Gem Show Shopping

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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New Show: Denver and Beyond

New Show: Denver and Beyond

I'm excited to introduce a new travel and purchasing trip this year: the gem shows in Denver.  Every September, there are approximately 10 overlapping gem shows: The Intergem show, Denver Coliseum Show, The Denver Fine Mineral Show and the Denver Expo Fine Mineral Show, among others.

For a complete show schedule, go here:

Most shows focus on minerals, but you can also get beads, gems and jewelry, as well as fake dinosaur eggs and all kinds of other entertaining stuff.  

My friend Jochen Hintze from Jentsch Minerals is exhibiting in the Coliseum show, so I've decided to hop along to check out what's happening. I will be attending shows from the 14th to the 17th of September, and on the 18th we are leaving on a road trip to Tucson crossing over the Rockies and turning south into Utah for a few days so that Jochen can put his minerals back into storage until the Tucson shows.  Jochen's promised me a couple of Canyons - as a rock hound, he's been through much of these areas with an RV, and I'm sure he will have a lot to teach me about the geological history of the region.  I'll be sure to post pix in addition the obligatory gem photos.

I am planning on a gem sale starting the 24th but you will see me trickle out listings from the show beforehand as time permits.  Karen, Debbie and Joanne will be working from New Jersey to continue with shipping and custom orders.  Items listed from Denver will be shipped after the 22nd.

The Denver shows do not have as many high end gemstones as Las Vegas or Tucson, but I will be meeting up with a couple of vendors that I don't otherwise get to see to stock up.

My friend Dudley Blauwet is exhibiting as part of the Main show and I have already requested sapphire pairs, sapphire singles, larger kornerupine (insofar as possible), Burmese spinel, kenyan tsavorite, and emerald.  Dudley said he was working on several parcels of Afghani emeralds, no oil, that he will have ready for me.  I get to come to the show during setup so I can pick from the rarer goods early!

At the Merchandise Mart I will meet up with my Benitoite supplier to get some more ombre suites (currently oversold), some larger (ish) singles, and also some Sweet Home rhodochrosite, which he cuts little by little only for these shows.  (Production of both benitoite and rhodochrosite ended a few years ago.)

In addition, Jochen has promised me some grandidierite from a recent find in Madagascar, the pieces will be larger but not as clean.  

I also plan on stopping by the Denver Expo in the Quality Inn to say hello to Steve from New Era Gems.  I'm sure he will have some nice new Mahenge garnets and other stuff.

So as you can see, I will be pretty busy, and I'm really looking forward to this because I've never been to Colorado or Utah.  

I will keep you posted on Facebook, Instagram and Etsy. Stay tuned.

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Upcoming Vegas Show: The Culture of the Gem Trade

Upcoming Vegas Show: The Culture of the Gem Trade

Upcoming Vegas Show: The Culture of the Gem Trade

This summer marks the 9th year of Cecile Raley Designs, and in August, I will have been on Etsy for 8 years.  As many of you know, I started out with beaded necklaces, only slowly moving to more fine jewelry, but from the start, I was attracted to working with real gemstones, no glass, resin, or other materials.  I almost never buy opaque stones like agates, jaspers, or turquoise.  I like faceted, glossy, vibrant, eye catching beauty that you can spot from afar in a gem tray – or on someone’s neck for that matter.

American Gem Trade Association Suppliers & Buyers at the AGTA show in Las Vegas
American Gem Trade Association

Last years AGTA show in Las Vegas

I went to my first real trade show in 2009: Jeweler’s of America in New York.  I love going to trade shows.  Not just because I love gem shopping, I also enjoy the interactions – the gem talk – and I love studying people and behavior.  The gem trade, to me, has its own unique sociology.  Its culture is ancient and many families have been in the trade for generations.  They size up buyers in a matter of seconds, and they trade information among one other.  While they are competitors, there’s also an understanding that the trade can only survive as a whole.  Competition is healthy, but the individual niches people carve out are also respected.  Before, during and after the show, the traders hand out among one another and exchange the stories of the day.

In its entirety, the American gem trade is dominated by no more than a couple of hundred sellers, and most know each other.  They buy and borrow from one another.  So as a buyer, going behind one seller’s back isn’t a recommended strategy.  Bad buying behavior, e.g. stretching out payment plans (if offered), putting too many goods aside for the day and not buying them, asking for the lowest and best price rather than waiting for an offer, trying to return goods, all those strategies get around. 

