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Trending in Tucson: Buyers snap up exotics and one-offs for bespoke pieces

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18-karat green gold cuff by LJD Designs accented with alexandrite melee (2.56 ctw) and white brilliant diamonds (1.88 ctw).
18-karat green gold cuff by LJD Designs accented with alexandrite melee (2.56 ctw) and white brilliant diamonds (1.88 ctw).

For many buyers, it all happens at the Tucson Convention Center or across the road inside the Gem and Jewelry Expo’s (GJX’s) billowing white tents. Yet, adventurous designers know they have to spread out farther to get a hold of off-the-beaten-path treasures. Montreal-based designer Claudio Pino took advantage of the more than 40 shows that occur in tandem with the AGTA GemFair and the GJX. “This year, I was not showing,” Pino said. “I was really busy shopping for stones everywhere, including the Pueblo Gem & Mineral Show. I found some pretty spectacular golden prehnite.”

A fair amount of trading always occurs on the fringes of the main events. Toronto designer Anne Sportun is branching out from her organic diamond collection with the introduction of a colourful gemstone line this season. Sportun reconnects with her favourite purveyors outside the hub. “It’s always fun exploring the periphery shows as well, but the best part about this yearly trip is the time I get to enrich my relationships with the people I’ve been working with for years,” she claims. “They can source anything.”

Vancouver gem cutter Lisa Elser relies on similar contacts she’s nurtured over the years. Through her connections, Elser snapped up Afghani sea foam tourmaline and other desirable rough on her must-have list.

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Padparadscha sapphire and diamond ring  by OMI Privé.
Padparadscha sapphire and diamond ring by OMI Privé.

Tucson is a stage to debut the quirky, the new, and the unpronounceable—oddities like natural peach topaz, Antero aquamarine, and trapiche sapphire and emerald. Blue amber, a Dominican variety of the resinous gem, thrilled jewellery artisans who liked seeing it change from golden amber when light passes through it or blue when the gem rests on a solid background.

Rubellite tourmaline was one stone buyers hustled to snag. In the past, two main sources for the rosy material have kept this gemstone in most favoured status with designers. Historically, Brazil and Nigeria have produced enough rough to make it a commercially popular stone. With mines closing and sources drying up, however, there is little available in larger sizes or in top quality.

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The furor over glass filling in the last few years has soured consumers to ruby. This, in turn, has sweetened rubellite’s street cred. According to Shank, rubellite is a failsafe choice. “There’s not much you can do to rubellite,” she notes. “It doesn’t undergo the treatments that ruby has been susceptible to.” So when you buy rubellite, you get an untreated stone in a rich cherry hue.

Veteran cutter John Dyer brought imaginative gemstones in hard-to-find varieties like sherry and cognac zircon. “Zircon is a beautiful gem that is more sought-after all the time due to its extreme brilliance and dispersion,” Dyer told Jewellery Business. Yet, his ever-popular tourmaline has been more challenging to acquire. “Beautiful tourmaline is getting very hard to find with the high demand from China.”

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