Cecile Raley Designs

Fortune Favors the Brave: Treasures Unearthed at The Denver Show During a Pandemic

Fortune Favors the Brave: Treasures Unearthed at The Denver Show During a Pandemic

Somewhat belatedly, here’s my review from the Denver gem shows:

I arrived two days before the shows started because I was given a "Vendor Pass" so that I could get into the show at the Crowne Plaza during setup day.  This was so that I could pick gems in peace without crowding and so that I could get the best picks.  Dudley had reserved some parcels of demantoid garnet for me from his secret stash, so I was able to secure some unheated pairs and a few carats of the deep vibrant greens in 2mm rounds.  He also recut some spinel that I had gotten in Madagascar but didn’t know quite what to do with. Finally, Dudley had set aside some recut cobalt spinel but those are already sold out. Apparently, those were acquired some time ago but were very poorly cut so he had to have them reprocessed (and ended up tossing a bunch that was useless), and was able to make new parcels. 

In addition to those buys, I got more Russian emeralds along with lavender, purple and blue sapphires (the blues are mainly heated just because there’ve been requests for the popping colors). I bought a few spinels as well, some white sapphire kites (so cute — especially for earrings), and a few other odds and ends. 

I went to pay a visit to New Era Gems as well but there was not much new material. Apparently, Steve, the owner, had traveled to Thailand in February and has since been stuck there, so there are no new goods, or not very much. 

I saw one of my opal dealers and got several black opals, all cut in Australia. This, too, was the result of someone getting stuck somewhere due to COVID-19. This is my US opal guy from upstate NY, not the Aussie guy whom I have not seen since February (but who is doing well, I hear).  My US opal guy got stuck in Australia for 4 months. He essentially traveled around illegally because they were on shutdown and there were considerably high fines for traveling during the shutdown (starting at $1000 for the first offense). Along with many others, he mined illegally in small groups in the outback.  He cut his gems there as well, which he doesn’t normally do, but I gathered from his enthusiasm about getting stuck, that it was overall a very positive experience. Now his mom and dad have him back and I think they are pleased. Younger people are always up for the experience of course, and in the outback with so few others around, I guess the risk of getting caught was reasonably low.

Finally, I went to my benitoite vendor and got some newly processed material. He explained that after Tucson, when everything shut down, his rough ended up stuck in China for some time but he finally got some shipments again. He had bought his benitoite rough several years ago when the mines were still active. He works up several carats each show and parcels them out in small batches, so he doesn’t run out (since the mines are all closed now). I think that’s a smart move. Prices for those melees stay fairly constant as does supply, as very few buyers only get a few boxes every few months. The same vendor also has Rhodochrosite and he explained that the Sweet Home mines are producing a bit again after a new pocket was found. Those gems are super soft though, so I am always reluctant to buy them, but as long as I don’t have to set them for you I am happy to get more. The best way to set them is with yellow gold or platinum and then two prongs pushed down before sliding them in sideways, then bending the other two prongs gently. They are definitely not good for rings.

I have attached a video for you that I took with Dudley on my last day there.  He talks quite a bit about the state of the industry.  In Dudley’s view, there will be long term consequences for the gem industry, and many of the gem dealers and jewelers who were just hanging on might not make it.  Dudley talked about his future travel plans, his views about Tucson 2021, and at the end there is a very interesting bit about how he met his "family" in Ratnapura Sri Lanka, how he groomed them to become his suppliers, and where things stand nowadays.  Dudley talks very quickly so there are a lot of little bits in between, for instance about how he got started buying unheated gems and more.  Enjoy watching.

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Travel During a Pandemic: How I Got Around the Denver Shows Safely

Travel During a Pandemic: How I Got Around the Denver Shows Safely

Travel certainly has changed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in certain respects, this has been for the better.  While my heart goes out to the travel and restaurant industries, I don’t miss the long security lines at Newark Airport or the packed flights –- my flight was about 80% full but I was given a 24-hour warning from the airline in case I preferred a different flight.  Kudos to United Airlines for cleaning all planes between flights (no more hurriedly swapping out passengers from one flight to the next within the same half hour and finding the trash from whoever had your spot an hour ago stuffed into your seat pocket.)  

Social distancing was urged everywhere in Newark and in Denver.  I appreciated the zrero-tolerance-but-still-friendly announcements about masks: you'll get a first warning, then a second warning, & if there is a third infraction, you will be reported to the Captain with the possibility of being denied a future flight. And while the sealed snack pack with pretzels, water and a cookie was a bit skimpy, it was announced well ahead of time that there would not be meals for purchase in-flight but that Newark airport had availability of touch-free shopping, should you wish to stock up beforehand. Additional advantages and time-savers were 1) the lack of waiting on the runway at Newark Airport and 2) we boarded back to front/deboarded front to back, 6 rows at a time.  It’s amazing what kind of congestion among people, cars, and planes we were willing to find acceptable pre-pandemic, just for the sake of saving some money!