Gem dealers come from all over the world, and while sellers from the same countries often have closer bonds, respect for all cultures and backgrounds is crucial to the trade.  Most gems no longer come from the US or Europe, cutting is done either on location or on a large scale in Thailand and India.  Mining takes place in Africa, Asia and South America.  Many gem dealers travel and buy on location.  They understand the customs of their buying locations, they know the languages.  Dudley Blauwet speaks Hindi and several other Asian languages, my friend Jochen Hintze speaks French, English, German, Swahili, and can at least say polite things in Malgasi.  Vinod Kotahwala, who buys emeralds in Colombia, is fluent in Spanish.  Almost everyone knows at least a little bit of the local language of their travel locations.  It is polite and it furthers business. Skin color is not a barrier, I would go so far as to say it is of no consequence to the trade.  What may be more important at times is exact origin of an individual, because that informs you about the local culture.  Business practices in Hong Kong are not the same as in Tanzania. 

Aside from the main dealers who have booths at the big shows like AGTA, GJX, JA and JCK, there is also a vast network of smaller traders who sell out of their pockets.  While you are negotiating with a gem dealer at a booth, you may spot a person with a briefcase nearby who is politely waiting their turn.  That might be a seller who is walking the show floor.  Some of these sellers do cold pitches, others are well known to the exhibitor.  Remember that all gem sellers are also gem buyers, and the most successful gem sellers are excellent at buying.  It is fun to watch those interactions sometimes, insofar as they take place in a language I can understand.  Most of these sellers can be reached by phone if you know them, or know someone who does, and you can meet up in the lunchroom or outside, or after and before the show.  Some have low end goods, but others are well known for extremely expensive stuff. I’m not sure that show rules allow this kind of selling – I suspect they do not – but the goods often end up back on the dealer’s table and so it really furthers business and benefits the show hosts.  Many of these smaller dealers are international; they travel to the US just for the shows.  Others are from the US but they are smaller and not members of the AGTA, so they will be in Vegas during the show and you can make private appointments.

There’s so much more to be said here, but blogs are supposed to be short, so let me close with one final observation: while much of the trade is about sharing information, it is also extremely secretive.  Gem dealers do not give away their suppliers or the purchase prices, not even to each other.  You are not supposed to ask or try to follow the trail back.  Also, price negotiations are totally private.  I have almost never been asked by anyone what I got from whom or for how much.  And when other sellers are at the booth I politely step out of ear shot to signal that I am not going to violate the rule.  I also won’t approach that seller and try to make deals unless explicitly encouraged by the exhibitor (i.e. that person is a friend of mine or the seller has goods that they have no interest in but I do).

In the end, it all comes down to mutual respect. Passing up what initially looks like a good opportunity out of respect for the people you do business with only increases your chances for good buys at good prices in the long run.  I work hard to maintain my integrity in the business.  Good ethics is good business too.  It was hard to convince business students of this fact when I was teaching ethics, but now that I’m seeing it in the real world, I have no doubt it is true.

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TIME for VEGAS: The Next Gem Shopping Trip – Pre-Orders Now Open

TIME for VEGAS: The Next Gem Shopping Trip – Pre-Orders Now Open

Yippie – it’s gem shopping time again.  In just over 2 weeks, Cecile Raley Designs departs for the JCK and AGTA shows in Las Vegas!  I’m going to start the shopping by doing absolutely nothing  in Mandalay bay for a couple of nights.  Normally it’s pricey so I stay in the tomb (the Luxor is a pyramid and pyramids are tombs I’m afraid).  But before the show starts you can still get more of a bargain price at Mandalay Bay so I’m taking advantage before going back to the tomb.  Last year my assistant “complained” that we never got to use the pool.  So I’m rectifying that, despite the fact that she’s not actually coming with me, lol.  Karen and Debbie will be holding down the fort in Jersey City, but all items purchased in Vegas will be shipped after I get back.  I had some lost packages in Tucson last spring after dropping them at the hotel for the USPS pickup, and I’m not going to risk that again.

