The Intersection Of Jewelry, Politics, Oil and Economics

The concept of jewelry is as old as humanity itself.

As soon as people were able to use tools, they made jewels. Us humans have used jewelry as a form of nonverbal communication for as long as we've existed. From ancient civilizations like Rome, Egypt and Mesopotamia to modern urban-centers like New York and Tokyo, jewelry is ubiquitous. It's influence is everywhere.

And few places are packed with as much jewelry as 47th Street in New York City, better known as the Diamond District, where most of the proprietors are Jewish. Turns out, it's a relationship that goes back hundreds of years.

"It's rooted in heritage" said Maksud Trax Agadjani, who founded New York City based jewelry brand Trax NYC back in 2004. "Because [Jewish people] always had to move from place to place, they had to put their money into precious materials. That's how they ended up in the jewelry business and where the tradition came from."

Much like the proprietors, the reasons people buy jewelry have remained unchanged as well; to express everything from status and wealth to political and religious views. According to a 2014 McKinsey study, one consumer helping to drive growth in the brand jewelry sector is "the 'new money' consumer who wear[s] branded jewelry to show off newly acquired wealth".

But here's the problem: nobody new is acquiring wealth.

"I only do well when people have money. That's the only time you'll do well in my business" said Maksud. Back when he started Trax NYC, the economic climate was different. It was better. "Now, the lower class is struggling. The middle class is struggling. So the last thing they're thinking of is jewelry. When your customer can barely afford to pay rent, it's difficult."

The source of this problem? Probably not what you think. "Political changes" said Maksud. That, and the increasing income gap in America. "The disconnect is monstrous. It's like oil and water. Put them into the same glass and they still won't touch."

A chance encounter with a wealthy client opened his eyes to it all. He described an experience with a customer whose family made a fortune off the Iraq War. "About $300 million" said Maksud. He went on to spend over half a million dollars with Trax that year alone.

"The sad reality is, who paid for it all? These working class families who had to tighten their belts. Families who, now, can't even buy a decent piece of jewelry. The money was never invested back into their lives. No one cares about them. Over a trillion dollars goes into the pockets of people who are going and living lives you couldn't even imagine."

Last Christmas, this same high-end client bought 1oz gold bars for Maksud's whole staff. "We had a couple pretty girls working in the office that he wanted to impress. It was nothing to him." The disconnect is indeed monstrous. "That's the difference you notice by being in this industry. They don't even want to rub shoulders" he said.

"There's no walking or waiting an elevator. You don't do that if you have $50 million or $100 million in cash. You're not ringing a bell and waiting for someone to open it. They don't touch anything. They have men who open their doors. Chauffeurs. And because all the money is locked into one area and my customer base is struggling, [it's hard to] run a business like that.

If you take a walk down 47th Street (the "Diamond District") in New York City, you'll likely find jewelers handing out cards or asking "Buying? Selling?" But the days leading up to the 2016 election were anything but ordinary. Instead, jewelers were handing out flyers that read "Make America Great Again!" Maksud was confident that every jeweler on 47th was voting for Trump.

"His whole entire behavior is volatility. That's going to upset everything. He's going to take this bottle of oil and water and shake it up. With Trump's attitude on bringing back jobs, with that bravado and [willingness to] fight. There's a saying "the squeaky wheel gets the oil". It's the wheel that makes noise that gets oil. That's what he is for this country. Words just bounce off his chest. They don't matter to him. His going to make a change, for better or for worse, and that's what we need. A change."

Brian Roberts is a writer from New Jersey.