Tucson Gem Fair February 2017

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Tucson Gem Fair February 2017

I once again returned to Tucson, this extraordinary part of the desert where giant cacti (Saguaro) grow against the backdrop of the mountains, this time without my round trip of LA and San Francisco to go on to, as I did last year. I flew into Phoenix, Arizona, and had a two hour drive late at night. Luckily it was a straight road, as UK time would have been around 6am! Glad to therefore read my 'inn' for the night was quality by name.

Cactus and desert landscape of Tucson Arizona

If you arrive in Tucson for the gem fairs for the first time you are astonished by the sheer scale of it. I remember the first year that I went. I had diligently pre-registered at JOGS thinking that it was the only show, I arrived the first morning and remember being mildly disappointed, thinking 'well, I have come all this way, just for this'. Thinking that the Gem Fair was just one tent, as it is when I go to Inhorgenta in Munich, or most other gem fairs in the world. But not so in Tucson. The shows are literally spread across the entire city, and if you do not have guidance it can be extremely overwhelming. You need someone to indicate that Antonio, for example, is tucked away in an unassuming room, and has on the outside very ordinary stones laid out on a table, and is surrounded by mineral sellers, but has treasures hidden. You feel with him that you really are in Brazil, and he speaks no English! If it wasn't for his son who speaks a little English, my Portuguese is nonexistent, we wouldn't get very far.

The desert in Tucson Arizona

The prime halls are AGTA and JCK, which have the quality in them. AGTA is where all the best American stone dealers show - so high quality, and usually higher prices, but always something to buy. JCK has stone traders from literally all over the world, so you need several days there alone! I go there for the Brazilian stone dealers, as well as the Sri Lankans, who have some good stones - you never quite know what you are going to find. I don't tend to look at stones that I can buy in Europe, especially when I know I am going to Inhorgenta in Munich in two weeks time, so I made sure I returned with the stones on my shopping list, that I cannot get over here.

Selection of tourmaline cabochons

On the first morning I visited the aforementioned Antonio, my Brazilian stone dealer. Antonio knows I love Paraiba Tourmalines, and produces his collections of stock. He also manages to still find material from the Brazilian Paraiba Tourmaline mine, which is very hard, as the government closed it down 18months ago, so one is dependent on old rough material. His haul this year was not quite as good as previous, as he had put down the weight incorrectly on the customs form, so only had half with him. I still managed to select five oval facetted Paraiba tourmalines, and was very taken with a 13.9 carat oval one of very deep turquoise colour, measuring 19 x 14mm. It obviously had flaws in it, otherwise it would have been completely unaffordable. Which I might still purchase from him. 

Large Oval Paraiba tourmaline stone picked out by Julia Lloyd George

Paraiba tourmaline stones laid out on table, hand selected by Julia Lloyd George

On a different level I also bought some rutilated quartz with interesting quartz inside. I proceeded to JCK and AGTA. I found an Indian from New York who knew lots of UK jewellers. I bought high quality moonstones, cats eye and star rubies. JCK is the other 'BIG' quality tent where you find dealers from all parts of the world, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Germany, India and so on. I always go to a particular Brazilian friend to buy Rhodolite garnets. He is the only person who sells quality stones and is charming with it. Rhodolite garnet is a stone of such intense red, but vermillion in tone, so completely different from any other stone you can find anywhere. Also in the Brazilian corner I topped up on beryl with another friend.

I bought rose cut sapphires for drop pendants and earrings. I had great success making up earrings with my rose cut diamonds purchased last year so I wanted to return to find more. I found two different sources from last year. For the rose cuts it is difficult to pick out pairs, especially as I am usually standing up all day, one has to sort through whole packets as they are not graded and with coloured diamonds it is hard to match pairs. I found some very unusual, ethically sourced, blue diamonds - including a large very dark blue cushion cut diamond that I plan to make into a cluster ring, with yellow and white diamonds around it.

In the evening we had dinner in a fun restaurant up in the hills with live country & western music and a lovely view of the sunset.

Sunset over the desert, Tucson Arizona

On the last morning I went to JOGS and found another Indian seller, Panache, who sells very good sapphire beads. He also had some well priced opal, so I bought a client a lot of different shapes and sizes. Sadly, there was not enough time to fit in everything, I went to the Gem Mall & Holidome - two more giant tents, but could only manage Gem Mall. I bought lapis lazuli and some tanzanite cabochons that I needed for clients earrings. But I was beginning to get plane fever, not knowing how long it would take to get back to the airport etc. I am looking forward to continuing my more stone search at Inhorgenta in Germany at the end of this week.