6 Big Stories from 2016

EditorsDec 27, 2016

6 Big Stories from 2016

Editor-in-Chief Michelle Graff weighs in on the most important news stories of the year for the jewelry industry.

Last week, we published a list of the most popular articles on NationalJeweler.com in 2016.

That list ran down the 16 most-clicked-upon stories of the year, including accounts of jewelry store closures, articles about the trends expected to shape retail, a story about one big, blue lab-grown diamond, and my blog post on the loss of one very special woman.

It’s a list that’s not all that different from what I have chosen below, for my annual recounting of the biggest news stories of the year.

1) Brick-and-mortar retailers continued to close. The latest JBT data available as of this writing shows that 895 jewelers in the United States and Canada closed their stores this year, along with 178 wholesalers and 105 manufacturers.

RELATED CONTENT: Column – What It’s Like to Close My Store

But, it wasn’t just jewelry stores that were shutting down. Macy’s announced more store closures, American Apparel stores appear to be on their way out and Sports Authority is liquidating, just to name a few.

It’s not new news, to be sure, but it’s also not a headline that’s going to change in 2017 either.

Consolidation will continue as technology transforms the way consumers shop and what they expect from retailers.

And, for those who are still stuck on the “online vs. offline” narrative, please note that online retailers are facing challenges as well and have to adjust and innovate to keep customers too. Case in point: Blue Nile, which entered into an agreement to be taken private this fall. Why? Because, try as it might by opening stores and expanding its non-bridal product offerings, the e-tailer isn’t showing growth, and growth is what shareholders like to see.

2) Technology marched on. Further to my point above about online retailers having to constantly evolve, let’s take a look at a just a couple of the innovations Amazon made this year.

In January, the company continued to expand its Dash Replenishment program by introducing the first appliances with integrated Dash technology that automatically will reorder supplies when they run low. It’s even easier than just pushing a button.

Amazon also continues to expand its brick-and-mortar presence, announcing this month that it will be opening Amazon Go, its line-less, cashier-less grocery store in Seattle, to the general public early next year.

Also making in-roads in retail this year were ChatBots, a computer program that “chats” with users in an effort to help them find

something they want, answer questions or guide them through an experience; the jewelry industry even has one of its own.

3) The technology used to grow diamonds kept advancing. And like computer technology, the progression is only expected to continue.

In October, the Gemological Institute of America published a research article discussing its examination of a 5.19-carat diamond grown using the chemical vapor deposition process.

The J color, VS2 clarity stone was the biggest CVD-grown diamond ever examined by the lab and the largest ever reported in the jewelry industry.

The GIA called breaking the 5-carat barrier a “significant milestone” for CVD technology and said, “As diamond growth techniques continue to advance, we expect to see more high-quality samples, both in size and clarity.”

In that same article, the GIA also detailed its grading of the biggest diamond ever grown using the high-pressure, high-temperature, or HPHT process, a fancy deep blue diamond nearly twice the size of its white CVD-grown counterpart.

4) It was a year of great losses and many changes. Both the jewelry industry and the world at large had to say goodbye to a lot of great people this year. National Jeweler’s Senior Editor Brecken Branstrator remembered those whom we lost in an “In Memoriam” piece published last week.

There also were a great deal of leadership changes. De Beers named a new CEO as did Shinola and Macy’s.

Omega was among the companies in the watch and jewelry industry that changed executives in 2016, with the retiring Stephen Urquhart, pictured left, succeeded by Vice President of Sales Raynald Aeschlimann.

Katherine Bodoh was tapped to succeed her friend and mentor Ruth Batson at the American Gem Society while Anthony Capuano came on to replace the retiring Dione Kenyon at the Jewelers Board of Trade.

There also was new leadership appointed in the North American market for Trollbeads and Graff Diamonds, and a new president for Swatch Group-owned watch brand Omega.

5) Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. Retail sales rebounded and the stock market soared after the contentious U.S. election ended Nov. 8, with businessman and reality TV show host Donald J. Trump emerging as the victor.

So, what do jewelers want the new president to do for small business owners?

The ones who took our post-election survey said they want Trump to cut taxes for both U.S. citizens and small businesses, as well as decrease regulations and reduce health care costs.

Quite a few also mentioned Trump addressing the issue of internet sales tax, though that’s actually an issue that’s going to have to go through Congress, where it has been debated for more than a decade.

6) Auction sales sputtered. Big gemstones faltered at auction in the second half of the year, in perhaps what was a sign of economic weakness in a number of big markets and geo-political uncertainty worldwide.

While 2016 started out strong--the Oppenheimer Blue took the title of most expensive gemstone ever sold at auction when it went for $57.5 million at Christie’s Geneva in May--there were a few notable missed sales in the second half of the year.

In late June, there was no buyer willing to meet the $70 million reserve price for the 1,109-carat rough diamond dubbed Lesedi la Rona, the biggest diamond find in a century, though that stone is being reevaluated for possible sale in 2017.

A 27.35-carat oval diamond (above) predicted to sell for between $2 and $2.5 million didn’t find a buyer at Sotheby’s New York in September, and Sotheby’s experienced the same with a jadeite bangle predicted to sell for as much as $9 million a couple weeks later in Hong Kong.

In November, “The Sky Blue Diamond” sold toward the low end of its estimated range at Sotheby’s Geneva--though there was a fancy intense pink diamond in that same sale that went for $20.8 million--and Bonhams could not find a buyer for the gemstone I dubbed the “Family Guy Pearl.”

What else happened this year that was of note for your business? Share it with me in the comments below or email me at michelle.graff@nationaljeweler.com.

Happy New Year!
Michelle Graffis the editor-in-chief at National Jeweler, directing the publication’s coverage both online and in print.

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