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How Diamond District Jewelers Are Modernizing With Social Media

Zev Weitman’s angular body was hunched over his sooty workbench in a cramped diamond-cutting store a number of flooring above the excitement of Manhattan’s diamond district. However his thoughts was roaming a crystalline chamber, tweaking aspects to coax a superb symphony of sunshine from the diamond he was working towards a chopping wheel.

“I’m at all times improvising, at all times trying to find the right lower,” mentioned Mr. Weitman, 68, who started chopping within the district 4 many years in the past, when hundreds of bijou companies studded a single block of forty seventh Avenue between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Again then, there have been additionally hundreds of cutters like Mr. Weitman, a lot of them shaping and perfecting diamonds from tough stones straight out of mines.

Now, Mr. Weitman says, just a few hundred stay within the district, specializing in repairs, rush jobs and the sort of high-end work he does. His dozen apprentices are gone, and he labors and obsesses over the stones by himself — working on the wheel or fixing issues in mattress, within the bathe or in stolen in a single day naps on his coat on the store’s tile flooring. None of his 4 kids — nor, presumably, any of his 28 grandchildren — will comply with him into his commerce.

The demise of the diamond district has been foretold for years. Most diamond-cutting work has been outsourced to factories abroad. On-line procuring has lower into showroom gross sales. The pandemic lockdown derailed provide and devastated foot site visitors. Cheap lab-grown diamonds resembling actual ones have rattled a seemingly unshakable diamond economic system. Many longstanding household outlets have downsized or lack succession plans. Sales space vacancies in once-bustling jewellery exchanges are a typical sight.

And now, the inevitable: A mega-developer has demolished greater than a dozen buildings within the district to make means for 2 large buildings, a supertall tower and a luxurious lodge. This, some old-school jewelers worry, will change the distinctive character of the diamond district.

However there’s one other aspect to this gloomy prognosis.

Proper throughout the road from the place Mr. Weitman was sweating out the right lower is a glittering storefront counter awash in rap star bling. The aura of the store, TraxNYC, couldn’t be extra totally different from the Previous World austerity of Mr. Weitman’s chopping studio.

Showcases are full of jewel-encrusted pendants, and gold chains drip from graffitied jewellery stands tended by a younger, numerous gross sales workers that might not look misplaced at a Brooklyn dance membership.

Within the rear of the showroom is a staircase that results in the V.I.P. lounge, the place the unmistakable perfume of marijuana lingers and most popular clients peruse jewellery served up by workers together with complimentary diversions: premium liquor, pre-rolled joints, a online game console.

The place previous generations of diamond cutters may need hunkered down, TraxNYC has a staff of 20-somethings sitting at a typical desk, noisily dealing with on-line and telephone gross sales and taking {custom} orders began on the spot with design software program and 3-D printers.

“We’re remodeling the trade, and these are the younger individuals who shall be taking it over,” mentioned the proprietor, Maksud Agadjani, 36, whose designs are fashionable with purchasers like Cardi B and Busta Rhymes.

“Individuals could need to watch the outdated diamond district in motion pictures and on TV, however the reality is folks don’t need to go to the diamond district anymore,” Mr. Agadjani mentioned. “So the outdated methods must get ripped up.”

However the outdated methods will not be gone but. As Midtown has been reworked by tourism, hovering business rents and proliferating chain shops, the diamond district appears to face out greater than ever as an anachronism.

In contrast with the high-end flagship outlets on Fifth Avenue — Cartier, Harry Winston, Tiffany & Firm — forty seventh Avenue appears like a time warp. Makeshift synagogues and kosher eateries are wedged between jewellery workplace suites. On the sidewalk, Hasidic diamond sellers haggle on flip telephones whereas teams of males smoke and banter in varied languages and hawkers attempt to lure passers-by into showrooms.

Mr. Agadjani sneers in any respect that. Who wants a hawker when his Instagram posts and TikTok movies herald hundreds of thousands of views a day? “We do $20 million on the each day between all of us,” he mentioned, referring to the quantity of the entire district. He has now been on the block for 18 years, and his store does greater than $30 million in annual gross sales.

