Book Review: “Precious Objects” by Alicia Oltuski

TC Jewfolk is proud to be an official co-presenter of Alicia Oltuski’s reading at the Twin Cities Jewish Book Fair, this Sunday, November 4th, at 7pm at the St. Paul JCC.
Precious Objects: a Story of Diamonds, Family, and a Way of Life, by Alicia Oltuski, is a delightful, easy to read introduction to the New York diamond district in particular, and the larger world of the diamond trade in general.
Born into a diamond-dealing family, Oltusky is able to reveal the inner workings of the New York diamond district with a warmth and easy familiarity which would be impossible for an outsider. Her genuine interest, curiosity, and family connections lead her to interviews with a wide range of people in the industry, from a newly minted trader just getting a feel for the ropes, to experienced dealers and brokers, to the creator and author of the all-important Rapaport Diamond Report price list.
Oltusky deftly leads the reader through the development of the diamond industry and the rise of the DeBeers empire, the intricacies of diamond grading, and the art of gem cutting, all while sprinkling in personal family stories which transform what could have been a dry compendium of facts into a an accessible and fascinating journey.
The book is quite comprehensive, covering wide-ranging and even controversial topics such as “blood diamonds” from war-torn countries in Africa and artificially manufactured diamonds.
Oltusky’s family experiences allow her to also cover subjects others might have missed, such as the danger inherent in carrying wares to potential customers, and the extraordinary amount of trust dealers exhibit in lending diamonds to other dealers or potential buyers, often without any paperwork at all.
Oltusky adds fascinating insights into how Jewish culture has influenced the trade. For instance, whenever a diamond trade is finalized – no matter where in the world or the religion of the traders – the word “mazel” is used to say “We have a deal” and to formally transfer ownership of a stone. Even Arabs use the word. Who knew?
As someone who previously had no particular interest in diamonds or the diamond trade, I was pleasantly surprised with how engaging and informative this book is. I highly recommend it.

Meet the author at 7:00 PM on Sunday, November 4 at the 2012 Twin Cities Jewish Book Fair, held at the Jewish Community Center of St. Paul, 1375 St. Paul Ave, St. Paul. $9, or $6 member price.

*The FTC made me do it: Disclosure of Material Connection: TC Jewfolk received a free copy of ”Precious Objects” in the hope that we would mention it on TC Jewfolk. But getting the book for free doesn’t mean that we were obligated to give a glowing review. Seriously, read some of my other reviews if you don’t believe me. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”