If you’re living in New York, then we’re pretty confident that the city of dreams is the best place to find the diamond of your dreams – and, most importantly, hers.
New York City’s diamond district – a relatively small, relatively self-contained area of the city where many of the world’s oldest and most revered jewelers laid down their roots in the nineteenth century – is famous across the globe, and many, many shoppers looking to purchase a diamond will willingly drop thousands of dollars on a plane ticket just to shop here – although we’re not sure how they made an excuse for that absence…
After all, there’s something hugely compelling – almost cinematic – about the idea of wandering 5th avenue, going window to window amid the bustle and noise of NYC, wrapped up against the Christmastime chill or embracing a long, hot summer’s day in the city, all for the most important purchase you will ever make in your life.
Nevertheless, as literary as it all feels, there’s no use in turning up to NYC’s diamond district – even if you live in the city already – if you have no idea how to make the most of your time there.
Here’s everything you need to know.
47th, in a single block between 5th and 6th Avenue.
This is why the street has also earned the name ‘Diamond Jewelry Way’.
And, while plenty of excellent jewelers operate beyond the Diamond District throughout New York City, it’s pretty fascinating to think of how many diamonds are currently housed within that small area in the heart of Manhattan, and under the shadow of the Rockefeller Center. In fact, it’s estimated that around 90% of diamonds imported into America make their way through New York City first – and, of course, their main port of call is the Diamond District.
There is also an incredible amount of history – history from all over the world – housed within that single block, and an atmosphere to prove it. It’s not uncommon to hear languages from all over the world overlapping one another: Armenian, Yiddish, English, Indian and Russian, to name just a few. It’s an incredible hub of activity, but also a compelling relic of one of the most fascinating and complex sectors the world has ever known.
The street itself is filled with shoppers, gemologists and jewelers heading to work, and, as you’d expect, tourists looking to soak up the unique atmosphere. There are a number of standalone stores, but many of the vendors are located within ‘exchanges’ – a little like the Jewelry Plaza’s in LA’s Diamond District.
In these exchanges, vendors run booths. It’s not the most private or intimate shopping experience, but it is a good place for negotiating a competitive deal – provided you know your stuff and feel confident naming your price.
Because of the strong concentration of diamond vendors (both wholesale and consumer-oriented) operating within that area.
In the past, this created an exciting, frenetic environment for sellers and buyers – an atmosphere likened to that of a flea market, despite the high value of the item being bought and sold. Rather than a series of luxury stores – glassy facades showcasing the revered work of Tiffany & Co., Cartier, Harry Winston, and others like it – the diamond district houses exchanges where the vibe can easily be construed as, ‘time is money’.
While it takes only a couple minutes to walk end-to-end, sellers have managed to cram beautiful and dazzling window displays into every last inch of space. Anyone who passes through will see thousands of diamonds in a matter of moments, and yet barely scratch the surface of what’s housed within that single block of space. Nowhere else in the country is able to offer this experience.
Even the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) has its NYC campus within the Diamond District, on the 8th floor of the International Gem Tower. James Allen, while primarily an online vendor, has a showroom on Fifth. We’ve written a review for James Allen before, and it doesn’t fall high on our list of recommendations, although being able to speak to someone is definitely an improvement on what they’re offering most customers.
It’s a fascinating slice of history, and a great example of a whole other side to the diamond world, which is so often presented as highly luxurious and elegant. But, at the same time, the environment can be overwhelming, and not ideal for shoppers who are looking for a slower experience and a highly personalized consultation.
There are around 2,700 vendors in the Diamond District.
It’s hard to imagine so many people working within such a small space, but if there’s anywhere in the world suited to the job, it’s NYC. By comparison, LA’s Diamond District (also known as the Jewelry District) is spread across several streets, meaning both perfectly capture the vibe of their host city.
This is why the Diamond District NYC is famed for its loud, chaotic, and thrilling environment. Every day, vendors are working to attract the attention of passersby and, given their competition is located on either side of them, they have only a few seconds to make a customer before someone else is able to attract them their way instead. In recent years, regular visitors have noticed it quietening down, but it remains a totally unique experience in the city.
Plus, they’re also highly aware of the fact that they’re competing with a very long list of excellent jewelers working across the city – and, of course, offering a slower, more relaxed approach to purchasing a diamond.
No one would ever recommend you walk into the Diamond District unprepared. Here are a few tips for first-time visitors.
Walking into the NYC Diamond District without knowing your stuff is a little like walking into the lion’s den. True to form for New York, things move a little faster in the Diamond District than they do in a regular jewelry store, and keeping up with an expert who has spent decades in the diamond business is going to be impossible.
In the very least, you’ll want to go in with a full understanding of the Four Cs of diamond quality, and proportion. You’ll also want to understand diamond prices, or you’ll have no idea whether the deal you’re being offered is good or not.
What’s worse than not finding exactly what you’re looking for straight away? Walking away with that strong feeling that you just went way, way, way too far over budget. Unless you settle on a firm budget before you head into the Diamond District, you’ll find yourself very susceptible to the little voice in your head that tries hard to convince you that you can afford to go up and up in price.
Don’t try to work out numbers when you’re already feeling overwhelmed.
Buying a good diamond at a good price is all about making sacrifices (mostly over what grades are printed in the report) but, at the very least, you should be resolute about certification – first, that your diamond has been certified and, second, that it’s been certified by the GIA or, failing that, the AGS – as well as eye cleanliness, no strong fluorescence, and an Excellent or Very Good grade for cut.
It’s also got to appeal to you. Don’t talk yourself into liking the diamond with the best deal attached to it; take some time, walk away to think, and trust that the right diamond is out there.
The Diamond District is a daunting environment for newcomers, but those working there aren’t bullies – they’re experts, and some of them have been doing the job for decades (maybe even watching their fathers and grandfathers do it) so there’s no need to think of them as being against you.
Building a rapport leaves room for negotiation and, on top of that, an opportunity for you to really experience the lifeblood of New York City’s Diamond District. If you want an experience to remember for the rest of your life,
For the right person, the Diamond District is a thrilling place to buy a diamond. Sure, it requires a steady hand, a firm head, and plenty of research beforehand – and, yes, there are calmer places to get a diamond – but as far as making memories go, it’s the right choice for someone.
If you’re looking for a more intimate, laid-back experience – a one-on-one consultation with a jeweler who has the time to invest into your specific needs and ideas – then you don’t have to go far from 47th to find some excellent locations. For anyone looking to buy a diamond in New York City, taking a look at our own list of recommended NYC jewelers is the best way to ensure you start off on the right foot. All of our recommendations are based on experience, and we’re committed to finding the best jewelry stores across the United States