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Preparing for Tucson

Posted by Cecile Raley on

Even though right now I am sitting in small hotel in France, sipping red wine and enjoying the holiday markets and wintry atmosphere during a much needed break, I am already thinking of warmer weather and of purchasing gemstones.

My Hotel Sitting Room in France
Holiday Spirit in Alsace, France
On February 1, when my home town New York will be in the thick of winter, I will be leaving for my annual trip to Tucson.  I am doing my final budgeting this month, and I've already placed some phone calls to check out who's there an who has what.  I'm mainly visiting the AGTA and the JCK shows, but I may try to browse others.  With over 60 gem, jewelry and mineral shows, there is a lot to choose from, but the two shows I attend are the main attraction for gem buyers.

Presumably, some of you need prepping as well, especially if you plan on making a purchase through me, so I need to get you acclimated to what's there and what isn't.

A longish phone conversation with one of my main suppliers who works out of Colorado has increased my expectations for some nice quality sapphire.  D. said that despite heavy buying competition in Sri Lanka, the family he has been working with over the past 30 years had collected quite a selection for him to choose from when he visited in November, and he purchased a lot.  He said there were not many rounds (so keep that in mind) but there are some matched round pairs for earrings, and there are more of the yellow Kenyan pieces that went in such a hurry last time I bought (last Tucson JTV just about bought them all).  I plan on grabbing what I can in blue matched pairs, and if I see matched purples I will buy those (last summer he had only one pair and I got that one).  I want some lavender pairs also if he has them at all.  D. also said he bought some nice star pieces. Some larger pads are also available, and some no heat rubies.  From my past experience, the main cuts will be ovals and cushions, almost no pear shapes, but some modified trillions and perhaps also some octagons.


Bright Yellow Sapphire from Kenya, Bi-Color Teal
Regarding larger purchases, if you plan on making any through me I prefer to know ahead of time. I can't front a huge amount of cash for you and buy stuff for you to choose and then maybe return, I'm simply not big enough for that - creating those types of choices requires a huge cash flow.  But I am going to bring my better camera and I'll be happy so let you see what I see through my eyes and thus limit both your financial exposure and mine.

As some of you may also remember from last year, I got these gorgeous emerald cut spinels from Burma, and some small melees (1.5-2.5mm).  D. purchased some more rough and is trying to have them cut in time for Tucson, but there will only be 1/2 tray and there are NO larger pieces.  He was offered but the prices were hideous so he passed.  And if he passes he is usually right.  Last year already, I saw extremely little Burma spinel and nothing in larger sizes.  

Burmese Spinel Emerald Cut/3x2mm
Cobalt spinel was also unavailable, and there was little from Vietnam.  I do have another source and maybe he fared better - I won't know until I'm there - but don't expect any more cobalts, I bought what D. had that I liked the last couple times I saw him, 

The same goes for Mahenge spinel.  I buy that from my NY source and right now there's very little new material.  I don't expect to see anything in Tucson, and certainly not at good prices because I was told by various sources that nothing good is out there and the mines are not producing much at the moment.  Half of it is, in fact, shut down until further notice.  

And the same goes for Tsavorite, though Mandarin and Spessartite Garnet are being mined again.  I may have good access to that as well as possibly some nice mints.  I should know that later in January.

My hauynite source from Germany is going to have some fresh cut materials for me.  Again, the largest size, and very hard to cut, is 3mm.  Expect more in the 2mm range.  Last October he was in New York but we didn't meet because he sold out in Hong Kong.  I may have to get to his booth early then again I want to go to ALL booths early and that's naturally impossible.  Selection takes time, and I can't and don't want to spend all my money the first day.  If you like some hauynite, please keep in mind that the material is very brittle and you need extra melee.  Also please let me know ahead of time what you'd like so I can put it on my list and purchase without having to go back and forth a lot.  Prices are $1400 per carat for medium blue with slight piques (that's the material I mostly buy) to $2000/ct for the cleaner and slightly lighter stuff.  If there are any 4mm pieces those will be priced individually.  But I kind of recommend against it since if that stuff breaks during setting you and I will both be disappointed.

Hauynite from the Eiffel in Germany

Paraiba Tourmaline Melee
Now on to my last topic, the famed Paraiba tourmaline.  First of all,let me explain how I got that material last February.  Last year I happened upon the brother of a dealer I knew from New York, and he had four trays of old inventory at ridiculously good prices by comparison even to Brazilian sellers in Tucson.  I bought a few pieces, stuck them on Facebook, and customers went wild.  So I bought and sold and bought and sold all week, bought some more before I left, and bought up the rest of the good stuff in the following few months.  There is literally nothing affordable left, and I didn't see anything anywhere else.  This dealer's brother may have some rough cut in melee sizes and I told him to let me know.  But don't have any expectations regarding other sizes at good prices.  That was a stroke of luck and the material is gone.

In melee I may do better.  At the GJX show last year there was a dealer from Brazil who had a lot of melee. The price was high and I wasn't overwhelmed with the quality, but there will be some more this year and if I can, and get enough demand for it ahead of time, I will buy a couple of carats in the 1-2 mm range.

This is it for my plans so far.  I am still investigating.  

I could use the following help from my readers at this point.  If you find particular gems of interest and would like me to look and see what's out there, let me know - this would help me decide what gems to concentrate on for stock items and purchases for the next few months.  Secondly, if you are seriously interested in something, let me know too, but you would help me greatly if you could research what I need to know to buy and trust me with your budget. I won't clean you out.  The Tucson gem show is 5 days, it is very busy and there are over 1000 booths for me to look at (booths, not gems, not gem varieties).  I select 8 hours a day, and some gem dealers are only in Tucson and never anywhere else.  They collect all year just for that show.  I am more than happy to purchase for you, but I need to know if I am really looking or just browsing, and keep in mind that for the most part, returns are not possible for me.

Tucson, for a gem buyer like me, can be paradise.  And it can be a gamble that can cost you your business.  Here's a simple example.  Say you have a budget of 10K - just to pick a number. That's a small budget for Tucson but it's roughly where mine is at.  Now say you see some things that YOU think are just amazing and rare and the price is great and you spend a lot of your budget on that materials.  Then it turns out that only you like this stuff and nobody else.  And then requests roll in for other gems, but you are out of money.  As I said above, for the most part gem buying in Tucson has no return options so if your buyer returns you are in the negative.  Here's another example.  Say you get a "call" for xyz but you don't know if is "a serious call" (that's our lingo for that type of thing).  So you act, spend your budget, and then the buyer loses interest, finds something better, or just doesn't like what you bought. Now you sit on the merchandise (also our lingo), being unable to buy more until you sell that material.  

This happens all the time!

So, I have to follow rules. Here are the ones I take very seriously: never spend all your cash on one thing.  Or on the first day.  Be willing to risk to lose an opportunity, others will come later.  Diversify and try to sell while you're there so you turn money over quickly.  Know which customers are serious, know their tastes, know them well.  Be conservative.  Develop good business relationships with sellers you can trust and with buyers who trust you.  Avoid disappointing either.

And here is my final rule - this one I have observed since day one and I can only pass it on to anyone who wants to be in this business, either for fun or for generating income.  NEVER buy goods on borrowed funds.  Never never.  Unless they are already sold (no returns) or you trust that person with your life.  If you borrow, then buy, and then can't sell, you're done.  So you have to say no to yourself, and sometimes lose a sale.  But it's the best protection you can have in the end.

Happy planning!


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