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What New York City On Pause Looks Like: The Diamond District Shutdown

Posted by Yvonne Raley on

Covid-19 Week 2: How the Jewelry Industry is Coping with the Shutdown

 

Empty Shop Window on 47th St

A week seems like a lifetime ago.  Does it feel like that to you, too?  Since my blog last week, all of the gem dealers in NYC have closed up shop, as has everyone else who doesn’t work from home.  This hits gemstone dealers especially hard because they cannot move their 5000 pound safe or a vault and just ship from home.  The buildings are locked up as well so whatever unfinished work was left in the hundreds or thousands of small workshops that make up the diamond district, it is going to stay there until things reopen.  All jewelers, engravers, setters, casters, polishers, etc. are unable to access their workbenches, safes filled with custom orders, equipment... and there’s no computerizing physical labor.  How do you solder or set remotely?  A few of my gold suppliers still ship, but most don’t because their offices are in NY and Long Island.  So, it’s all gonna have to wait.  How long?  Your guess is as good as mine.

Empty Shop Window in the Diamond District, NYC Empty Shop Window, March 2020, Diamond District, NYC

I spoke to several of my New York vendors and sub-contractors this week to see how they were faring.  The answers were all over the place.  The more established gemstone dealers will likely be fine.  Gems don’t spoil.  They have a lot of stockpiled goods that they can go through and grade in order to provide goods, and they too will be buying less so their expenses are down.  Many of them have jewelry store clients and, when those are closed, they don’t have to go to the office to fill orders, but they also don’t have to make purchases.  Dudley Blauwet, for example, usually makes a trip to Asia between the Tucson and Las Vegas Shows.  That fell through, so in lieu of buying, he is working up goods from his basement (big basement, lots of goods).  That will be fine in the short term, i.e. a few months.  Like so many of us, including me, he probably buys too many goods, just to keep the supply chain running and his family occupied.

 Those at the back end of the supply chain are far worse off.  From my friends in Africa I hear that most of them now have to stay home as well.  Doreen, my friend in Kenya who works as a Secretary at the University of Nairobi, took her little son George home to their family in the country.  She hopes to get paid next month, but that’s iffy.  I just sent her some money, and will do that again next week ($50-100 goes a long way over there).  My vendors in Madagascar are home idle.  Nobody is placing orders.  Jochen is making sure they are covered for now, and he sent money to our broker in Tanzania, whereas I covered their daughter’s tuition payment.  Right now, my personal expenses are down: no massages, hair-cuts, gym payments, restaurant dinners.  My money is better spent helping friends anyway.

Meanwhile, my New York sub-contractors who don’t have benches at home will have to wait it out.  Again, the most established ones will be ok.  They accepted decades ago that they cannot file for unemployment and that they are responsible for their own retirement.  In the 1980s, the diamond district was THE place to make money, and those who were smart set money aside.  Many (many) people in manufacturing are not native to this country and their upbringing provided no security from the government, so their mindset is different from yours and mine.  To them there’s only DIY.  One (unnamed party) told me that as long as the shutdown doesn’t last more than a decade, he’ll be ok.  Meanwhile, he’s just bored stiff because he likes working.  

At the other extreme, the younger crowd, is less lucky. They are still working on their nest egg and some of them have young children, even newborns.  Those who do CAD and have Rhino on their laptops (or can just buy it) can work remotely.  So I can keep Brandy busy – somewhat.  And my setter Ethan, whose wife just had a baby, had the foresight last summer to buy a second microscope (mind you that’s $3000) and set up a bench at home.  He still has a little work and I’m sending him more.  I have a few unfinished pieces and castings for stock items I meant to get to but didn’t.  He said he can work a little for a couple more weeks to supplement income, then he has to wait as well.  One step at a time.

And yours truly?  Well, my travel and purchasing budget for the next three months is going back to the kitty, so I can pay myself, Karen and Johanna.  We are staying positive, and you will see the fruits of our labor: better photos on the price list and in Etsy, an ordering form on the website, some social engagement like design and naming contests to keep you entertained at home at no cost.  There are many many gems to be photographed and listed, as well as more beaded stuff as I use up that stock, and I am still shipping every day.

On a more personal note, I bought seeds for my miniature garden and am going to tend to that with much love this spring.  I plan to take more gem videos or maybe a video of something else (dunno, maybe about design, or anything you’d like to know more about from me), string more necklaces, work on more CADs with Brandy, and on revamping the website.  Workaholics have to keep going!

Have a personal story to share?  Send it to us for our next blog.  We’re all in this together!


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