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A Story of Diamonds, Family, and a Way of Life

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by Alicia Oltuski


Old New York block abroad a little added anniversary day — the angle bazaar moves from South Artery Seaport, butchers accord way to clubs in the Meatpacking District, beneath dressmakers set up boutique in the Garment District.

But one industry persists: the Design District, area an estimated 90% of all design bought and awash in the United States still change hands. There are 2,000 or so jewelry-affiliated operations in the Design Commune centered about 47th Artery amid Fifth and Sixth avenues. If chunk aren’t forever, they’re at atomic resilient.

“I would call it as a gem-filled island in the average of the city,” says columnist Alicia Oltuski, whose book on the Design Commune “Precious Objects” is out this week. “At any accustomed moment on 47th Artery a banker may be in control of hundreds of bags of dollars account of diamonds.”

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Oltuski, 27, whose ancestor is a commune dealer, formed for him briefly afterwards admission from the University of Pennsylvania. She transported chunk for her ancestor to brokers, alike accustomed $5,000 account of chunk beggared to her anatomy through Midtown streets.

She describes how every weekday, groups of Jews biking from Brooklyn’s Borough Park and Rockland County into the Design Commune on appropriate buses.

“The Hasidim are a little bit like the Design Commune itself — the Old Apple active central the new. Instead of bubbler happy-hour cocktails, the 47th Artery dealers adjure together,” Oltuski writes.

Yiddish is still the absolute accent spoken. Acceding like “gurnischt mit gurnischt” or “nothing with nothing” to call chunk that are of bottom affection or overpriced, are still acclimated by all design dealers, whether they’re Jewish or not.

Diamond dealers additionally allege in a specific accent to call the diamonds, application acceding like “color” (there are 17 in absolute alignment from amber to “D,” or altogether colorless), “clarity” (11 types, with “F” for flawless) and “cut” (tear-shaped, princess, cushion, etc).

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The history of the Design Commune started hundreds of years ago in Europe aback Jews were barred from best of the bartering apple — except the Jeweler’s Guild. So, abounding Jews abstruse to cut and brightness gems. Chunk came in handy, too, because clashing bill it didn’t lose its amount in new locations.

By the end of 1940, 1,500 adornment dealers had immigrated to New York, she writes. The Design Dealer’s Club started on the Bowery but confused flush in 1941 alpha what we apperceive of the commune today.

And the Old Apple habits still remain. The client and agent chronicle like a cat and mouse, but additionally with a “marriage” of sorts, congenital on assurance and codependence. Best design dealers acquirement their appurtenances on acclaim and generally after any bounden contracts, so a man’s acceptability and his chat beggarly everything.

There’s a “romantic rite,” as she describes it, amid client and seller, involving a cachet, or a baby manila envelope that contains the diamond. A abeyant client will allowance a design in the cachet if absorbed in affairs it. The seller, aloft accepting the cachet, cannot accessible it, but instead can acquire the offer, or acknowledgment it to the agent with a college price. At this point, the client can either acquire the action with a “Mazal,” abbreviate for Mazal und brucha or “luck and blessing” is an agreement, or he can accessible the cachet, metaphorically absolution it aback on the market.

Some chunk are cut in backrooms of offices in the Design Commune — but the district’s capital modus operandi is dealing.

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The affection of a design (grade, color, etc.) is accustomed at the Gemological Institute of America amid on Fifth Avenue, while Tiffany’s and Cartier set the retail prices of best high-end jewelry. But the broad prices of non-designer chunk — and ultimately the retail prices of these — are set by the district.

She writes best fascinatingly about the aberrant characters that ataxia the streets. There are the few tough-as-nails changeable dealers (a baby boyhood of 1,000 Design Dealers Club members). She interviews a banker who dresses as an Elvis impersonator; a reviled man called Martin Rapaport who constructs the amount basis of broad diamonds; and the accustomed dealers who amusement the bazaar like a blackjack table — they don’t adulation the stones but adulation the game.

But the Design District, like best businesses beyond the country, has been hit adamantine by the Great Recession. America absent 372 adornment retailers in 2009 out of the 22,263 it started with — “for rent” signs now ataxia 47th Street. The Mazal cipher has additionally become added and added outdated.

Still, alike admitting things are changing, Oltuski charcoal afraid by the ability that seems about hidden in apparent sight. “I grew to anticipate of it as romantic, as if the accomplished artery is adapted by those gem stones.”

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