American RadioWorksDocumentariesWorldWith This Ringhome page
The Diamond Mystique  |   Conflict Diamonds  |   Diamond Trading  |   The Democratic Diamond

Two men discuss gems at a large indoor bazaar. Photo: Davar Ardalan, NPR

Alan Reh measures a nearly finished diamond. He says the profit margins for the diamond trade are small—and getting smaller all the time.

PART IV The Democratic Diamond      Page 1  2  3  4

The Fate of the Middlemen

But New York diamond dealer Joe Schlussel feels like his ship is being sunk. Branding, he says, can't help but negatively impact middleman dealers like him. He has started his own Internet service, but Schlussel sees branding as crass, inimical to decades of cachet and distinction.

"My view is that when you buy a diamond you buy something intrinsically rare. Each diamond, as De Beers used to say, is as individual as your love. Now when you have branding, it means that all of them are practically the same. In other words, when you buy a Gucci bag there may be a thousand of them in the world…My opinion is that when you buy a diamond, there is only one diamond that you and your loved one has, as a common bond forever."

And for the 80 percent of American women who will 'plight their troth' with diamond engagements rings, it is an emotional bond. But, whether that emotional bond extends to the middlemen of the diamond district, its hidden synagogues and diamond clubs, remains to be seen.

Those diamond purveyors who survive, say industry analysts, will be the ones that can 'add value' to their products. In other words, come up with something extra they weren't doing before. You can promote 'Love Equity'…a classic is the anniversary ring with three stones for past, present and future.

Alan Rehs is the son in a small, innovative, mother and son company, which in itself is a rarity. He describes a stone being polished, "With this particular diamond it will be an emerald cut — it's original weight was nine carats; and one part weights 4.9 carats, the other half is 4.2 carats…so it's lost some of it's weight. The leftovers are all over the wall — all this black dirt is diamonds."

Four men sit side by side at polishing machines; the walls are gray with coats of diamond dust. Once, Alan Rehs' time was consumed with buying rough diamonds, now he's a big believer in 'adding value': making finished rings.

As Alan Rehs checks on his polishers, he is doing something else — he is bucking the notion of diamond dealing as patrimony. It used to be a lineage passed from father to son, uncle to nephew. That was before profit margins shrunk by the billions; back when a dealer could walk across the street with a diamond in his pocket and make a two percent markup in five minutes. Alan Rehs is in his 30s, and suddenly, when he looks around, he is the rare young man in this business.

"The reality is that the margins in the business aren't as grand as you'd expect…. I was actually playing golf with an associate in the business and he strictly told me that he would not let his children into this business." Rehs continues, "I don't think there are a lot of young people coming in. I see that a lot of firms are looking to maintain the status quo, and when they retire from the business, I don't see anybody else coming along to keep those businesses continuing. The reality is that the margins in this business aren't as high as people expect."

Next: A Diamond is for Everyone

©2018 American Public Media