A Brief History of New York City’s Diamond District - OMI Jewelry

July 08, 2019

6th Ave and 47th St

Manhattan is home to a world-leading center of the diamond trade. The stretch of 47th Street between 5th and 6th Avenue is the base for over 2,600 independent businesses – from jewelry retailers to diamond wholesalers. In total, an estimated $400 million of diamonds, precious metals, and jewelry is bought and sold here every day!

But how did this small area become synonymous with diamonds? To understand that, we need to take a quick dive into the past, and explore the history of New York City’s Diamond District...


From Diamonds to Finance – The Maiden Lane Story

Back in the 1800s, every self-respecting New Yorker knew that the city’s best jewelers were based in Maiden Lane (now part of Manhattan’s Financial District). Buying jewelry here became a sign of status, and discerning customers refused to shop anywhere else!

But as the 20th century dawned, banks, insurers, and other financial companies began to dominate swathes of Downtown Manhattan, driving rents ever higher. New York headed into the Roaring Twenties and these financial giants flourished; their grip on Maiden Lane became a stranglehold and alternative jewelry centers like Canal Road emerged. But Canal Road’s dominance was short lived; savvy developers were busy turning a stretch of 47th Street into a purpose-built home for the New York jewelry trade.


WWII – A Journey Out of Darkness

From the mid-1920s onward, the 47th Street Diamond District grew steadily, but it was WWII that triggered its explosion. During the early 1940s, thousands of Orthodox Jews made the long Atlantic crossing to escape Nazi oppression. Among them were many of Europe’s leading jewelers, previously based in cities like Amsterdam and Antwerp.

The more established New York jewelry centers were crowded and competitive, so 47th Street was a natural magnet. The arrival of these jewelers was key to the transformation of this small part of Manhattan into New York City’s Diamond District. And, while some of these immigrants returned to Europe after the War, many stayed on – permanently shaping the district’s community and culture.


The NYC Diamond District Today

47th street looking west

Walk the stretch of 47th Street between 5th and 6th Avenue today, and its status as New York’s Diamond District is undeniable. Virtually all the premises are given over to the sale or trade in diamonds, precious metals, and jewelry. But continue on past the intersection, and the storefronts change immediately: this is one of the most tightly defined business centers in the city.

Modern jewelers in the New York City Diamond District are adapting to the world of e-commerce – a world where physical boundaries are less defined. The internet provides these businesses with a wider reach and broader customer base than ever before, while also opening the door to new challenges like international competition.

Here at OMI Jewelry, we’ve faced down these challenges and evolved from a wholesale diamond business into an online retailer specializing in jewelry and high-end watches. But some things definitely haven’t changed: we’re still based in the heart of New York City’s Diamond District – and diamonds are still at the heart of our business!

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