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10 Surprising Facts About the New York Diamond District

Jewelry shopping can be intimidating. That’s why we started Ask HOLDEN, our blog where we answer your FAQs, break down scary industry lingo, and guide you in finding the perfect piece of jewelry.

Walking down 47th street in NYC between 5th and 6th Avenues is an experience like none other in the city. While politely stating over and over again that "no, I'm neither buying nor selling today" to sellers on the street, I fantasize about galas and balls where I could wear the dazzling gems that wink at me through shop window after shop window. I wonder to myself: could I pull off/afford a Rolex? I remind myself how my friends/bank account would answer: no and no. Occasionally, something catches my eye that's perfect for an Instagram story (can anyone say diamond-encrusted Pillsbury Doughboy? If you're reading this, Mom, all I want for Christmas is...that).

Located in Midtown Manhattan between Times Square and Rockefeller Center, the NYC Diamond District is one of the most unique blocks in the city. Once you turn off sixth avenue, it has a distinctly old-school New York feel even as the city changes rapidly around it. A Smithsonian article compared its operation to that of an old world bazaar (negotiating price is a huge, extremely important part of transactions in the district). Whether you’re buying a diamond, selling diamonds, having an engagement ring appraised, or checking out the block’s Art Deco architecture, West 47th street is a very exciting, sometimes overwhelming place.

The 2019 Safdie brother movie Uncut Gems (starring Adam Sandler as a down-on-his luck jeweler) recently brought the New York City Diamond District to life for audiences across the United States, but here at HOLDEN, we walk through the block every single day on our way to work (we're at 575 5th Ave, come schedule an appointment to check us out!). All HOLDEN rings are manufactured in this historic district by expert jewelers with decades of experience in the heart of New York City (we've got a production video at the bottom of this page if you want to see the process for yourself!). For what it’s worth, we’ve never seen Adam Sandler during our commute, but the block is chock full of characters and experts in their craft.

The History

Before we get to the facts, a brief history lesson: the district began in 1795 on Maiden Lane in what is now NYC’s Financial District. A 1924 New York Times article declared that due to the number of jewelry shops on the street at the time, “the bride-to-be who could show a ring from Maiden Lane was thrice happy.” Due to increasing rent prices, the district was driven uptown over time and has been based on 47th Street (sometimes called Jewelry Way) since 1941. At this time, thousands of Orthodox Jewish jewelers in Antwerp and Amsterdam were forced to flee the invasion of Nazi Germany, and many came to New York City to set up jewelry shops and diamond businesses here. The district has been on 47th Street ever since.

The Facts

1. 90% of diamonds in the US come into the country through New York City.

2. There are over 2,600 businesses in the district, many of which are located in one of 25 jewelry “exchanges.”

3. Many deals are finalized by a handshake and a Yiddish blessing: “mazl un brokhe.” Mazl is meant to wish the seller luck, and brokhe is intended to wish the buyer future success.

4. There are a lot of other common phrases and slang terms in the district. Want to learn the difference between shlok and shmir? The New York Times has a super interesting dictionary of commonly used terms in the district.

5. The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) is located on this block, where diamond dealers (sometimes called diamantaires) and other jewelry professionals learn how to grade diamonds, appraise cut diamonds and colored diamonds, create grading reports, and distinguish a high quality diamond from a fake.

6. The New York Diamond District is the second oldest jewelry district in the country (the oldest is Jeweler’s Row in Philadelphia).

7. The streetlights on either end of the block are shaped like diamonds!

8. The sidewalks SPARKLE!!! Yes it’s true that there are lots of sidewalks in New York City that sparkle, BUT it's still amazing that the sidewalks in the Diamond District sparkle! I’m not saying there are diamonds in the sidewalk, but honestly, I can’t for sure guarantee that there aren’t diamonds in the sidewalk 👀.

9. Total transactions in a single day in the Diamond District average $400 million!

10. There are police officers on the block and security cameras everywhere, and the cameras were partially funded by the Department of Homeland Security.

The Takeaway

The jewelry industry is centuries old in New York, and we feel lucky to be part of that storied history. If you find yourself in New York City, feel free to schedule an appointment to try on our rings that were made by hand mere blocks away. If you don’t have any plans to hit NYC soon, feel free to check out our ring selection online! In the meantime, take a look at our production video to see how each of our handcrafted rings is made:

Want to read more? Check out some other recent blog posts:

Lab Grown Diamonds, and Why Everyone is Talking About Them

The Ultimate Wedding Band Buying Guide

10k vs 14k and 14k vs 18k Gold - Here's the Difference

Questions? Give us a shout at help@hiholden.com or a ring at 917.719.3634.