the booths. Men use a magnifying tool to inspect the diamond and business people scurry around the diamond shaped building which is the center of the district. Lemonis’s goal, breaking some of the mystery on the streets which sell diamonds, the hawkers in front of stores, negotiations, backrooms and the trade which rocks the area. Movies such as; Uncut Gems and A Stranger Among Us are films illustrating the lives of characters who walk paths of diamonds, money, intrigue, generational mystique and gambling. Marcus Lemonis questions if the millennial generation will buy the same jewelry as past generations. The answer is yes. Even if the stores, nature of business, branding, people and styles change, the diamond district will carry on.

The diamond market has international business centers in New York, Antwerp, Belgium, Amsterdam and diamond mining in several African countries. India is a major force in the diamond trade. The blood diamond conflict is brought up, but the presentation centers on the standards which the diamond district adheres: a code of trust and the production line of: mining, stone cutting, polishers, distributers, traders to the retail-merchandise floor. The industry uses the Rapaport book to describe the value of a diamond’s clarity, cut, color and carat. Lemonis talks with several companies which showcase the diversity of styles. Shiffon Company is a line which features a pinky ring, named the duet ring. The start up venture began as the brainchild of Shilpa Yarlagadda who is creating “a new generation of jewelry.” She is a business student and entrepreneur is on a hiatus from her studies at Harvard. Yarlagadda taught herself jewelry design online. The pinky ring is a symbol of a pinky promise which pledges that females can achieve entrepreneurial status and spiral upwards to their dreams. The ring’s spiral design comes in silver, yellow gold and rose gold with a diamond positioned towards the top. Shiffon is comprised of an all female team who work together on the jewelry and 50 % of sale’s profits support capital venture funding to female owned businesses. Their website features prominent female CEO’s in technology, cosmetics, fashion and education. Shilpa Yarlagadda developed The Startup Girl’s Foundation to support other females. Shiffon focuses on this ring which is worn by Emma Watson, Nicole Kidman, Shalaine Woodsy and Michelle Obama. Instagram influencer, Richie Rich, runs a third generation company, selling higher end bling to a men’s market. Big rings with large stone settings and thick layered gold chains, which can run up to millions of dollars. Richie Rich creates “high end art” and the jewelry has a hip hop vibe. Many of the clients are athletes, celebrities and influencers. Richie started a new phase of the business, posting images of the jewelry on sites such as; Instagram. Jacob and Co., owned by Jacob Arabo, is a known for a hip hop style collection, intricate colorful stones and trendy high end watch merchandise. Jacob was born in Uzbekistan, a Mizrahi Jew who immigrated to the US. He worked in the diamond district before opening a store off of Madsion Avenue and is nicknamed; “The King of Bling”. His jewelry is styled with big and plentiful diamonds and unique watches with design images of a roulette wheel, collaborations with Paramount Pictures for The Godfather watch, a Bugatti brand watch and the Astronomia collection. A fairly new jewelry niche are synthetic or lab grown diamonds which are expected to reach peak sales by 2025. They are now classified as diamonds, similar to the natural ones, but the diamonds do not take billions of years to develop underground and cost less. Lemonis takes us to see an office where the owner sells synthetic diamond jewelry, The owner’s marketing message; they look just like the natural ones to the human eye, educate the consumer. Another store has estate jewelry from Cartier and Bulgari. A model shows a ruby and diamond necklace as well as elaborate blue sapphire and diamond drop earrings. Many years of trade and trust have been built on these Midtown Manhattan streets, mostly occupied by a majority of the Orthodox Jewish community. It has been “easy” for the community to trade in diamonds, as they are small and easy to carry. As Orthodox Jews often fled persecution, the diamond business became a stable occupation. The tradition has passed through many generations. Trust is earned and anyone who violates the trust in the trade, can be blocked from ever doing business again. The majority of diamonds pass through the diamond district and are sold to other household name brand boutiques, even if the new price is slightly higher. The motto; diamonds are a girl’s best friend can ring true.

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