He began the corporate with a highschool commencement reward of $1,500 and bought jewellery on consignment on eBay. Now he focuses on popularizing his model by way of social media, publicity stunts and a YouTube actuality present referred to as “The District.”

He will get a number of mileage out of beefs with rappers and actuality present stars. His feud with the Brooklyn-based rapper Tekashi69 turned publicity pay filth when 50 Cent got here to Tekashi’s protection and referred to as Mr. Agadjani a “sucker.” It didn’t matter that Mr. Agadjani was ridiculed — the publish went viral.

“The previous is the previous, and issues are evolving tremendous shortly,” he mentioned. “Whereas one a part of the district is dying, one other half is being born.”

With all due respect to Mr. Agadjani’s swagger, he didn’t invent the forty seventh Avenue hustle.

The jewellery district in New York emerged within the 1800s as a cluster of outlets in Decrease Manhattan. In a while, Jewish diamond retailers fleeing Europe earlier than World Warfare II started establishing on forty seventh Avenue.

A lot of the trade’s roots in Orthodox Jewish components of Jap Europe is mirrored within the block’s personal vocabulary, largely Yiddish. A “strop” is a second-rate stone that gained’t promote; it’s “khazeray” or “shlok” — rubbish. Retailers share a secret code to freely focus on a “gee,” or buyer. A “2-10” is a warning to maintain “two eyes on 10 fingers” when serving a possible thief.

This secret world is revealed on the higher flooring above the showrooms in a honeycomb of cramped workshops, retail stalls and nameless workplace suites. Right here, the polishers, sorters, appraisers, graders and bench jewelers toil behind locked double-door vestibules (“man-traps”) that enable guests to be checked earlier than entry and exit.

Even with all of the challenges, jewellery, gems and treasured metals from the diamond district are nonetheless amongst New York State’s most respected exports, and the shops round forty seventh Avenue make up the most important diamond market within the nation, a conduit for an estimated 90 % of the diamonds imported into america. Excessive-end items that find yourself on the market at Tiffany and Harry Winston usually start their lives right here as uncooked materials.

“I imply, apart from bagels, what else is made in New York anymore?” mentioned Romy Schreiber, whose grandmother began Gumuchian Jewellery, one of many solely matrilineal companies which have endured amongst diamond sellers.

The district might be intimidating to outsiders not accustomed to the onerous promote.

On a current weekday, a lady holding a cardboard signal — “WE BUY CASH LOAN” — tried to flag down passers-by on the block. The lady, Mirta Kuzmana, is probably the one feminine hawker there. She will be able to communicate 5 languages, together with her native Latvian, and makes $70 a day luring clients right into a pawnshop.

“I present you the very best offers anyplace,” she mentioned to a household of vacationers. They declined and sidestepped her, and he or she directed her sidewalk pitch to the following comers.

Throughout the road, Richie Winick leaned over the show case of his stall in a bustling alternate.

“It’s not lovely like Madison Avenue, but when you already know the folks you’re coping with, you’ll pay a lot much less,” Mr. Winick mentioned. Now 62, he runs the jewellery firm his father began virtually 70 years in the past. In contrast with Mr. Weitman’s laborious craftsmanship or Mr. Agadjani’s social media savvy, his enterprise is extra consultant of the district, although he has rolled with the instances by sharing workplace area with an Indian agency that focuses on lab-grown diamonds.

Nonetheless, the old-school barter economic system persists. Many offers are completed on credit score, with hundreds of thousands of {dollars} entrusted to a handwritten memo and a handshake and a blessing of “mazel und brucha” — Yiddish for “luck and blessing.”

“You possibly can have a $10 million deal simply by signing your title,” Mr. Winick mentioned. “The place else are you able to do this?”

