Diamonds—those glittery, magical conclusions of the courtship process, those small, pricey declarations of love—have a less glamorous meaning for 26-year-old Alicia Oltuski. Her father, Paul, is a diamond dealer and a fixture on New York City’s bazaar-like Diamond District. Her late uncle and her retired grandfather, who still visits his old stomping grounds on 47th Street, were also in the diamond trade.
Even the younger Oltuski briefly worked for her father. Now a journalist, she turns her attention to every nook and cranny of this natural resource in Precious Objects, an enjoyable mvÂ©lange of reporting, memories and profiles of the people who give the diamond industry—and a stretch of city street—its sparkle.
The author introduces us to various Midtown movers and shakers. We meet Dan and Elie Ribacoff, the “diamond detectives” whose crime-solving methods include donning fake disguises to track down perpetrators, and a young up-and-comer who uses the Internet to make his mark and learn how dealers procure and sell their goods. We also meet the powerful and controversial Martin Rapaport, whose crazy notion to publish a price list of diamonds in the late 1970s nearly killed his career. “He was listing the price of the finished goods, so how in the world were we supposed to make a living?” asks a 1970s-era diamond manufacturer.
Oltuski’s narrative goes beyond New York—we discover the tragic origins of the phrase “blood diamond”—and covers a lot of ground, sometimes too much. You want her to scale back on some topics (e.g., trade shows, auctions) and expand on others (e.g., the Diamond District’s architectural facelift). She builds her story around that of her family, especially her father. Hardworking and somewhat eccentric (he rarely admits his occupation), Paul is the narrative’s face. Through the Great Recession, advancing technology and his brother’s untimely death, Paul Oltuski remains an entrepreneurial survivor.
What redeems Precious Objects is that we understand that adaptation is a way of life in the industry, including the Diamond District[Mon Sep 1 14:52:32 2014] enhancedContent.pl: Wide character in print at E:\websites\aquabrowser\IMCPL\app\site\enhancedContent.pl line 249. , which still stands despite business methods steeped in old-fashioned values and the tenets of Judaism. So, more change is coming. That is the diamond industry’s one constant.Copyright 2011 BookPage Reviews.
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.
ÃÂCopyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
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[Page 123]. (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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)[Page ]. Copyright 2010 PWxyz LLC