Tucson Roundup

There were 26 gem shows in Tucson, Ariz., this year, in 35 venues. While parking lots and shuttle vans appeared to be full, show aisles were comfortable for shoppers. Dealers reported mixed results, but most agreed that while traffic was light, attendees were buying. A few exhibitors, however, felt that this was one of their worst shows in the past 20 years.

The shows featured night after night of gatherings, meetings, and an earful of industry politics. Hot topics included the link between tanzanite and terrorism and the new heat/diffusion-treated pink-orange/padparadscha sapphire from Thailand.

While traditionally outside the realm of colored gems, fossils, and minerals, the small diamond show at the Manning House is surviving. Approximately 600 visitors kept the diamond dealers on their feet, if not on their toes. New at the show were three diamond debates—on HPHT, Ideal cut, and the diamond pipeline—which drew 100 or so attendees away from the colored gem shows for a few hours.

A new invitation-only luxury show, the Centurion, featured 80-plus exhibitors of fine jewelry at La Paloma Westin Resort and drew positive reviews from both exhibitors and attendees.

Gemstones. This year’s hot gems were the traditional ones, with emerald, ruby, sapphire, and opal leading the charge. Orangey-pink sapphires—”padparadschas”—seemed to be everywhere, thanks to the new high-temperature (and diffusion) treatment. Some dealers knew what they had and priced the stones accordingly ($40 to $60 per carat), but others hadn’t heard the news and unwittingly bought high, resulting in prices of $600 to $800 per carat.

GIA’s Gem Trade Lab seminar highlighted the organization’s sapphire study, noting that beryllium was being diffused into the surface to create an orange coloration in the outer layer of Madagascar pink faceted stones. With minor repolishing, the stones looked like wonderful padparadschas. Chances that this material may disappear from the market are good, as the original pink Madagascar material is worth more than the selling price of the new diffusion-treated gems.

Tanzanite should have done well, since prices were at their lowest in a long time—$285 to $325 per carat for top-quality goods. But dealers were still crying the blues as the trade tries to combat still-unsubstantiated claims by the Wall Street Journal that tanzanite is linked to terrorism.

Chinese freshwater pearls are still cheap and plentiful. The truly fine top-quality near-rounds, however, are hard to find and priced accordingly. Even though Japanese cultured pearl production still suffers from mortality problems, fine-quality akoyas were available—for a price. Many Tahitian pearls were available, but most notable were the vast numbers of mixed-color strands in shapes other than round as well as faceted grays and blacks.

As for non-traditional gems, this was another year that master gem carver Steve Walters hadn’t sold out by day one—but not because of the quality of his work. In fact, the opposite is true. Known for his flowing carvings of drusy black chalcedony, Walters is proof that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery: Hundreds of imitation Walters-esque carvings could be seen around the shows.