The AGTA show officially starts Sunday (JCK starts Monday), and my gem sale will start then as well.  The plan is 15% off all gems for 10 days. 

I’ve placed several phone calls and emails to my supplier.  As you have probably noticed, I am completely sold out of the 2-3mm demantoids, I’m down to 6 pieces of Burmese spinel, totally out of hauyne, low on 1.6mm Paraiba melee, out of smaller and larger kornerupines, and out of my nicest unheated sapphire pairs.

"Camellia" ring with 1.6mm Paraiba

The great news is that I can restock on all those in Vegas.  Getting convos from you with your interests would be great.  Hauyne is still pretty sold out, so I won’t be getting a ton of those, but I CAN get old stock demantoids (2mm and over 3mm), more of the old stock Burma spinel (the stock is from 15 years ago, which explains the rarity) and Kornerupine rounds, among other things.  There may be a little bit more Kenyan Tsavorite as well.  And sapphire rounds and pairs, mainly Ceylon, not heated – these are freshly restocked from my supplier’s most recent trip to Sri Lanka.  All these items are on my list for the first day if I can manage.  So you should see them trickle out in the shop Sunday evening and Monday morning.  If there are any pre orders I can set them aside.  You can email us your pre-orders or send them via convo.  Please include your cell phone number in case we want to send you photos while we are at the show.

The hauyne seller from Germany has promised to bring me whatever he has left, so hopefully there’s a tad more inventory for me to buy.  He also sells great opals, so if there is any interest in Australian opals (black, boulder), let me know.  Most opals are not calibrated, which makes custom work involving them a bit more expensive, keep that in mind.

Boulder Opal Boulder Opal

Australian Black Opal 

I am planning on getting more Colombian emeralds as well.  For now I have just what is listed on Etsy.  I saw some amazing large ovals a couple of weeks ago and asked the seller of those to bring that parcel.  Please let me know if there are any more “needs” in smaller rounds, emerald cuts or squares.  But be aware that they are $800-1000 per carat, so I don’t just keep these lying around.  I prefer to buy based on request. 

 Colombian Emeralds

As some of you know, I have recently connected with a colored diamond dealer who specializes in untreated materials, from melee up to larger pieces.  He will be exhibiting at the JCK show.  This seller also has diamond rough in yellow, blue, and pink, which I sometimes use.  As well as matched pairs yellow.  Again I would buy these only based on request.  Prices for those are starting at $1500 a pair.

I was also promised a couple of special treats: some pink spinels from Mozambique (lighter pink), and Afghani emeralds in melee sizes. 

Red beryl will be available as well, but all of it stabilized. 

On a separate but related note, I have more Lily sizes coming up – that’s my most popular seller right now.  The smallest takes 3.5, 3mm and 1.5mm stones with some wiggle room (.1-.2mm up or down). The largest takes 5mm, 4mm and 2mm stones, but I have an engraved version that allows me to fudge the 4mm – I can use 3 and 3.5mm in the inner petals, and I can use pears or ovals also, in the 4x3mm sizes.  The medium version is coming out shortly, that one takes a 4-4.5mm center, 3-3.5mm and 2mm sidestones respectively.  All will come in pendant and ring form and the medium and large will have engraved versions that allow for smaller sidestones and for leaving the outer petals “blank”.  When you put ovals or pears into petals, they need to be narrower.  So if there’s room for a 4mm stone, you can do a 4x3 oval or pear.  And so on.

 Small "lily" pendant engraved

 Large "lily" ring 


 Large "lily" ring engraved


Happy designing and pre-shopping!


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Tucson: The List

I don't think I've been this excited about a trip in a very long time - not even my Christmas trip home to Germany and France.  Going to Tucson is just different.  And expensive, lol.

I am slowly assembling a list of gems I want to look for. Here is my progress. Additional suggestions are welcome - if you have a specific order, let me know, suggestions are just that, I won't hold you to buying... Continue reading

Gem Shows: Past, Present and Future

Traveling to gem shows to shop was a new thing for me this year. I did go to the Springfield Gem and Mineral Show last fall but I exhibited with my jewelry and gems. Or rather, I pretended to exhibit because I shared the booth with Jochen Hintze from Jentsch Mineralien, and since nobody was interested in my jewelry (wrong audience), I shopped while Jochen watched my inventory. Other than that, I...
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