The Best and Worst Things to Happen to the Industry This Year

As this eventful year draws to the close, let’s look at the best and worst of 2013.

The Worst

Natural diamond industry adrift. The diamond business seems to think, as it did prior to 2000, it can largely ignore the outside world. So if articles appear trashing the biz, it does nothing. If proposals emerge for the industry to get better control of its sourcing, it circles the wagons against them. And when the EU lifted sanctions on Zimbabwe diamonds, people in Antwerp cheered, without considering why certain people—including consumers who buy the product—might not feel too happy about that. Reports of dubious business practices continue, banks are fleeing the business, colored stones are increasing their market share, and the overall impression is of an industry going backwards. If there is any consolation here, certain players in the lab-grown diamond business aren’t acting much better. Speaking of which… 

Undisclosed sales of synthetics. If there was ever a crisis that was unnecessary, this was it. While most people in this industry are ethical, it’s stunning how the greed of a few players can turn this entire business upside down. Even the good news has provisos: De Beers plans to release its synthetic melee detector next year, but it carries a huge price tag, is only available to lease, and isn’t being made available to the industry at large. This weekend, news came out of India that industry leaders are looking at “a framework for members to trade in natural and synthetic diamonds.” This is most welcome, but it probably should have happened a long time ago. 

Big crimes. Yes, events like this year’s big-dollar robberies in France and Brussels get our industry a lot of publicity, and thankfully nobody was hurt in either crime. But they also spread the word that taking on this industry can have a massive payoff, and nobody wants to spend any amount of time with a gun in his face. They just demonstrate that we need to talk about security in a collective way and tighten up systems so these ill-gotten gains are tougher to dispose of. 

The Best

Rational gold prices. Miners and the World Gold Council aren’t too happy about the yellow metal’s miserable year. But most jewelers say they are happy that gold jewelry is affordable again (relatively speaking, of course).

Zale gets in the game. With Terry Burman coming in as chairman, the company turning a profit, and its ads making an impression, Zale is not only on the comeback trail, it’s even showing a tiny bit of mojo. Unfortunately, it still has an unhealthy balance sheet, due to all the problems in the past. Until that’s cleaned up, the company will never present real competition to Signet (which, once again, had a great year).  

Attention paid to lab inconsistencies. This probably doesn’t belong on the “best” list, since it is an ongoing embarrassment that keeps getting worse, but from this year’s Rapaport seminar, to a Florida jeweler’s Diamonditis campaign, to local TV exposés, this issue has taken on a much higher profile than it has in past years, and it’s about time. Granted, not many solutions present themselves, but at least the trade admits it has a problem now, and that is generally the first step to solving it.

Unknown

Smartwatches. So the first big smartwatch was introduced—Samsung’s Galaxy Gear—and it’s looking like a flop. This category may never take off until Apple gets in the game (if it does). Regardless, no one is giving up yet, and analysts remain bullish, which I why I cringe when I hear industry leaders dismiss the category out of hand. The watch industry has been caught flat-footed before. There will be no excuse if it happens again.

 

So how do you feel this year went? Business wise, we still hear a lot of people—particularly in the New York City diamond community— complaining. But my sense was 2013 overall was pretty good, and likely the industry’s strongest year since 2007. We still have quite a bit of recovering to do. But if you remember how dreary things were in 2009, we have come a long way.

As for 2014, I’m not sure what it will bring, only that it will present much to report on, analyze, and argue about. I thank everyone for reading and engaging this year, and I wish everyone out there and their families a happy and healthy new year.

JCK News Director