The district was created when dealers moved north from an earlier district near Canal Street and the Bowery that was created in the 1920s, and from a second district located in the Financial District, near the intersection of Fulton and Nassau Streets, which started in 1931. The move uptown started in 1941. The district grew in importance when the German Nazis invaded the Netherlands and Belgium, forcing thousands of Orthodox Jews in the diamond business to flee Antwerp and Amsterdam and settle in New York City. Most of them remained after World War II, and remain a dominant influence in the Diamond District.
A notable, long-time anomaly of the district was the famous Gotham Book Mart, a bookstore, which was located at 41 West 47th Street from 1946 to 2004.
The area is one of the primary centers of the global diamond industry (along with London - rough stones; the Antwerp diamond district in Belgium - historical but waning; Mumbai, India - increasing in significance, Ramat Gan, Israel - also growing, and Johannesburg, South Africa - the major historical source), as well as the premier center for jewelry shopping in the city. An estimated 90% of diamonds in the United States enter through New York.