Once again, the Tucson Gem and Mineral Shows are an exciting blend of fine gems, beautiful mineral specimens and amazing fossils. The shows cater to jewellers, collectors, gift shops and museums. It would be impossible to cover all of the important trends for the diverse market segments so I’ll stick with gems and jewellery for this report.
Traffic at the shows is brisk this year. AGTA reported a 5% increase in first day attendance. GJX was packed. The GlobeX and Pueblo shows across the freeway were crowded. Although the shows are never slow, it has been a while since I’ve seen this much activity. Overall the feeling from buyers and sellers was optimistic.
At the AGTA show, several sellers indicated that the traffic did not bring quite as many actual customers but the ones that bought were buying with a vengeance, at long last replenishing dwindling inventories.The biggest trend is in designer gemstone cutting. Gemstone artists such as Michael Dyber, Glenn Lehrer, John Dyer and Larry Woods all had impressive collections of carved gemstones, each with their own unique styles. It was hard to get near their booths as they were crowded with people trying to see their work. The hottest stone is natural Sunstone from Oregon in the US, available in large sizes and displaying areas of red, green and colourless in one stone…perfect for lapidary artists. There will always be a place for traditional gem cutting but artistic cuts can allow designers to push into new frontiers of the jewellery arts.
Fine Rubies and Sapphires are enjoying strong sales and rising prices. One dealer commented that he cringes when one of his better stones sells because he knows it will cost him more to buy another one to replace it. Spinels and Zircons are up-and-comers with rapidly escalating prices and strong sales as more buyers are starting to appreciate these undervalued gems.
There is a strong supply of Welo Opals from Ethiopia with much finer material than in previous years, giving Australian Opals a serious challenge. These colourful gems are finally coming into their own and getting well deserved recognition.
Lapis Lazuli is plentiful with attractively low prices. Large, partially polished rough is available in pieces up to several kilos in size with prices ranging from $45-$75 per kilo. I have never seen good material at such low prices. When I was cutting in the 1980’s the price for fine Lapis was $1500 per kilo. This is a wonderful opportunity for designers and sculptors to get beautiful Lapis at an affordable price.
Tucson is not just about buying and selling, but is one of the greatest educational opportunities for our industry. For me, the highlight of the seminars was Richard Hughes presenting a talk on Ruby and Sapphire for the collector. He was entertaining, informative and shared his passion for the beauty and emotional connection that fine gemstones bring to the human soul.
So far, this is the most enjoyable Tucson experience I have had in several years. It’s exciting to see our industry not only get back on its feet, but moving forward into new realms of artistic expression.