National News

‘The Godmother’ of Manhattan’s Diamond District talks importance of tradition, reputation

todayMarch 29, 2024


ABC News

(NEW YORK) — “The Godmother” of Manhattan’s go-to spot for everything bling has neither a cat nor cannolis, but she has cemented her position as a leading jeweler in a field dominated by men.

Kerri Lavine, who earned her nickname after a photo captured her holding a cognac snifter in one hand and a cigar in the other, has been a longtime jeweler in the Diamond District, a strip of 47th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues that is home to over 2,600 businesses, according to the Diamond District Partnership, a business improvement coalition.

Lavine, the co-owner of Diamanti NYC who has been a jeweler for over 43 years, told ABC News that her business has always been a hustle — not only because she had to compete in one of the busiest jewelry shopping districts in the world, but also in an industry controlled by men.

“The only thing that matters is your reputation. You have one chance to give a first impression. If you lose that opportunity, it ruins you forever,” she said.

As more women get into the business and set up shop in the district, some are taking their hustle to new avenues and adding their own chapter to the district’s legacy.

The Diamond District has encompassed several locations in Manhattan since the 18th century, but its 47th Street location has been around since the 1940s, according to the Diamond District Partnership.

Some European Jewish refugees who fled to New York set up shops in the district and many of them are still in operation, the partnership said.

Lavine said that while the stores may have more modern amenities, such as lavish lights, more high-tech security and web retail options, owners still follow a lot of the old-time traditions of working with customers to find the right item and, more importantly, a bargain.

“Everything was always done on a handshake in our business. It was like you shook a hand, [and] you said ‘mazal,’ [it] meant the deal is done,” she said.

Lavine, who said she once had to duck for cover during a shootout in the district in the 1980s, said she has no intention of retiring.

“They’ll take me out in a wooden box on 47th Street because I don’t look at it going to work as a job,” she said.

She added that she’s excited by the growth of female jewelers in the area, including one of her younger colleagues, Julia Azeroual.

Azeroual, who specializes in watches, told ABC News that she’s drawn to the hustle of the industry and also feels pride in putting her own stamp on a sale.

“I came from nowhere, and I’m a woman and I put my name on it,” she said.

Azeroual said she, too, anticipates the challenge of working in a male-dominated industry

“And having the respect on men, that they’re like 20 years in the block. It’s the best thing ever. Your ego goes up,” she said.

And Azeroual’s talents go far beyond 47th Street. She started social media accounts for herself, Lavine and the store and they quickly took off, especially on TikTok.

Videos of the jewelers feature them showing off their bling, talking about their expertise and sharing their personalities to a new audience.

Lavine said she is pleasantly surprised when very young customers come in and recognize her from social media.

“The young kids today come to me like I’m their mother. ‘Help me. Talk to me. You’re the OG,'” she said, referring to the term “original gangster,” describing someone who has a pioneering impact on an industry.

Azeroual said her goal was to get more women in the watch industry and to become an even bigger seller than she is now.

“I would like to inspire more women in the business, to be honest, and to grow,” she said. “And to be first successful watch dealer woman on 47th Street or in the word, who knows?”

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