My hotel experience has changed as well.  I booked Woolley’s for the first time because it was within walking distance to the show and I liked that it was both four star and independently owned.  Room service, as it was, is now gone thanks to COVID, but everything you could want or need was available upon request.  Towels, trash bags, extra coffee pods, soap, shampoo, etc... all were delivered to your door within minutes.  Breakfast was “grab and go” and barely above McDonald’s standards: McMuffin-esque egg with sausage and drippy cheese, a piece of fruit and a coffee.  That was a real downer for me since I’m a big breakfast person and one of my factors in hotel choices is a well-rounded, all-inclusive breakfast with fresh items and omelets made to order – something Woolley’s is actually known for, in normal times. Nothing that comes out of a carton for me!  If they can cook dinner and offer room service for dinner as well as provide generously spaced out hotel restaurant service, what makes breakfast such a problem?  But I let it go.  Instead, upon discovery of only dried milk packets for my morning coffee (a total no no for me and a reason to avoid any Holiday Inn), I went to my Amazon app and ordered a Prime Delivery: a couple of hours later, my fridge was stocked with fresh turkey, cheese, bread, salad, almond milk, seltzer and a couple of treats for me.  Delivery was to my door, contact-free.  

The pool was closed, and thankfully this was announced on the website or I would have been pretty disappointed.  But the gym was open, by appointment only, with frequent cleaning. Special key provided and gloves required.  So all in all, a very good experience as far as safety from contagion.  Even if I was a worrywart, I would have said I felt safe. But I’m more of a “calculated risk” person and so the better description from my point of view was that I estimated the risk of getting sick as very low, and therefore acceptable for travel, and I found my estimations to be better than expected.  My restaurant experience was the same (25% occupancy for indoors in Colorado, and lots of space), otherwise I just walked everywhere except for one Uber to the other gem show.  Mask compliance was as high as NYC in my anecdotal experience.  And NYC has the highest compliance rate in the US.

At the gem show itself, the booths had double the amount of space between them, and everyone I know (and really everyone there period), was extremely conscientious including temperature checks at the entrance and crowd control.  My Benitoite supplier did private appointments only and immediately upon entering asked what my comfort level was in terms of having some chips, or getting a coffee, space between us etc.  Since I expect to travel to Germany in a few days and need to protect my mom and not risk any positive COVID test, I was grateful that I was asked.  The only downside for the vendor in terms of my wearing the mask was that he’s hard of hearing, and since COVID he has realized his extreme reliance on reading lips in addition to listening.  We agreed that with 6 feet of separation, I would lower my mask when I spoke and he would not so I was safe in terms of travel to Germany.  We also kept the window open for ventilation.  

Aside: This fall, my significant other has started teaching again at Tufts.  He’s one of perhaps 15% of their professors who teach in-class, so he is in an empty building, teaches 20 students in a lecture hall, and gets tested weekly.  Because many of his students are foreign but residing in the US, I ordered him some masks with a cut out window so they can see his lips.  I saw on Etsy that those are marketed for those who are hard of hearing.  I’m going to suggest those to my vendor.  International students, by the way, were largely not readmitted to the US if they left before COVID.  Maybe none of them were but I am not sure.

For a little appendix (blogs are only supposed to be one page long), here’s the travel experience of my friend Jochen who was in Tanzania last week to source minerals. Jochen is 75 and has diabetes as a result of spinal meningitis contracted about a decade ago. So he has to always calculate risk, COVID or no. He certainly can’t be stuck in a hospital somewhere in Africa where, sadly, there are few to no respirators.  

But he also has the travel bug and he loves his rocks, so when Tanzania decided to be one of the very few countries open to any traveler, because as the president “explained”, there’s no COVID-19 in Tanzania, Jochen started to evaluate his risk.  Obviously, Tanzania has just as many or as few COVID-19 cases as the rest of Africa, despite what anyone says.  Granted, considering the shorter life expectancy of 60-65 in Tanzania with less obesity and less smoking as well, there’s also a chance of seeing fewer obvious cases.  Testing doesn’t really exist there, so when all is said and done,  it may sadly have to be measured by an increase in death rates as opposed to an increase in positive tests.  80% of COVID deaths are in people over 65 years old, so my very simple math says that Tanzania should see way fewer deaths than the US and perhaps not a marked increase of deaths over other current diseases, of which there are plenty there.

