Diamond Stories: Enduring Change on 47th Street

Overview

Sequestered within the heart of a cosmopolitan city is an exotic world—a place where diamonds, astronomically priced, are bought and sold on the strength of a handshake, and business disputes are resolved according to ancient Jewish principles of arbitration. Yet it is also a modern industry facing the same fundamental global changes affecting all businesses today.In Diamond Stories, Renée Rose Shield leads us into the unexamined realm of wholesale diamond traders in New York. Related to several well-respected ...
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Overview

Sequestered within the heart of a cosmopolitan city is an exotic world—a place where diamonds, astronomically priced, are bought and sold on the strength of a handshake, and business disputes are resolved according to ancient Jewish principles of arbitration. Yet it is also a modern industry facing the same fundamental global changes affecting all businesses today.In Diamond Stories, Renée Rose Shield leads us into the unexamined realm of wholesale diamond traders in New York. Related to several well-respected traders, she had unprecedented access to a society normally closed to outside inquiry. Here she deftly blends her personal relationship and her anthropological training to provide an insightful exploration of this tradition-bound industry, the new challenges it faces, and the ways both industry and individuals adapt to and endure change.Shield begins with a fascinating history of diamond mining, combining the story of the De Beers cartel, the role of Jews in the trade, and the part diamonds have played both in war and liberation. Throughout, she incorporates commentary by current diamond traders. Succeeding chapters explore the evolving nature of both the global trade and the New York diamond district. Shield takes a close look at the increasingly complex ethnic makeup of the district, illuminates the rarely documented work done by women, chronicles the resilient system of arbitration, and reveals the ways in which many traders work well into their eighties and nineties. Their long lives of work, cushioned by the trade's social environment, offer hints for successful aging in general.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"New York's diamond business is an insular world. Yet thanks to introductions from relatives in the business, anthropologist Shield gained access to the industry's inner sanctum: West 47th Street in Manhattan. . . . This modest, accessible if somewhat academic volume . . . covers a lot of ground. . . The book offers a window into an enigmatic sector of society that, as Shield ably portrays, balances on the cusp between the traditional and the modern."—Publishers Weekly, April 15, 2002

"Markets . . . dominate the global economy. In fact, much of the recent Internet Revolution was built on the notion of creating new markets . . . where everything from steel to freelance services could be traded. Then there's the diamond market, a complex yet loosely structured system that's part souk, part multibillion-dollar global exchange. This curious blend is what makes Diamond Stories such an engrossing read. . . . While Shield is an anthropologist by training, Diamond Stories is more a well-told tale than a scholarly book."—Robert Rosenberg, BusinessWeek, June 21, 2002

"Thanking Uncles Moishe and Shmiel is more than a scholar's nod to family forbearance in Diamond Stories. For Renee Rose Shield . . . her uncles were her ethnographic entree. Their good names and many decades in New York's diamond trade gave her access to the inner sancta of the midtown industry."—Nina C. Ayoub, Chronicle of Higher Education, 5/31/02

"Diamond Stories is the best view of the cloistered world of New York's Jewish diamond community that anyone has ever set down in print. The author captures the trading environment, the negotiation rituals, and the sardonic wit and 'folklore' with a sympathetic insider's view and without the stereotypes and clichés to which others have fallen prey. Throughout the book, she relates how diamond dealers admonished her to 'get the tone right.' That she has done very well."—Russell Shor, Gemological Institute of America. Gems and Gemology, Summer 2002

"Shield has done an excellent job revealing the hidden world of the diamond trade. . . anyone interested in a behind-the-scenes look at the diamond world will find themselves satisfied."—Rabbi Rachel Esserman, The Reporter, June 20, 2003

"Renée interviewed diamond dealers, brokers, and manufacturers (the majority of them Orthodox or Hasidic Jews), and then merged her findings with anthropological observations."—Toby Rossner, East Side Marketplace

"Renee Rose Shield gives us an inside look at the diamond industry. Her stories sparkle with warmth, humor, and insight."—Eli Izhakoff, Chairman and CEO, World Diamond Council

"When I first heard someone was doing an anthropological study on the diamond industry, I thought,"Great idea!' Now that I've read it, I can add,'Great book!' The diamond world is a business unlike any other, with its own cultures, rules and traditions Renee Shield is a lively, insightful guide to this mysterious and fascinating world."—Rob Bates, Editor, New York Diamonds Magazine

"True to its subject, the complex world of the contemporary diamond merchant, this book offers a multi-faceted, well written, and sensitively rendered account of why this precious gemstone has taken hold of both our imagination and our pocketbooks."—Jenna Weissman Joselit, author of A Perfect Fit: Clothes, Character and the Promise of America

"Renee Rose Shield explores the fascinating world of diamond traders in a lively and engaging narrative, weaving together economics, geology, business, sociology, and culture."—Helen Fremont, author of After Long Silence: A Memoir

"This is a jewel of a book whose facets include commerce, gender, aging, and ethnicity. Simultaneously biblical, local, and global in her scope, Shield cuts to the heart of a community-an unusual place of trade and tradition-with great eloquence and insight."—Joel S. Savishinsky, Charles A. Dana Professor in The Social Sciences, Ithaca College, Author , Breaking The Watch: The Meanings of Retirement in America

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