By Michelle Graff
When putting together this list last year, I had it easy. The story choices were obvious: the Signet-Zale merger, the Hearts On Fire purchase, and all the controversy surrounding EGL International coming to a head.

Michelle-blogThis year, the stories I went with were not so much singular events as a series of happenings that had a big impact on the industry nonetheless, and will continue to do so in 2016.

They are not in any particularly order, as their importance to readers will vary depending on which segment of the industry they represent.

Did I miss anything major? Let me know in the comments section below.

The diamond industry bubble
In 2014, it was the discord surrounding over-graded diamonds and the subsequent dismantling of EGL International that made headlines all year long.

The topic certainly didn’t disappear in 2015, but on the main international stage the issue took a backseat to the profitability problems experienced by those in the middle of the diamond supply chain.

Rough prices were too high and cutters and polishers weren’t making any money while, at the same time, sitting on a pipeline overstuffed with goods that weren’t selling due in part to the lack of a unified marketing campaign for the stones.

Articles about the crisis popped up all over the trade throughout the year, including on this blog.

In India, former GJEPC Chairman Sanjay Kothari said the cutters should shoulder at least some of the blame for their unscrupulous business practices, while the always outspoken Martin Rapaport rallied for the resignation of De Beers CEO Phillippe Mellier. He even encouraged the trade to email Mark Cutifani, CEO of De Beers parent company Anglo American, and urge him to give Mellier the ax.

Cutifani hasn’t heeded Rapaport’s call, at least not so far.

Mellier was among the Anglo American executives who gave a presentation at a December news conference announcing a radical paring down in just three business units, one of which is diamonds.

Stung by the drop in commodities prices, Anglo American will be laying off a staggering 85,000 workers over the next few years, including 1,500 at De Beers.

It’s a complicated story that will continue in 2016 and has very sad, very human implications that often get overlooked in the rush to point fingers. When I wrote the story about Anglo’s restructuring all I could think was: Where will all these poor people find jobs?

Retail competition intensifies
Gap, Macy’s, Sears and J.C. Penney are on the long list of chains that are closing stores as retail continues to evolve. Fewer physical locations are needed and retailers have to sink more money into creating a seamless connection between their online and off-line operations.

In the jewelry industry, figures from the Jewelers Board of Trade show that through the third quarter, a total of 612 retailers have closed their stores, up 30 percent from last year.

The problems plaguing jewelers are the same confronting retailers in a wide range of industries: the rapid changes in technology; online competition eating into margins and taking away sales; and fewer discretionary dollars to go around, particularly among the shrinking middle class.

There’s also the issue of demographics.

The baby boomers, a generation second only to Millennials in size, are reaching retirement age. They’re either not able, or not willing to, overhaul their entire retail model to adjust to the changing times and many don’t have children that want to take over the family business.

Like the profitability problems in the diamond sector, this is a story that’s going to continue in 2016 and even beyond.

The smartwatch avalanche
I know one person who’s sick of all the smartwatch news--our Senior Editor Hannah, who had the distinct honor of combing through a full year of “The Week in Photos” to pull together “The Year in Photos” and ended up with eight smartwatch slides. See all privileges the title of senior brings you here at National Jeweler?

This year marked the introduction of the long-awaited Apple Watch as well as TAG Heuer’s “Connected,” which reportedly is in high demand so far, along with smartwatches of varying sorts from Movado, IWC, Richline Group and Montblanc, to name just a few.

When we return to real life on Monday, I’ll be working on a preview of the upcoming Baselworld show.

Smartwatches were the talk of the town in white asparagus country last year, and I bet they will be again in 2016.

Thanks for your support this year. I wish all our readers a very healthy and prosperous 2016.
Happy New Year!

Get the Daily News >
National Jeweler

Fine Jewelry Industry News

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.