As the daughter of a diamond dealer whose office was on 47th Street in Manhattan, I was both an insider and an outsider at the same time.
An outsider because I was a woman, and an insider because I was privy to all the details of a dying, pre-digital, age-old business in the mid-20th century.
Diamond dealing is as old as time itself. There were diamond dealers in the first diaspora, pre bce, and there were diamond dealers on the silk road through China.
Diamonds were a perfect commodity for those who had to move in a hurry because they were exiled from everywhere.
Diamonds were small and portable, valuable because of their rarity or the beauty of their color or shape. Diamonds could be hidden in babies’ clothing or women’s undergarments. Diamonds could be swallowed, if one knew how to retrieve them. Yuk.
There was a thriving diamond industry in Amsterdam before World War 2, and after the war, it relocated to Antwerp in Belgium.
Gradually, Jews wanted to be in New York, and diamond dealers moved to the United States.
In New York, before World War 2, diamond dealers were confined to a few, non-descript offices, first on the Bowery, and then on 47th Street.
In the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, diamond dealers wore sedate business suits, vests and ties. Although they looked American, they spoke in the international language of Ashkenazi Jews: Yiddish.
It would be hard to sell or buy diamonds if one did not know it.
At that time, few buyers of diamond engagement rings actually knew or even thought about the manufacture of diamonds, that diamonds did not spring from the earth fully formed like Athena from the head of Zeus.
Diamonds had to be cut and polished before they could be set in jewelry. Whoa, you are thinking. Aren’t diamonds the hardest mineral on earth? How could they be cut and polished?