Friday, February 22, 2013

Tucson part 1: Gem Shows

Yes it's that time year of again, the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, one of the most important events for the mineral world.  Why is Tucson such a big deal?  Well, there are several large mineral shows throughout the year (Denver, St Marie-aux-Mines, Munich) but Tucson is the largest. The Tucson visitor's Bureau estimates that 55,000 people will attend the 2013 show!  Tucson started as a small mineral show in the 1950's and has grown into an enormous mineral-fossil-gem-meteorite extravaganza that lasts a month and takes over the Tucson Convention Center as well as  hotels and parking lots throughout the city. Dealers from all over the world bring their stock and their recent discoveries to Tucson hoping to make a profit. If you can only go to one show, Tucson is it. Geologists and curators of museum collections also descend on the city hoping to find new specimens for both research and displays.

The finale event is the Tucson Gem and Mineral Society Show in the Tucson Convention Center. This is a large and well-organized show featuring both vendors and exhibits. Each year has a theme (this year was "Fluorite" next year is "Diamonds"), and museums and private collectors make displays of their best specimens to show off.  While the best, most beautiful minerals in the world are rarely for sale at Tucson, they can sometimes be seen in the exhibit cases of the collectors!

Assoc. Curator Eloise Gaillou, work-study student Caroline Im and Collections manager Alyssa Morgan (3/4 of team L.A. County)
We left for Tucson on Feb 5th, this will put us in town for the second day of the big gem shows AGTA (American Gemological Trade Association) and GJX (Gem and Jewelry Exchange). These are trade shows and therefore closed to the general public.

To start off the week, Eloïse and Alyssa are joined by USC work-study student Caroline Im. Caroline has worked for us for 3.5 years sorting micromounts, it's about time she came to Tucson! Tony will join us next week after the gem shows are over.

We begin at AGTA. This is a relatively high-end show (at least for Tucson).
An overview of the AGTA show at the Convention Center
What's down there?  Gems!  More gems!  Really nice jewelry!

The Spanish Inquisition Necklace

Collections Manager Russ Feather and volunteer Chris Webb
The Smithsonian always brings an incredible display to AGTA, this year they brought the Spanish Inquisition Necklace (no connection to the actual Inquisition) made from Colombian Emeralds and Indian diamonds. They also have a nice case of donated gems they received during the show!

Suite of fancy colored tanzanite. Courtesy Pala International.
We were very interested in acquiring a suite of fancy colored zoisites (a.k.a. tanzanites). These are rare colors from Arusha, and they are not heat-treated. We are still working on getting some of these, and will keep you posted.
Eloïse holding a wonderful Paraiba tourmaline from the Somewhere In The Rainbow collection.

Taking a quick break with Pierre Hardy and Stephanos Karampelas of the Gübelin Gem Lab in Switzerland. They spent part of a day patiently showing us cool stuff at the show and explaining some of the new treatments to dishonestly enhance the color of certain stones. That was very kind of them and we learned a lot!
We saw a lot of these faceted pearls, they are kind of interesting looking. Courtesy Edward Boehm.
Close up on some beautifully textured boulder opal from Australia.
These are very rare, in part because the region of Colombia where they outcrop is so dangerous, hardly anyone is willing to go there.  Supposedly a dealer in Bogota trades food for rough sapphires to native people who live in the area. Courtesy Evan Caplan.
Equatorian Imports had impressive jewelry made of red beryl from Utah and sapphires from Montana. All-American.
He also had a wonderful single crystal of red beryl. Red is the rarest color of beryl, much more rare than green (emerald) and only found in the Wah Wah Mts of Utah.
Nice choice Caroline!  Emeralds and sapphires.

We head across the parking lot to the GJX show, which is in a tent (but a very nice tent). GJX has a greater variety of gems and jewelry. More of a range from low end to very high end, but also fun oddball things like rare gems and geologically interesting stuff!
Luciana Barbosa had neat green Paraiba tourmalines with inclusions of copper metal. Later on, after mentioning this to a few Council Members, Mary & Bruce Stambaugh decided to buy this stone for us! Thanks a lot to the two of you! No picture with them unfortunately, we will have to rectify that.

So many gems to look at, so little time!  It helped that we had made a list of stones to look for.  Still it is very difficult to get through GJX without stopping at every booth. Even in comfortable shoes it is just painful.
One of our favorites, Coast to Coast Rare Gems.  I need a faceted tugtupite from Greenland!  That's cool!
Denis Gravier from Gravier & Gemmes is another dealer who has fun and interesting stones.  These zoned diamonds were purchased by the Smithsonian for a collaborative research project with Eloïse.

Denis also had three tiny intriguing andradite garnets from San Benito County, California. We are new to CA and had not heard of such things so of course we called Tony. Tony had seen a few andradites from the New Idra Range (near the benitoite mines) but they were topazolites (yellow-brown andradite) and very expensive. Denis' garnets were demantoid (vivid green andradite) and cat's eyes due to asbestos inclusions. They were also very expensive but they are about to set us off on a crazy hunt we will explain in a later post.
Click below to read more about the show!

Eloïse is an expert in opals, and loves Ethiopian opals. The museum does not have a single Ethiopian opal, rough or cut, so that was a stone on our list. Geologist Francesco Mezzaro of Opalinda had offered to donate a stone when we saw him in Munich. He and partner Eyassu from EyaOpal have amazing opals.
This piece of rough was just bizarre!  It looked like pumice with play-of-colors!
They ended up making a very generous donation of five opals, two from Mezzezo and three from Wollo. These will go on display in the gem vault for sure! Thank you so much Francesco and Eyassu!

We have a lot of pictures of breakfast. Our most important meal, sometimes our only meal of the day as we are so busy trying to fit a year's worth of mineral shopping into 12 days. This is one our favorite restaurants in Tucson, Poco and Moms. If you are in Tucson and want a good breakfast, go there!
We do fit in a few dinners, this is the Gem and Mineral Council dinner party at El Corral. Many of our members go to Tucson every year and it's great to visit and find out what treasures people discovered. 
Eloïse celebrating at the AGA gala with Jean-Claude Boulliard of La Sorbonne and her former advisor Emmanuel Fritsch of the Universite de Nantes, who received the award of Excellence in Gemology that very night.


  1. Very cool and great info!

    BTW - one of the talks at the NAJA event was CA Cats-Eye Demantoid Garnet...just confirming they have come from the area. ;)

  2. The link to the Ethiopian opal donation isn't working for me. Is it broken? I'd love to see it and read about it! Love this set of articles on your experiences at the Tuscon show and your whole blog.

  3. The link to Ethiopian opals should work now!

  4. Cool Pics ...Dazzling Jewelery designs. .Cat's Eye Gemstones are incredible...Many thanks to you for sharing this.