That said, a 75-year-old German with diabetes has no less, but perhaps even more risk of contracting COVID in Tanzania, so he has to think differently from (a) public announcements and (b) the average younger person’s point of view.  And he did.  Jochen decided that his trip should be no longer than the minimum incubation period so that he would not end up sick in Tanzania: 3 days.  He took a young and healthy travel buddy with him, traveled business class for extra space, refused all room service in the hotel which was occupied by 4 people total (easy social distancing).  He shopped for two days in a specially rented room in the newly established trade building – the only place where wholesale gem trading is now allowed.  He brought a box of masks for anyone who came near him, and only his broker was allowed in the room – with mask.  Moustache, the broker, laughed about it at first (no COVID, you know…) but as Jochen made clear, “no mask”, “no deal”, and therefore “no brokerage fee” was in the end very convincing, especially after months and months without any foreign buyers.  

Jochen wore safety goggles (so no minute particles would get into his eyes and he wouldn’t be tempted to touch his eyes either,) he wore an N3 mask, and he sanitized frequently.  He was rewarded with several hundred very nice specimens and a negative COVID test in Germany so he returned happy!  But he’s quarantining for a few more days just in case...  Tanzanian sellers were probably over the moon that someone came to buy, and Jochen now has new stuff for the Munich show in October. I guess one just has to want it badly enough so one will find a way!  Perhaps not a general rule to follow, but I’m so glad it worked out for him. 

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The Shows Must Go On: Heading to Denver Shows During COVID

The Shows Must Go On: Heading to Denver Shows During COVID

Yes, I’m going to actually do this!  

I am heading out to Colorado on September 9th for four days to attend two of the shows I usually go to.  The “Denver Show” and the Colorado Mineral and Fossil Show are still scheduled to take place, but in a diminished capacity.  In addition to that, some of the vendors that I usually buy from are renting suites at the Crowne Plaza where the Mineral Show is happening and are taking private appointments.

 

With international trade being severely disrupted and mining at a virtual standstill in some locations, US vendors have to do what they can to trade inventory to serve their clients.  This isn’t all bad actually because many of us stock up too much to keep the goods and money flowing to and from the far corners of the world. It’s important to have variety, to show new inventory, and to keep up relationships with mining countries.  But when that’s not possible many vendors dig deeper into their safe and find materials they have not yet cut, or that need recutting, and that hadn’t been touched for years.  There can be the occasional deal on higher priced items as some vendors feel it is time to dig a bit deeper into the gemstone piggy bank and trade some inventory for cash flow.  Depending on availability, this is not a bad time to buy.  I will see some of my favorite vendors in Denver, including Dudley Blauwet, who lives there anyway.  I may catch up with some other friends of mine like Brett Kosnar who lives in Denver as well.

 

I’m not sure what kind of inventory I will see, but I do know some new sapphires have come in from Sri Lanka via various backroads.  I am getting some more spinel as well, more Vietnamese materials this time, but I’ve also been promised some baguettes and other lovely cuts.  I should get some more Benitoite, and the rest will be a surprise for you and me both.  I will keep the social media channels open and advertise as much as I have time for.

Obviously I’m going by myself this time, and it won’t be the usual social event for me.  My German friend Jochen Hintze from Jentsch minerals is not coming – in fact he is going to Tanzania at around the same time.  I will report on this when he’s back (safely).  It’s a risky trip but he’s put a lot of safety measures in place.

Speaking of, in case you are concerned, here’s how I’ve arranged things for myself: I travel economy plus, empty row right now (and I can switch rows if needed or upgrade), I take the airport shuttle to my hotel, which is in walking distance from the show so I will not need a car or any car service.  My hotel, Wooley’s, is open for breakfast and dinner and offers room service.  I have a fridge, microwave and coffee maker.  Obviously I will wear a mask, and for the occasional encounter where my opposite refuses to engage in the same courtesy, I keep it beyond six feet.  I can’t believe that not everyone is 100% convinced of the value of the mask.  Even a simple cloth mask lowers the chance of transmission by 40%, which can reduce and keep the virus at below pandemic level within less than 6 weeks.  The shows have double wide rows this year, social distancing should be easy – in NYC on public transportation and indoors people have duly been practicing it for months and it’s success should be obvious.  There will be many sanitizing stations and most of the areas have somewhat higher ceilings for space.  The Denver Show is mostly in very well ventilated buildings.  I’ll have to take an Uber there but that will be the only time.  I expect that the local “just looking” crowd that usually shows up but doesn’t spend money will be largely absent so that those of us who come to actually buy will not experience much crowding.  Also, both shows will limit capacity on the first day I’m told.  Lastly, I’ve arranged for some private meetings.

It’s all going to be very curious, to say the least.  Am I worried?  No, not really, as I think logic suggests that with the proper measures in place your chances of getting sick are extremely slim.  Also, I’m not volunteering in a hospital or anything like that.  Colorado’s numbers are low and remain that way, which is good.  Let’s just hope no forest fires get in the way, or travel is disrupted by hurricanes in the south.

We live in interesting times.

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