Tucson Treasures 2023: Catch Them if you Can…

Tucson Treasures 2023: Catch Them if you Can…

This year I went to Tucson with very low expectations, and a correspondingly low budget. As I’ve previously reported, supply is lagging behind demand, in particular for the popular gems such as blue sapphire, so I wondered what else I could discover…Well, I found enough to blow my low spending intentions right out of the water.

But I think I’m gonna start telling you about Tucson in reverse order, starting with what I didn’t find, or what was hard to find. Then I’ll tell you what was hot as hotcakes, and only THEN will I tell you what I actually bought. 

On the opening day of the AGTA show there’s a bit of a “run” on the most desirable booths – you’d think it was Black Friday. Those of us who got our badges the day before stood right in front of the entrance where the guards with the scanners are and just about did a count down, just like in Times Square on New Year’s Eve – which I have never done by the way, but I got close in Tucson! My sole reason for lining up was Dudley’s booth, because that gets packed within the first ten minutes, and Dudley told me he had cobalt spinel melees, which I wanted to buy before the collectors got there. And I made it in time: I bought him out of the 1.5mm rounds, of which half are for sale with the other half going into a Paraiba ring, Cecilia Model, with a Paraiba center and Paraiba trillions.

But this isn’t what I was going to say. What I was going to say was that I immediately asked for unheated sapphire matched pairs, my other reason for going to Dudley’s booth first. “None,” Dudley said. None? NONE. Not a one, nada, nothing. I’ve never had that happen, not ever. You need to know that these are rarer than my shop will have you think because I always carry them, but that’s just because of Dudley. (If you are one of the vendors who now reads this blog because it’s just so so cool, and you have smaller blue sapphire pairs that are unheated, please get in touch!).

Generally, blue unheated sapphires were just about wiped off the show floors, followed by anything emerald cut in blues, which is the hottest and hardest to get cut this year. And that’s followed by kites, hexagons, octagons, and any other cut with corners. Right after putting aside my stash with Dudley at the AGTA for later billing (way too busy there to do it on the spot), I jogged across the street to the GJX show, shooting straight for the corner of the tent where the supplier who sells those specialty cuts has his booth. I asked for kites: none (eventually I found a box of a few pairs). Hexagons? Very few, mostly elongated. Triangles? Sold out. Trillions? Sold out. Everyone wants these in pinks, purples, lavenders, and even yellows. So annoying.


 The other thing that seems to be sold out in nicer sizes or more interesting cuts are teals. Mostly teal blues, such as Montana, even though those are heated, but also the Madagascar material. Now, I personally cannot seem to sell any teals in my shop; all the teals I buy must either be the wrong color teal, too expensive, or I’m just not known for it.

I cannot sell them any better than I can sell grey spinel. Spoiler alert here: some of the grey spinel material is now heat treated, particularly the gems from Mozambique. I bought two single rounds and a kite which are not treated. The Burma material, which once upon a time was used to train cutters because nobody actually wanted it, has now pretty much gone poof.

Heated sapphires (excepting 1+ carat emerald cuts) in most colors and in smaller sizes were abundant by the way. From my judgment, we are looking mainly at Madagascar material. I’m supporting my guess with the argument that there was a lot of medium lavender purple available, and that’s a color mostly produced in Madagascar (in fact, the entire color palette at most of the vendors with smaller sapphires looked distinctly Madagascan, that’s the easiest way to tell). The purples from Sri Lanka tend to be more on the saturated, darker side. And there was a lot of overlap between those and blues in the same booths, from which I thought it was safe to deduce that the material is all from Madagascar. But I could be wrong.

So: what did I find that’s unusual? My personal favorite from the show was the cobalt blue Mahenge spinel. I first inspected material from this find in Las Vegas in 2022. At that time all I saw was greyish blue, nice stuff but far too expensive given the modifier. This led me to dismiss the idea that there was anything worth seeing from that find.


It was Saturday morning, the day after my arrival and three days before the main shows even started. I went to the Pueblo show, which is in walking distance from AGTA and GJX, just on the other side of the highway. I like starting there because vendors who cannot get into GJX because of the long waiting list usually exhibit at Pueblo. Also, vendors who like to make the most of their time in Tucson exhibit at Pueblo before GJX or AGTA, and then they move their nicer inventory over to those shows but keep their doors open at Pueblo with smaller things, using the hotel rooms as offices and for storage – “Pueblo” is somewhat of a misnomer, the show is actually at the Ramada hotel, using the rooms as show rooms and the courtyard and conference rooms for tents and other booths.

So as I browsed around, I saw these boxes with cobalt spinel. Oh, I thought, nice new Luc Yen material. I turned over the boxes and expected sticker shock. The prices were high but still about 25-30% below Luc Yen, with the exact same color and the location was clearly marked as Tanzania. Indistinguishable from Luc Yen though, not just for me but to everyone else I showed them to, after I bought them out (almost, one more person got a couple boxes but I can tell you that NONE made it to GJX). I have only sold 3 so far and I am loath to put them on Etsy given the 15% fee Etsy charges. Sorry folks. But if you inquire directly, I will show you what I have. I want to make at least one thing that I get to keep! (Also, on the last day of GJX, a vendor showed me 4 boxes with the same color material in 1+ carat sizes. Now THERE I got sticker shock. Prices nearing those of Kashmir sapphire!)

