By Lauriane Lognay
Much to the delight of those in attendance, this year’s Tucson gem shows were as exciting and joyful as ever. As with every February, industry members came together in the desert to marvel at the colourful gemstones and oddities lining the streets.
However, before we get into everything this year’s shows had to offer, let’s address the elephant in the room: coronavirus (COVID-19). Indeed, the shows fell before the virus hit pandemic status, but let’s tackle the difficult questions off the bat.
Was coronavirus a prominent thought in Tucson? I would say ‘no.’
Were people cautious? Absolutely.
That said, while attendees certainly noticed a few empty kiosks here and there—be it at the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) show or the Gem and Jewelry Exchange (GJX)—the overall atmosphere in Tucson was a good one.
However, I think I speak for most people at the show, be it vendor or seller, in saying there was some apprehension leading up to the annual desert shows.
Will it go well?
Will people be spending?
Will anyone come?
Good news: most of the vendors I talked to at the show said this year’s events were shaping up to be one of the best years of selling. Of course, a few suppliers (mostly those who deal primarily with Chinese buyers) were having a bad year—but, even then, it wasn’t their worst.
As far as safety precautions were concerned, attendees were diligent with hygiene—which should be the case every day anyway. Vendors offered hand sanitizer, candy, and a smile to prospective buyers.
Of course, the absence of our friends, acquaintances, and colleagues from overseas was greatly felt—most who were travelling from China or Hong Kong had their visas cancelled leading up to the Tucson shows for security reasons. Nonetheless, attendees of the show maintained a sunny disposition and bought gemstones and jewellery to our hearts content. Many buyers anticipated the renowned Hong Kong International Diamond, Gem & Pearl Show would be postponed (side note: it was) and, thus, bought a bit more than necessary for the year to come, much to the happiness of a few suppliers. More than 8000 buyers showed up for the AGTA show during only a six-day exhibition.
While we can’t say how COVID-19 will evolve or how much the virus will continue to change the jewellery industry in the coming year, let’s hope for the best.
On-trend with classic American
Keeping in line with Pantone naming ‘Classic Blue’ as the 2020 colour of the year, it seemed obvious sapphire would be a winning gemstone choice at this year’s shows—and it was! The Tucson shows were rich in sapphire of all kinds and tones, more so than usual.
I would say it was the favorite gemstone of the show.
This brings us to our own American trend: Montana sapphires. These stones have been increasing in popularity for a few years now—they were already sought after at the 2018 and 2019 Tucson shows—and now they simply can’t be stopped! The Potentate Mining kiosk was packed and selling throughout the show. These are the miners that recovered a no-heat natural crystal sapphire (dubbed ‘Liberty Sapphire’), which was larger than 17 carats—an extremely rare occurrence from rock creek.
Potentate Mining was also among the first to receive an Accredited Ethical Member (AEM) label from the International Color Association (ICA). This is no easy feat—to even be eligible for one of these stickers a company must follow ICA’s code of ethics, as well as its duties of disclosure, adhere to the World Jewellery Confederation’s (CIBJO’s) Responsible Sourcing Book, and have verification and affirmation of these steps. Following these protocols gives a company an ethical seal of approval to show to buyers and sellers alike.
More and more vendors had Montana sapphires in stock all over Tucson. Clients seem to love the ethical component of these stones, as well as the fact they’re North American-mined.
On the other hand, rubies are fast becoming an expensive rarity, even more than usual. Don’t get me wrong, you could still spot rubies throughout the shows in a variety of sizes; the difference, however, was in the price and quantity: the cost for these gems is up, and supply isn’t following demand. There seem to be a lot more commercial-quality rubies—be it too pink or far too included—on the market; however, large and high-quality red corundum is practically impossible to find (and unusual shapes are even harder to come by).
In the next year, we’ll surely see the price of rubies go up—so, if you have any large, natural rubies, keep a tight hold of them and hang on for the ride!
Going to the Tucson shows also means attending conferences, meetings, and, above all, parties.
As always, a few events stood out and were largely considered this year’s ‘must attend’ functions and gatherings. The Gemology Worldwide meeting for example, was terrific, as were the parties held by the Gemmological Association of Great Britain (Gem-A) and the Canadian Gemmological Association (CGA). Indeed, these events offered some amazing speeches and news, as well as music for entertainment.
One of the biggest news announced by Gem-A was that it would soon open an office in the United States, thus enabling American professionals to become FGA-accredited gemmologists while staying close to home.
Conferences remain the best place to meet new people, make business connections, and stay current with the happenings in the jewellery and gemstone world. Meanwhile, parties allow industry members to connect, greet friends (both old and new), and establish bonds beyond simply the professional.
Throughout my adventures in Tucson, I met a lot of wonderful people. Notably, I had the pleasure of interviewing a fellow Canadian gemmologist.
Bradley S. Wilson, MSc, FCGmA, of Kingston, Ont., is the owner of Alpine Gems. Primarily a gemstone-cutter and explorer, Wilson works with Canadian stones, which he mines and collects himself.
After studying geology in university, Wilson spent the early days of his career in the Yukon. He started cutting in 1980 after coming across a simple, tumbled smoky quartz he found while working in the territory. After learning the basics of the skill, he carried on experimenting within the cutting trade.
“Nobody was doing research on in gem deposits,” he says. “So, I did something that interested me a lot… and continued to cut on the side.”
Back then, the gemstone community was pretty small, Wilson explains, adding it was rare for him to meet people who shared the same interests and passion.
Now, 40 years later, he has a booth at Tucson’s GJX Show called ‘Coast to Coast’ that he shares with two friends from the United States, John Bradshaw and Mike Gray.
“I met kindred spirits,” he says. “We speak the same language.”
These days, you might find him out on a new adventure—or cutting fluorites, sphalerites, sphenes, and other rare gems. Wilson’s also one of the few who mined the new find of cobalt blue spinel in Nunavut’s Baffin Islands.
Speaking as a new friend, it felt great to see him in his element!
When asked how this year’s Tucson show went for the Coast to Coast crew, Wilson told me it was one for the books.
“This year has been busy and fabulous—probably the best show we’ve ever had.”
A shiny review
At this year’s desert shows, coronavirus was tucked far away in the back of our heads—but, likewise, we didn’t forget to exercise caution.
Tucson continues to keep the gemstone dream alive, feeding jewellery professionals with luxury items we didn’t know we needed for clients who never dreamed they could buy them. Indeed, the show was a great success for most, thanks to the serious buyers who travelled from all over the world—and, thanks to Pantone’s colour of the year, I predict jewellers will see their sapphires fly off the shelves.
Lauriane Lognay is a fellow of the Gemmological Association of Great Britain (FGA), and has won several awards. She is a gemstone dealer working with jewellers to help them decide on the best stones for their designs. Lognay is the owner of Rippana Inc., a Montréal-based company working internationally in coloured gemstone, lapidary, and jewellery services. She can be reached via email by contacting email@example.com.