A buyer appeared in his store searching for a diamond ring for his girlfriend, and Mr. Winick went into his spiel. “Right here, take a look at this,” he started. “This can be a $200,000 stone at Tiffany’s, however you save 50 cents on the greenback by procuring on forty seventh Avenue.” The shopper opted for a smaller diamond. A sensible choice, Mr. Winick informed him.

“ the eleventh Commandment, proper?” he added. “Thou shalt not pay retail.”

It’s unclear the place modernization will depart somebody like Mr. Weitman, who regards his 40-year profession as an obsessive quest for the final word lower that makes a diamond dazzle with mild. He referred to as it a mystical pursuit that blends optical physics, the attention of an artist and the contact of a surgeon. Certainly one of his devoted following of sellers referred to him as “the person with the diamond eyes.”

Within the chopping room, he resembled a painter at his canvas, pulling again periodically to judge his work by lifting the gem to an overhead lamp. He peered by way of a magnifying loupe into its tiny twinkling home windows to examine cuts made for max brilliance and scintillation essential to the stone’s magnificence.

Concepts for brand new designs germinate with out warning and are fleshed out by way of trial and error. However they’re executed within the store, the place he can spend weeks on a single stone.

“Whenever you’re chopping, there’s nothing else,” mentioned Mr. Weitman, who has spent all-nighters misplaced in his work within the store. “It’s like watching Michael Jordan play towards the Knicks. It’s pleasure past something you could possibly think about.”

Cutters work below excessive stress. They need to protect useful carat weight whereas managing the fixed threat of shattering the gem with a single misplaced lower. “In the event you hit a gletz” — an imperfection — “it could shatter,” Mr. Weitman mentioned. “Generally it could’t be prevented. It’s a horrible feeling.”

Certainly one of Mr. Weitman’s sellers, Charles Paskesz, 53, began as a diamond cutter, however whereas he was engaged on a $15,000 stone, it immediately shattered. Plagued with nightmares, he give up chopping.

“I by no means put one other stone on the wheel,” mentioned Mr. Paskesz, now a diamond supplier with IGC Group, a big Belgian firm with an workplace within the district.

The stakes are additionally excessive for the brand new breed of diamond sellers. A showroom down the block from TraxNYC that additionally caters to a hip-hop clientele was held up by armed robbers a number of years again and now has safety guards who appear like nightclub bouncers.

For Mr. Agadjani, who grew up in Rego Park, Queens, after his mother and father immigrated from Azerbaijan when he was 7, that is the tradition he is aware of. “My father informed me, ‘This can be a place with actual alternative,’” mentioned Mr. Agadjani, who graduated from Forest Hills Excessive College. “I sized up America fast sufficient.”

At one level he dressed one among his gross sales brokers in a squirrel costume to make one other goofball publish goading a rival. Nothing like a very good social media beef to flog the model.

Mr. Agadjani’s current social media dust-up with Scott Disick, an influencer and actuality TV star on “Maintaining Up With the Kardashians,” became advertising gold. Calling out Mr. Disick on Instagram was a boon for the jeweler’s model, as was the very public means Mr. Agadjani delivered a custom-made gremlin necklace to Kodak Black: He strolled onstage at a live performance in Miami and mounted it round his neck as a sea of smartphones captured the second.

As a lot as Mr. Agadjani could distance himself from the diamond district’s extra conventional enterprise strategies, he’ll admit one factor: Location is essential.

“I’m not getting my jewellery from Walmart,” he mentioned. “I’ve to fabricate it, and this block is a manufacturing unit. Everyone seems to be important. One man’s sharpening, one other man’s casting, one other’s soldering. This man’s setting gem stones, that man’s an enameler.”

Though Mr. Agadjani and Mr. Weitman seem to be opposites, they’re comparable of their obsessional pursuit as jewelers, to the purpose of shedding sleep.

“I’d like to fulfill him,” Mr. Agadjani mentioned as his staff slapped some taunting graphics on the squirrel video and posted it. “Guys like him — that’s why I’m right here.”

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