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Did you know that a block-long enclave in New York City handles more than 90 percent of all diamonds entering the United States? Or that the Jewish bond with the diamond trade was forged centuries ago when they were excluded from all commercial guilds except one? Or that diamonds can be created from the ashes and hair of the deceased? Oltuski, a journalist and the daughter of a diamond dealer, grew up surrounded by the myth, lore, and culture of one of the world's most sought after prizes. The diamond men her father deals with are masters of secrecy and discretion, speaking their own private language, sealing their deals with a blessing instead of a signature, and doing business in ways that carry deep connections to an ancient religious past. Oltuski's access to this mysterious, closed world is unparalleled. Into the story of the world's most coveted gem, she skillfully weaves the saga of her own family's journey from Siberia to postwar Germany to Manhattan's 47th Street. Combining family history, reportage, and meticulous research, she tells the story of the industry's inner sanctum and its eccentric, sometimes dangerous characters. Oltuski has written an absorbing exploration of this fascinating journey over several continents that is as delightful as it is informative.
The diamond trade has long been as shrouded in mystery as the precious gem itself. Oltuski, daughter of a diamond dealer, brings clarity in this study of the industry, with a special emphasis on New York's diamond district, the small neighborhood that handles 90% of the diamonds entering the U.S., its ties to the Hasidim and their unique bargaining vocabulary. Hers is a workmanlike account of the various aspects of the trade—its South African origins, the intricacies of mining and grading, and the growing online commerce in stones—sparked by her own desire to better understand her father's business. Oltuski diligently covers the darker side of diamonds—how the brutal conflicts in Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, and Angola were financed by and fought over the gemstone—leavening it with precisely observed accounts of the delicate, almost balletic haggling among the New York dealers. Oltuski makes a commendable effort at literary journalism, with revealing observations on the centuries-old link between Jews and the diamond industry, and sparkling accounts of her familial ties to the business. (July)
In this combination history, investigative report, and memoir, journalist Oltuski illuminates the secretive diamond industry from within. As the daughter of a Manhattan diamond dealer, Oltuski has access to the tightly knit community that handles most of the diamonds coming through the United States. She weaves together a broader history of the industry, such as the founding of the De Beers diamond company in South Africa and the more recent controversy over African "blood diamonds," with personal stories of her family's beginnings in the gem trade and her grandfather and father's work in Manhattan's 47th Street diamond district. She highlights the unexpected juxtaposition among the traditional, religious world of New York's predominantly Jewish diamond dealers and the memorable characters, oddities of pricing and deal making, and threats of danger that are all endemic to the international diamond business. Only someone with Oltuski's insider's vantage point could provide such a comprehensive and colorful look at the many facets of a trade that has a broad public impact yet is largely hidden from view. VERDICT A distinctive and personal work that will captivate readers curious about the secret life of jewels.—Elizabeth L. Winter, Georgia Inst. of Tech. Lib., Atlanta
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.
…engaging and informative…There are other, vastly more encyclopedic histories of diamonds…but I am unaware of a book that so intimately captures the strange and strangely beguiling place in which they are bought and sold…Oltuski has paid fond, affecting and informative tribute to the world of her fathers.
The Washington Post
"Alicia Oltuski has a fresh, appealing voice, and her youthful tonality works well in this memoir of growing up in the Diamond District of New York City...full of interesting history...Oltuski's delivery is charming and upbeat..." - AudioFile Magazine
"With revealing observations on the centuries-old link between Jews and the diamond industry, and sparkling accounts of her familial ties to the business... Oltuski, daughter of a diamond dealer, brings clarity in this study of the industry." - Publishers Weekly
"...an impassioned love letter to the industry, to its traditions and to the author's father, her most compelling character." - Wall Street Journal
"A piercing, intensely readable book. Ms. Oltuski guides us through New York's diamond business, one of the world's most fascinating and hard-to-penetrate communities, with great aplomb." - Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story
"Alicia Oltuski is an intrepid journalist able to write with precision and insight about the big issues in the diamond trade and the intimate details of life on Forty-Seventh Street." - Tony Hall, U.S. Representative
"Beautiful and thrilling, Precious Objects, sparkles with life. Alicia Oltuski tells both the story of her family, as glittering as the gems they sell, and the story of the diamonds that have taken them all over the world and across the generations. A fascinating and gripping read." - Jennifer Gilmore, author of Something Red
"A warm and detailed tour of a fascinating culture that hides in plain sight. You'll never see a diamond twinkling on a woman's finger without remembering the remarkable characters in Oltuski's book." - Dan Baum, author of Citizen Coors
"Epic in scope and wonderfully personal, Precious Objects is an impassioned, insider's take on a complex industry. What's most dazzling are Ms. Oltuski's characters, who are vivid, outrageous, and never without some glimmers of wisdom." - Beth Raymer, author of Lay the Favorite