Sea Change in the Desert: True Signs of Gem Show Recovery in Tucson
I really didn’t expect it but Tucson was hoppin’ this year! Yes, there were fewer shows, fewer vendors and virtually no international business except for a small boatload of Russians that came here via Los Angeles they said. And much of the “just looking” crowd was missing too. But the people who did come out for the shows were ready to spend, and the vendors were ready to sell. You could definitely sense change in the air.
With regard to available inventory, the main two things I noticed were that a lot of vendors dug deep into their vaults and unearthed gems that hadn’t seen the light of day in years. I was able to find Mahenge, Tajkik, Ceylon and Burma spinel, as well as a stunning bi-color unheated ruby oval that is hanging out at AGL for a cert as we speak. The owners of this material were ready to move it out and made me fantastic prices. The second thing was that a lot of vendors had inventory shipped from their international partners. My opal guy – Adam S., was displaying gems from his friends in Australia, for instance. And Steve U. from New Era Gems, who happened to sit across from the aisle from me on my hopper flight from Denver, told me he had spent the last few months sitting in Bangkok buying gems while getting a knee replacement (in fact, he had not been in the US in over a year!).
There was also a bit of a shift in what was available. Madagascar for instance does not have any safe shipping methods, and with the borders closed, there’s no new inventory. Sri Lanka meanwhile is shipping out a lot (though much of it to Hong Kong). Burma is a political mess, so there’s no production there and Brazil is shut down. But there are exports through Tanzania.
Aside from this, the shows had a fun old school “ad hoc” feeling to them.From what one vendor told me, many people exhibited, and also attended, on very short notice. Information gets around by word of mouth. The first weekend might be slow because the buyers are checking out what there is, but then they are letting other buyers know that there’s inventory, and then those buyers fly or drive out for the second week. That way, the shows gain momentum over the course of the 2-2.5 weeks they are running.
And which shows were open? Here’s my list: 22nd Street show, Pueblo Show, Mineral City, JOGS, and Inn Suites at Tucson City Center (which goes by a different name almost every year). There was also a show next to the Pueblo show but I didn’t go to that. All the shows were pretty much “open air”, either in huge tents or in well ventilated motel rooms that were open from both sides. Many attendees and vendors were vaccinated so the atmosphere was more relaxed than I’ve seen since March 2020. It was a nice vibe and I was so happy to be out there. I was sorry to hear that the AGTA was not running with only 14 people signing up, but the parking lot at the convention center was under construction anyway, and with so much short notice attendance, I don’t see how the more expensive shows could have pulled it off, organizationally speaking. That meant that the vendors with high value inventory (which requires the security of an AGTA show) could not exhibit, or at least they couldn’t exhibit high value goods.
But let’s talk some more about my purchases. If you followed my YouTube postings, then you already have a good idea. I got a lot of black opals this time; the material was just so wonderful I couldn’t resist! I purchased a new batch of Benitoite (nothing large though, my biggest is a matched pair just under 3mm), some Rhodochrosite from the Colorado Sweet Home mine - each time they blow up a pocket my vendor gets the pick so every few months there will be a batch. So hopefully there will be more rhodo to come.
While in Tucson, I also got the chance to interview Adam Sawiki from A & S Opals and we had a lovely chat about Australian opals:
You already know about the Gahnite, but I found a few more cabs and even some gahnite melee that I will be listing out when I get a chance. I bought more unheated sapphire pairs, both blue and purple/lavender, and a gorgeous pair of white sapphire stars. I also found some lovely tourmaline from Afghanistan, and even some older tourmaline elongated pears for earrings. That material is no longer available and has correspondingly gone up in price but I love those long narrow earring sets!
And because I love those types of earrings so much, I couldn’t help fall in love with this opalized wood that has varying shades of blues and greens. I bought a small boatload of matched pairs that would make lovely long earrings. They can be set in a simple pronged wire frame with an accent stone on top that’s rare, like paraiba, or demantoid, or benitoite – this would make a larger earring, yet with rare gems.
Yeah for Tucson! Let’s hope it’s a sign of a true turnaround...
In case you missed it on YouTube, here is a short video previewing some of my newest acquisitions:
And here are a few more of my fave Tucson treasures:
I also found some other really interesting pieces that are mostly a bit of a departure from the fine rare gems you are used to seeing from me, but I thought they were quite lovely and had to share as well: