Everybody knows the Diamond District in New York - it is located on West 47th Street between Fifth and the Avenue of the Americas ( Sixth Avenue ) in midtown Manhattan. I wrote about Diamond district in my blog. But a century ago a heart of the city’s diamond, jewelry and watchmaker district was in downtown, on Maiden Lane.
“Within these stores,” wrote the Daily Graphic in 1876, “are diamonds as bright as the eyes of the ancient Dutch beauties.”
William Barthman has been a respected retailer of fine watches and jewelry in the Financial District since the end of nineteenth century. In 1884 William Barthman, an apprentice jeweler from Hamburg, opened his own store at 174 Broadway, on the corner of Maiden Lane, after operating a smaller jewelry business out of a neighboring storefront for the prior ten years.
The store, which until 1983 was still owned by descendents of the Barthman family, retains a family feel and has long enjoyed its’ claim as the oldest jewelry store in one location. The store is renowned for its superior customer service, professionalism, and community relations.
William Barthman serves as one of the city’s few authorized Rolex jewelers and are the only one found below 42nd Street in Manhattan, as well as the entire borough of Brooklyn.
If you stay on the corner of Broadway and Maiden Lane and look under your feet you can see the clock embedded in the pavement. The iconic outdoor clock was created by William Barthman himself in 1896.
The clock which was designed by Mr. Barthman and store employee Frank Homm, took two years to create. Originally built as a mechanical three-window jump hour clock, it was officially installed in 1899. Barthman considered the clock as a piece of advertising.
Homm who maintained the clock died in 1932, no one knew how to keep the clock running accurately and on time. Embarrassed, Barthman would cover it up with cardboard until 1940, when they replaced it with a traditional round clock. With a few modifications over the years, it’s what you see today.
In 1946, New York police estimated that 51,000 people stepped over the clock every day between 11am and 2pm. In the words of the Press in December 1899: “Sometimes two swift District telegraph messengers, who have stopped to match pennies in the shadow of the corner building, see the clock in the pavement with sudden twinges of conscience. It electrifies their feet and sends them flying on their errand.”
In 1966, the clock was refitted, and its face was updated. In 1983, it was refurbished in collaboration with Cartier, after which Cartier’s name was added to the clock alongside William Barthman’s. The survived the Depression, September 11th and most recently Hurricane Sandy!