“That stone said, ‘Buy me. Even if you can’t afford me, buy me. Hock the farm.'” The stone is a diamond, and the speaker is a diamond dealer, willing to bid over $8 million on a gem over the telephone. In the insular and — until now — virtually impenetrable world of diamond trading, precious gems change hands with nothing more than “mazel and brocha,” a handshake and a promise. Dealers Among Dealers, a film by Gaylen Ross, offers a rare insider’s view of the fascinating, traditionladen New York diamond industry, where dealers still operate according to ethics and practices established centuries ago by their European Jewish ancestors.
Ross spent eight years uncovering the secrets of some of the globetrotting dealers and talented gem cutters who work on New York City’s Jewelers’ Row, the epicenter of America’s diamond district. “What gives the jewels the passion are the people that sell the stones,” says Ross, who is Jewish. “Historically, from the Middle Ages on, Jews were outlawed from other guilds, so the diamond business is based on survival,” she says. “I was fascinated by the dealers’ code of honor.” Generation after generation, dealers spend their lives in pursuit of the perfect stone, never entirely satisfied, routinely risking a fortune before a stone is cut, gambling on the final outcome, and always trusting one another implicitly. “Gem dealing and trading is the antithesis of American business,” says Ross.
Dealers Among Dealers features some of the world’s most precious and beautiful jewels, from the Sotheby’s historic 31 million dollar auction of the Countess du Boisrouvray jewels to the making of the D Flawless ninety carat Guinea Star, purchased as a rough diamond for 10.5 million dollars — the highest price ever paid for an uncut stone.
The film follows the dealers from daytoday business in their New York storefront offices to the auctions at Christie’s in Geneva, Switzerland, where an international contingent of merchants gather two days a year to estimate prices for the world’s most precious stones. “To give a price is extremely difficult,” admits one gemologist. “There’s no price. Why would this stone be worth a million? Why not two million?” His colleague jokingly refuses to take sides. “I mean, in Switzerland, we don’t buy, because the Swiss people, they would prefer to buy a potato acre.”
While the dealers traffic in cut and polished stones, the gem cutters labor in small factories, transforming valuable raw materials into exquisite works of art. “You take a piece of pebble, and you say, ‘I’m going to make something of beauty out of that piece of pebble,’ ” says Herb, a lifelong diamond cutter. “And when you see the finished product, you just have to say, ‘Wow, this is really something to look at.’ ” In one factory, a tightly knit group of cutters sing Hebrew songs while they work. “I hope you cut diamonds better than you do pizza,” jokes one, when his friend offers him a slice. Herb’s son, Harvey, didn’t plan on a career in the business, but like so many in the industry, he found himself following in his father’s footsteps. “No question about it. It’s exactly the way I’d be working it,” Herb says proudly of a 115-carat diamond Harvey is cutting. “Like father like son, that’s what they say.”
Dealers Among Dealers begins in the late eighties, when the market is strong and trading is feverish. By the film’s end, the leaner nineties have taken their toll. One unfortunate dealer, Stuey, is shown driving a limo for the company that squired him around during his highrolling heyday. “I remember when I was in the jewelry business. Now nobody wants to touch me,” he laments. “I swang without money. I had millions and millions of dollars that I owed on credit. I got greedy, like everybody in the eighties. They used to call me the Donald Trump of the jewelry business. Well, Donald, when are you coming down here? It would be funny to see him driving a limousine one of these days.”
Eventually, some of Stuey’s colleagues let him back in on the action. “You hurt a lot of people, and I understand them not wanting to deal with you,” says Andy, a young dealer just coming into his prime. “But little by little they see that you weren’t dishonest. You didn’t go living the high life, on yachts with women and champagne. Everybody’s human, you can make a mistake.” Generation after generation, the diamond dealers have stuck together, a fiercely loyal group still attached to the customs that have sustained them for centuries, in good times and bad. “Diamonds are small, they’re transferable,” one man explains matter-of-factly. “If you have a business and there’s a pogrom and you have to leave everything there and get out, you take this little pocketful of diamonds and you’re in business again.”