The office lobby is a generic space guarded by a single dispassionate doorman. Here you would never suspect that raw and cut diamonds worth hundreds of millions of dollars are housed just a few flights up.
Located in the heart of the Diamond District, the 33-story Art Deco tower blends into the jungle of Midtown skyscrapers. “You walk down 47th Street and see all the diamond retailers, but you don’t realize that the largest diamond manufacturing facility in all of the Americas is right here,” said Brian Watkins, president of Ritani, the third-generation family-owned diamond brand, which operates the factory.
That’s right: The largest diamond factory in the U.S. is in Midtown. It couldn’t be more anonymous, and Ritani likes it that way, requesting that
LLNYC not publish the address. “We are managing about half a billion in inventory on a daily basis, worldwide,” Watkins said. “That’s about 90,000 diamonds.”
Mark Klein, the director of operations for the Julius Klein Group, which owns a stake in Ritani and shares the factory space, added that most of their higher-end, meaning larger sizes, are manufactured in Midtown. Their other three factories are in Africa.
Upstairs within Ritani’s facilities, security tightens. Behind an impressive set of double doors, some 15 Hasidic men meticulously handcut and polish some of the most perfect stones money can buy.
“There isn’t a school for cutting. It is all learned by apprenticeship,” Klein told LLNYC. “It’s very tedious work, but it really is an art form. Every single diamond is different when it comes out of the ground, especially when you are dealing with larger stones. It takes five to 10 years experience before a cutter can even work in a factory like this.”
Although diamond is the hardest known natural material, a stone requires a delicate touch. Last year, a Ritani cutter accidently cracked a 30-carat pear shape into pieces. “It happens once in a blue moon,” Klein said. (A bit of perspective: A 30-carat D flawless diamond — the highest quality color and clarity — can run upwards of $15 million.)
On the factory floor, a few expert lapidaries inspect obscenely large diamonds mounted to dops — mechanical, arm-like tools used to position and cut gemstones — through what might be antique loupes. They cautiously press the stones to spinning wheels every few seconds to polish them, producing a high-RPM shrill. It’s an archaic-looking scene.
Klein grabs a diamond from a cutter: “We’re talking about $80,000 a carat on something like this,” he says. “So its about a half-million diamond — that is if everything works out.”
Like setting an auction price for a famed work of art, pricing a rare diamond is complex, and dependent on market conditions. And like art, larger diamonds are often one of a kind, requiring handcrafted settings, one-off molds and craftsmen cutters.
“I consider these manufacturers artists,” Watkins said.