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PRECIOUS OBJECTS by Alicia Oltuski


A Story of Diamonds, Family, and a Way of Life

by Alicia Oltuski

Pub Date: July 19th, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4165-4512-5
Publisher: Scribner

A polished young guide takes us on an insider’s tour of the recondite world of diamonds and garnishes it with an introduction to her family.

Oltuski sees the business from a favored vantage. Her father, an experienced dealer in precious stones, is based in New York’s diamond district on 47th St. There, in little booths, dusty factories, locked offices, appraisal labs and on the busy street, fabulous deals are made with one Hebrew word and a handshake. The industry is still founded, as it has been for generations, on good names and reputations for honest dealing. As ever, the value of those precious stones, often passed hand to hand in little paper packets, depends on carat weight, color, clarity and cut—the four Cs. Eye appeal counts, as well. Oltuski summarizes with authority how the hard little pebbles become valuable and attractive objects of romance, and the author recounts the story of De Beers and “the syndicate,” of distribution and marketing. She writes of geology and gemology, of cleaving and cutting, polishing, setting, selling, the physical properties of the gems and the anxieties of dealing in them. She touches on security measures, blood diamonds and the industry’s efforts to deal only in “kosher” diamonds. In forays away from 47th St., we travel uptown to an upscale auction house and to shows in Las Vegas and Switzerland. The author notes that the real estate of the street is shifting, and younger dealers are scarce. Carbon-based gems, she writes, are formulated in laboratories, and she relates the odd fact that the remains of loved ones, once carbonized, may be permanently transformed into precious diadems and rings.

Clear, colorful reportage.