I also got my usual tray of benitoite at my private meeting with P., which will be almost all sold at the time of this writing and I expect it to be 90% gone by the time this blog is being seen on a screen other than my own. If anyone wants to get to it early the next time around, put your requests in before Vegas, where I will be presented with the next batch. For the foreseeable future, meaning till it runs out, I will get a small tray 3x a year and can reject anything in it, or accept all, but there’s no further availability. The two other vendors who carry it, one of them Vance gems who exhibited at 22nd Street (you probably know them anyway), sold out before GJX opened. All buyers are Japanese – I have no idea why, maybe one of my clients can educate me on the connection between Japan and Benito County, California.

During the AGTA, I had a longish meetup with the Greenland Ruby folk. Their inventory is a little bit difficult to get to, as they will not entertain retail sales, their NY office for now is just a passing through office with no actual inventory, and they are only in Vegas and Tucson for exhibits in the U.S. (the entire team is pretty much European, the CEO I met is Norwegian). But I now have an account with them and can get things on request. They take pretty good video that I can share. Their block chaining is impeccable and each larger gem comes with a certificate. The material is 100% high heat, otherwise it’s not usable, so if you are a treatment purist this is not for you. But the treatment is stable and permanent.

Another exceptionally cool find was more Kornerupine. I bought a box of 4mm, I have only listed one matched pair but am happy to sell them as singles, 20% below Etsy price in a direct sale. Prices are above 2020 level but I hope that does not come as a surprise. I also saw a 3.5ct Kornerupine that made my heart stop. It was a neon teal color and I thought it was a tourmaline but more neon than any of the lagoons I had ever laid eyes on. I didn’t photograph it (dufus, I know, I could kick myself). I also didn’t buy it and when I wrapped back to it toward the end of the AGTA show it was gone. I really, really don’t need a big Kornerupine but I wanted it just the same. I have – no joke – never seen anything this glowy that wasn’t a Paraiba and didn’t even look like one: more clean, more teal. The seller told me he has some additional rough, two pieces, that just might cut with that color, and he will let me know. And in case you’re really interested, the price was not really in my “just buy it” ballpark. With a fair markup you would have had to pay me 20K for the stone. But I did consider it. Seriously.

Sidebar: I also have a small parcel of 2.5mm kornerupine in case anyone’s interested.

If anyone is attracted to other tones of cool colored green, I also purchased some nice clean tourmaline. A couple of the icy green colors, lagoon greenish blue, teal blue Namibian.

I also have two pieces of oval Chrome Beryl. Not all of this material will be on Etsy as I am interested in designing around some of it. Right now I am addicted to anything green and purple, or turquoise and pink – such as Paraiba tourmaline and Neon Pink Vietnamese Sapphire, or Lavender sapphire with Russian emerald, that kind of thing. So that requires cool greens or blue greens or greenish blue, even zircons and kornerupines are nice here, or the right color emerald. And of course lots and lots of sapphire melee.

With my favorite Thai melees seller finally back at GJX I bought quite a lot of sapphire melees, in as many different cuts and sizes as I could find. I love marquis these days, and I have some, as well as 2mm princess cuts, 3x2 and 4x3 ovals as well as rounds in 1.1-3mm different shades of blue, lavender, purple, pink, and ruby red. Not every color in every cut and size (impossible), but a selection that works well for designing.

I have, on memo, a few more pieces of Russian emerald as not all of those sold in Tucson. They will be hard to photograph because I am forbidden from using my hands. (?) Ok, I’ll explain that: a no oil emerald that certifies as a no oil emerald is unlikely to be an emerald that has been held in a hand because even the natural oils from a hand will leave residue and the machines that are now in use that detect the levels of fillers will pick this up. And then there goes your ‘no oil’ claim. That’s why the jars with the emeralds cannot even be opened without supervision. This is what I was told happened already, and so they are not taking any more chances. All handled emeralds that are no oil have to be cleaned with acetone after handling, but preferably it is to be avoided. (Another side bar: IF you own an emerald and you want to get it cleaned, DO NOT USE acetone. It will suck the gem bone dry and if there are fissures in it that contain filler or even residue of filler, that will come out and it can severely uglify the gem). That piece of information is a blog entry all on its own, isn’t it? I love rewarding you for reading to the end!

And now to the final honorable mentions: I have listed more emerald melees, more Paraiba melees (please inquire), matched pair of pear shape Paraiba I just happened upon – I have two pairs but intend to keep one. And some oddities in my favorite color range: cobalt spinel rough, non cutting grade but neon blue, Paraiba tourmaline slices, and somewhat of a Paraiba lookalike in opaque form: hemimorphite. (Here’s a reference to hemimorphite origin and properties: https://www.mindat.org/min-1860.html). I do not know if they can be set, they are very soft. So I might try to make jewelry with them instead, because setting is harder on the gem than most of what it will suffer later in life.

Happy Shopping!