Los Angeles, CA

The Largest Jewelry District in the U.S. Can Be Found in One of the Most Dangerous Parts of L.A.

Elle Silver

You can get a bargain on your next diamond, but watch your back when you're shopping in this part of Downtown Los Angeles.

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Scene from the main drag of DTLA's Jewelry DistrictCredit: author

L.A.'s Jewelry District features marts with booth after booth of dealers selling precious gems and gleaming gold. Diamonds dazzle, and yet, don’t think the Jewelry District is any kind of Beverly Hills.

No, the Jewelry District is located in one of the grittiest, most dangerous parts of L.A. The crime rate in this area is 118% higher than the rest of the U.S.

This is in part due to the nature of Downtown L.A., where the Jewelry District is located. Though the Financial District is nearby with its flashy skyscrapers, Skid Row is also not far.

Skid Row is a dumping ground for ex-cons straight out of prison and the mentally ill. The chemically dependent trudge around on the dirty streets here, looking for their next fix. In short, you don’t want to be around in this neck of the woods at night, even if by day, people come here to buy fine jewelry.

With almost 5,000 jewelry-related businesses making up the Jewelry District, it's recognized by the Los Angeles Visitor's Bureau as the largest jewelry district in the entire United States.

It’s also the second-largest jewelry district in the world. And yet, if you come here to purchase jewelry and gold with a ton of cash in your pocket, you’d do well to watch your back.

Where is the Jewelry District in DTLA?

The district clusters around 6th, 7th, and 8th Streets between Olive and Hill Streets in what’s referred to as the "Historic Core." This part of Downtown features buildings that date back to the turn of the century or the Art Deco period of the 1920s.

That was when this part of town was a hub for L.A. residents, easily accessed by the streetcars that used to come here from other parts of the city.

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The palm trees of Pershing Square, the skyscrapers of the Financial District in the background.Credit: author

However, as more people came to own cars themselves, they moved out of the city. Families bought houses in the suburbs and business dwindled in Downtown L.A. Stores ultimately had to close.

The financial institutions that used to have offices here moved several blocks to the west, ending up on Figueroa, Flower, and Grand Streets. That left a vacuum in the Historic Core.

Criminals set up shop on the empty streets. The area became synonymous with prostitution and drug dealing.

The gang problem of the '70s and '80s destroyed what was left of Downtown's heyday. Violence became the law of the street. Then people were too scared to come here.

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A scene of Skid Row, the Historic Core in the background.Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Nearby Skid Row continued to grow until it became the largest concentration of homeless people in the entire country.

And yet, even with the seediness of this part of the city, the dealers of the Jewelry District still kept their doors open.

The Los Angeles Jewelry District

Today, if you go inside one of the jewelry buildings in this district, the ground floors are like an indoor swap meet but for diamonds and gold.

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Booths inside a jewelry mart.Credit: LA Tourist

Sure, the booths have glass cases. The jewelry is expensive, set off with lights. Even if the diamonds dazzle, you can still bargain on the prices.

And even if you aren’t up for bargaining, you can still enjoy deep discounts.

I also like that you can actually try on the jewelry. You can see it up close. It's better than buying something online.

If you go upstairs into the individual offices, you'll find where the jewelers actually solder the rings and set the diamonds. You can have rings cut down to your size, or sized up.

The drawbacks of buying jewelry in the Jewelry District.

And yet, for as many bargains as you may find in the Jewelry District, I would be remiss if I didn't say you had to watch your back. It's not just that this part of town is dangerous and you can easily get robbed. The booth owners can also be pushy and untrustworthy.

The diamonds they're selling might not have GIA or AGS certification. Don't let one of these dealers put one over on you.

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A jewelry mart in DTLA's jewelry district.Credit: author

The lighting in these booths is chosen to bring out the sparkle in the diamonds. That means even diamonds that don't have a good cut and aren't clear look amazing.

The last thing you want is to believe you're getting a deal when you're buying a dud.

The takeaway.

That said, I have experienced buying a ring from one of these dealers. My husband and I went to the Jewelry District to buy our wedding rings. I enjoyed trying on rings until I found the right one.

The owner of the booth took me upstairs so that a jeweler could cut down the band to fit my finger. If only my marriage could have been such a perfect fit.

Yes, my marriage ended. I'm divorced now, but I still have fond memories of shopping for rings in L.A.'s Jewelry District.

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A jewelry mart in DTLA's jewelry district.Credit: author

We got a deal on our rings, but I'd still say you need to be careful.

Make sure you dress down and don’t look flashy when you venture into this part of town. Don't forget where you are.

Though you're in the midst of scintillating diamonds and gold, you're also in a dangerous part of Los Angeles. Respect that and you should be okay.

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I'm a relationships expert with a focus on post-divorce dating and family. Everything I've learned about love, I've learned the hard way. You can learn from my mistakes.

Los Angeles, CA
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