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Diary From My First Tucson Show

Posted by Cecile Raley on

As I reported a couple of blogs ago, this year I took a big step forward for me in my gemstone endeavors because I went to Tucson for the first time.  Hosting over 55 shows with more than 20,000 vendors, the relatively small Arizona town turns into a theater of tents, cramped with visitors from all over the world, buying and selling gems, fossils, minerals.  You have to plan your trip carefully, otherwise you get totally overwhelmed.


AGTA Show Video From Outside the Show

I mainly visited two shows, the AGTA (American Gem Trade Association) Gem Fair which consists of about 200-300 mostly American dealers, and the GJX (Gem and Jewelry Exchange) show in a big tent across the street from the AGTA, which has several hundred foreign vendors.  Just walking up and down all the aisles of each show takes a couple of hours, and because I had a limited budget, I took notes, photos, and collected business cards before I started shopping.  That is, with the exception of Dudley B.'s booth, a wholesale and show dealer only (no web presence, phone calls only, and no retail), who travels all over the world to collect unusual pieces.  I immediately stocked up on unheated Ceylon sapphires from him because his booth, as usual, was overrun with sapphire buyers within 30 minutes of the show's opening - in fact I couldn't get my invoice written up till the end of the day so they just took my business card and stuck it into a baggie until they had time.  Dudley also had some tiny cobalt spinel, demantoids and Vietnamese lavender spinel that I looked at (and bought throughout the week).  Dudley, who is pictured in the photo below, is the small, athletic, health food type, generally quiet until you ask him an interesting gem question ("interesting" being the relevant term here), then he'll open up and chat (mostly about the properties of the gems, the mining, how much can be gotten at what prices, and so forth).  Dudley does all of his own buying and he is connected to families in Sri Lanka and elsewhere who have been supplying him for decades.

Dudley B.
Pretty much by the end of the day I realized that I would not have enough spending money, which is why I started selling Brazilian Paraiba Tourmalines right away (thanks to my FB fans who promoted my link, sent me new customers and requested custom listings).  The owner of the booth with the Paraibas, Jerry, was pretty happy - and impressed I will admit - because every morning I would show up, buy another piece or two of the items I had eyed and photographed before, then sell it and show up again.  It was pretty funny actually.  Because Paraiba prices are astronomically high, buying a bunch for stock was out of the question for me.  According to Josh L. from my lab, I made some nice purchases there (I am currently getting some of the Paraibas certified for copper content).  Sadly, filming was not allowed in either show but I took a brief clip from the gallery at the AGTA show from the top, outside of the actual show floor.  These shows are heavily guarded and everyone worries about thievery (makes sense...).

Brazilian Paraiba Tourmalines
 Another interesting vendor was a small team of Israelis operating out of Thailand, whom I met at the GJX pavillion.  These guys mine almost exclusively spinel (you know how much I like those) but only from Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Burma (not Tanzania).  Their collection of Vietnamese spinel from the Trumchum mines was incredible, they said it took them 3 months to collect about 200 pieces, and they do not display those until they get to Tucson where they hope to sell them all in one shot, directly to jewelers and other gem dealers.  All single pear shapes are set aside until a match turns up.  Consequently, there were about 10 sets of matched pear pairs of which I bought three. Some of these spinels also have color change properties, they exhibit soft hues of pink in incandescent lighting.

 Vietnamese spinel
 Vietnamese spinel
On my last day, I got to chat with some German dealers that featured Hauynite, a (super expensive and tiny) gem that is only available in one place in the world, the Eiffel in Germany.  The gems are a strong cobalt blue and don't require treatment.  They are soft though.  Anyway, I did buy some melees. 

Hauynite
My final treat was a visit of my friend Jochen's show at the Arizona Mineral and Fossil Show at the Hotel Tuscon City - an indoor outdoor show where vendors set up in their hotel rooms with the lower rows sprawling onto the yard.  Jochen, a seasoned and well traveled geologist with a weathered appearance, doesn't sell fine quality or cut gems, he mainly deals in rough and specimens that he buys directly from Tanzania, Madagascar, Kenya and even the Congo.  Aside from knowing just about everything there's to know about mineral specimens, Jochen also speaks French and Swahili, so he can get around the more isolated parts of the world with ease.




Arizona Mineral and Fossil Show, Outside and Inside the Shop of Jentsch Mineralien

My only regret about my visit is that I didn't get to see much of the Arizona landscape except from my hotel room at the Westin (I got two free nights as a VIB - Very Important Buyer).  But I will go again next year, and I'll try to stay an extra two days during which I will (force myself to) go to some of the national parks, or maybe visit a ghost town and an old copper mine.

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