It was a fine line whether I made the long journey to the annual gem fair in Tucson this year, but now that I find myself in lockdown with all my new stones from two buying trips (Tucson and Inhorgenta, Munich) I am very glad that I did.
I arrived in Tucson after a delightful week in Mexico. A first visit to the country and I found it full of colour, interesting art and ancient temples, and friendly people.
Frida Khalo's house in Mexico
My first visit at the Tucson gem fair was to Antonio, a Brazilian stone dealer. I was sincerely hoping that this year he would have some Brazilian Paraiba tourmalines. The Brazilian mine has been closed for 5 years so it is increasingly difficult to get hold of. However, I have built up a very good relationship with Antonio, so if he is able to source some for me, he will. I was in luck this time. He had a special parcel for me. He also showed me a large facetted stone of 20 carats which I had to resist, or I would still be in Brazil washing dishes to pay for it!
People often ask what the difference is between Brazilian Paraiba stones and Mozambique stones. The answer to the naked eye is there is not much difference at all. The Brazilian stones’ colour range is more blue to turquoise, the Mozambique stones have slightly less copper in them, but have the widest range of colours. Due to the higher copper levels the Brazilian stones tend to have a more intense colour, which is definitely noticeable in the smaller stones (that I was buying in this instance).
A large facetted Mozambique Paraiba Tourmaline
I must add that Antonio has his ‘stall’ slightly off the beaten track, away from the main venues. It looks so unassuming with all the other vendors selling rocks and minerals outside on tables, you would never know Antonio had such precious stones at his stand. You enter Antonio’s little room and he produces a packet of ‘hidden gems’! He also speaks no English, so I always feel that I am in the middle of Brazil! This year he had brought his entire family, which is another endearing feature about my stone buying trips, but particularly Tucson - the relationships that one builds up with people from all over the world.
Great to see Antonio and his family
The scale of Tucson is vast compared to any other jewellery and gem fair. I always remember the first time that I visited, I had only registered at one venue assuming that was the whole Fair, it was but a minor part and the rest of the fair is spread out over the entire city for 2 weeks.
I always visit my regular suppliers who I am loyal to. I also go with my ‘shopping list’ of gems that I need and try to be disciplined and stick to (the array of stones on offer is immense from the most precious to raw rocks and minerals, there is something for everybody in the gem world). I source rhodonite, another Brazilian stone from a charming Brazilian who has also become a friend. There is nobody else who has the fine quality that he does.
Brazil also produces most of the tourmalines, so I take advantage of this good opportunity to pick up a selection.
Although many of the stones that I buy while in Tucson are from Brazil, the important thing to understand is that gem dealers come to the fair from all over the world. So you can source stones from any part of the world. I go specifically to buy rows of sapphire, ruby and emerald beads, as I know that I can get the best quality in Tucson.
Having just been to Mexico, I was pleased to also get some Mexican fire opals.
I was keen to replace the emerald cabochons that I had just sold in rings, and managed to find some nice Brazilian and Colombian material. Other stones I bought were moonstone, kunzite, blue topaz, pearls, garnet and zircon.
After four extremely busy and cold days (it was -10 one night and was having hotel problems!) I was happy to return to London with all the stones that I set out to get. I am glad now that I bought enough to last me two years, as maybe the current Coronavirus Crisis is giving us a message about travelling so much.
I am lucky enough to have an endless supply of material to design with, and all the time in the world to submerge myself, in order to come up with some exciting creations. I do not normally have this luxury, a silver lining to this worrying time.