Designer Katherine Jetter (pictured), founder of The Vault Nantucket, is no newbie to the Tucson gem show experience. She’s attended the shows since 2006, a fact that’s evident in her meticulous planning process, aka “all the work that goes into creating a collection before you go gem hunting,” she tells JCK.
When she arrives in the Arizona desert at the end of this month, Jetter will hit up Tucson’s three main buying shows: the AGTA GemFair at the Tucson Convention Center, the GJX show at the tent across the street, and the Pueblo Gem & Mineral Show alongside the freeway. But it’s the scrappy tented affairs on the outskirts of downtown where she finds her most unexpected delights.
Below, Jetter talks to JCK about the stones on her 2023 must-buy list, her favorite find from last year, and the advice she’d give first-time buyers. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
How are you preparing for the gem shows this year?
We have a pretty cool process. We literally spent the entire day today going through my safe, doing inventory checks. We start building a huge spreadsheet of target bestsellers and second-tier orders, then we start contacting vendors and getting stones spec’d out.
We have a working document where we do price comparisons of stone purchases, and we track target pricing for this year. And we go to Tucson with a 300-piece spreadsheet of what we’re looking for. What the measurements are, what price per carat needs to be, what we’re willing to negotiate.
Then we spread out and start comparing. I don’t start buying anything until day four or five, until I’m sure I’ve vetted the market. We’ll spend the next three weeks drilling into every detail of the stones on our list: tanzanite, rubellite, amethyst, blue sapphire, opals. I don’t buy anything for my clients until I know I’m getting the best price per carat. That’s how I’ve gotten my reputation. I know with full conviction that the price I’m offering my piece for is market-tested.
Are there any must-buys on your list this year (or any year)?
I’m always looking for rubellite, morganite, special opals. I’m always looking for quality cutting, because even if you find a stone that has great color, the cutting has to be excellent as well. Emeralds you have to dig for in Tucson.
But the most valuable thing about Tucson is conversation: hearing what’s being sourced over the year and where the international market is falling—that’s the entire value of Tucson. And prices can adjust within a few hours as news spreads.
How are prices trending?
Everything is going up. Last year there was probably 20% increase on price per carats. Everything’s behind with production.
What’s your favorite part of attending the shows?
It’s most interesting to hit the auxiliary shows. The trade shows have to be done, but it’s most fun to visit the auxiliary tents to see things like dinosaur bones. Everybody I know buys something in Tucson that they think is the coolest thing imaginable—I bought a unicorn made out of rose quartz last year—and when they come home, they wonder why they bought it. It’s so fun to dig into that.
What are your favorite restaurants in Tucson?
I have one favorite Mexican restaurant whose name I can’t give you because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to get a reservation. And apart from that, the J.W. Marriott Starr Pass bar is where we usually hang out. One piece of advice: Make sure you put your purchases into the safe before going down to the bar!
Any other final bits of advice?
If you’re planning to buy, set yourself a budget and write yourself a list. This is very expensive, serious stuff and you don’t want to have buyer’s remorse when you get home. Try to do as much of your homework as possible before you go.Follow JCK on Instagram: @jckmagazine
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