The Diamond District is located on a tiny block in midtown Manhattan, just south of Rockefeller Center. 47th street between 5th and 6th Avenues, to be precise. Like most of Midtown, it’s a jumble of old Art Deco stone buildings, blinking neon signs and shiny new skyscrapers. Within this hodgepodge of architecture, hidden in dusty vaults and proudly displayed on velvet necks, is a substantial proportion of the world’s cut and polished diamonds.
The New York diamond district originally sprang up on Maiden Lane, which is a few blocks north of Wall St. Starting in the late 19th century, Maiden Lane was known as THE place to get your gal her engagement ring.
In the 1920s, however, ever-increasing rents driven by office-space hungry financial companies forced many small jewelers to look for a more affordable location. A real-estate broker by the name of Fenimore Goode saw an opportunity, and encouraged jewelers and gem dealers to move on uptown to newly constructed buildings on 47th street. The idea was a success, and within a few years the majority of the old Maiden Lane businesses had relocated. The expensive downtown spaces were left for the financial companies, who probably felt rather silly about making all the jewelers move when the stock market was about to crash, anyway.
Once established, business on 47th street flourished, surviving the depression and absorbing diamond merchants displaced by WWII. Today, over 90% of diamonds imported into the United States pass through the district and $24 billion in business is conducted annually. Not bad for a tiny block in midtown.
Check back every month for a new installment of 47th street history. In the mean time, why don’t you come visit us and see it for yourself!