By Michelle Graff
Why this man, Yianni Melas, went on a hunger strike this year, and two more stories from 2017 that shouldn’t be missed.
Every year around this time, we publish a list of the most-read stories on between Jan. 1 and late December. This year, we counted down the top 17 as a nod to 2017.

The metrics I get to compile this list, however, go well beyond that number to include many more stories that got thousands of clicks this year, like Zsa Zsa Gabor’s diamond necklace going up for auction, which just missed our most-read list at No. 18, or the arrests of five people wanted for attacks on traveling jewelry salesmen.

But there are a few stories that didn’t make it onto the expanded most-read list at all.

While their exclusion wasn’t surprising to me, I did find it a little disappointing because they are important stories, even if they aren’t as intriguing as crime or celebrity jewelry selling at auction.

1. Yianni Melas’s Hunger Strike
I have to give credit to the people who deserve it here.

First, gem explorer and trader Yianni Melas, who spent his own money and dedicated his own time and energy and put himself in serious discomfort in order to draw attention to the suffering of others.

Secondly, my Senior Editor Brecken Branstrator, who put in a lot of long hours to help bring what Melas was doing to the attention of the trade.

For those not familiar with the backstory, Melas began campaigning online back in the summer for the industry to boycott Swiss jewelry company De Grisogono, claiming that the brand has ties to corrupt but very wealthy leaders in Angola, a poor country where the quality of life is substandard for the majority of citizens.

He stepped up his cries in the fall when news broke that Christie’s Geneva would be auctioning off a necklace created by De Grisogono and set with a 163.41-carat D flawless diamond mined in Angola.

Melas made his way to the Swiss city just as the necklace was set to hit the auction block and went on a hunger strike that Brecken covered for National Jeweler.

20171002 DeGrisogono header

The necklace (pictured above) ultimately found a buyer, selling for $33.7 million, but a couple weeks after its sale, Angolan state-owned diamond company Sodiam announced it was pulling its investment in De Grisogono.

Melas wrote on Facebook that seeing the story on Sodiam’s decision moved him to tears just as he was ending his hunger strike.

I don’t know how much, if at all, the company’s decision was influenced by Melas’s action or our article, but I’d like to think that National Jeweler at least played a small part in it.
2. The Kimberley Process
This next story is in the same vein as the one mentioned above, as it also has to do with responsible sourcing.

In all fairness, there was no way for this story to have made it onto the year’s most popular list, as it was published after the cut-off date for compiling the metrics.

But it is important nonetheless and one that I hope doesn’t get lost in the end-of-the-year shuffle.

The Kimberley Process, the body created to keep “conflict” diamonds out of the trade, held the second of its two annual meetings in mid-December and voted through one major item: the formation of a committee to begin looking at reform next year and deliver its conclusions and any draft decisions at the 2018 plenary.

It is good news that process participants have at least agreed to start looking at reform, but questions linger about their ability to reach an agreement, given that complete consensus is needed from all participants in order to pass any issue.

In other news from the plenary, the KP lost another member of its Civil Society Coalition. Impact announced at the plenary that it was leaving the KP, citing members’ inability to enact any meaningful reform. It is the second NGO to exit the process, following the 2011 departure of Global Witness.

My blog post on the KP plenary went up Dec. 20. I know it’s not an ideal time for retailers to delve into long reads, but it is (in my humble opinion) an issue worth reading about and understanding, and certainly one that’s going to continue into 2018.

2017 Supreme CourtSouth Dakota’s push to get the U.S. Supreme Court to re-examine the now 25-year-old ruling governing online sales tax collection is another story on this list of noteworthy articles from 2017.
3. Online Sales Tax Legislation
From responsible sourcing, we turn next to tax laws. This list just keeps getting more exciting, doesn’t it?

The editors here at National Jeweler know that a big issue for independent brick-and-mortar retailers is online sales tax or, more specifically, the lack of it. Consumers come into the store and take up hours of a jeweler’s time learning about diamond and diamond rings only to turn around and buy online because they save thousands of dollars by not having to pay sales tax.

The first jeweler we interviewed for our 50 Jewelers/50 States series talked about it, and so did a Nebraska jeweler I just interviewed for our latest holiday sales roundup.

While sales tax legislation seems infinitely stalled, there was a bit of movement on this issue in 2017 and it came from South Dakota.

In October, the state’s attorney general, Marty J. Jackley, petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider Quill, the 1992 decision that prohibits states from imposing sales tax requirements on vendors with no “physical presence” in the state. It’s a 25-year-old law governing a much-changed retail landscape.

As of this writing, the Supreme Court has not said if it will take up the case, though proponents of online sales tax reform have pointed out that a couple justices have stated publicly that the law is in need of updating.

The court’s current term began in October and oral arguments will continue through April 2018.

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Since 1906, National Jeweler has been the must-read news source for smart jewelry professionals--jewelry retailers, designers, buyers, manufacturers, and suppliers. From market analysis to emerging jewelry trends, we cover the important industry topics vital to the everyday success of jewelry professionals worldwide. National Jeweler delivers the most urgent jewelry news necessary for running your day-to-day jewelry business here, and via our daily e-newsletter, website and other specialty publications, such as "The State of the Majors." National Jeweler is published by Jewelers of America, the leading nonprofit jewelry association in the United States.