I recently connected with a number of retailers, designers, and dealers who attended the Tucson gem shows and spent several days exploring its many-splendored, many-tendriled nooks and crannies in search of the cool, unusual, and drop-dead gorgeous. I’ll be recapping their favorite finds in the next issue of JCK (it will be available at Luxury and JCK Las Vegas in June).
Among those we interviewed is Laura Kitsos, owner of the Gem Jewelry Boutique in Oak Park, Ill. I have yet to visit her store, but based on what I see on Instagram, I can say she is a mix master extraordinaire: There is an abundance of well-chosen affordable pieces by Gigi Clozeau and designers I’ve never heard of (the mark of her sharp eye) alongside deluxe gemmy designs from Polly Wales and Jill Hoffmeister. I also like the way she diversifies her merchandise, mixing in books and candles and, more recently, decorative crystals for the home.
“I went into this year’s Tucson gem show with high expectations, as I knew this was going to be the ‘year the show came back,’ says Kitsos. “I was able to attend almost every show including GJX, AGTA, Pueblo, 22nd Street, Kino, and all the GL&W shows including Holidome. I also went Melee’s Tucson edition and the African Village outdoor market three times!
“I was worried that my crystal friends from Brazil and my scarab dealer from Egypt wouldn’t be attending due to travel restrictions, so I was super excited when I did see the Brazilian guys,” she adds. “Unfortunately, no one has heard from the ‘scarab guy’ since 2020. Kind of cryptic, maybe he just retired!”
Kitsos says she had no set budget in mind and some basic needs to fulfill such as chains, beads to transform into necklaces, and a cache of crystal specimens, which has become growing category in her boutique.
Scooped up at the show: Brazilian quartz and agate in an array of shapes like mushrooms and hearts…and, ahem, phalluses. “Spheres are always popular as are labradorite slabs and black tourmaline chunks,” she says. “Since I drove this year, I came home with more than usual, so I was less limited in what I could buy.”
Finished jewelry was also on her list of priorities. And for that she attended the Tucson edition of Melee the Show. “It was held in a gorgeous Tucson hotel called the Stillwell House and a lot of the designers were new and fresh; a lot of lines I’d never seen in New York,” she says.
“Pamela Zamore and her new Pharos line of lucky charms cast in 18k gold feel fresh, wearable, and yet not like many lucky charm pieces that are all over Instagram today.”
At Melee, Kitsos was also able to see Petaluma, Calif.–based The Sacred Order. “Designer Wendy Wagner’s jewelry is stunningly beautiful, featuring spider motifs and other Victorian symbols, promising the wearer a forever investment locket or ring with hand-engraved details set with rose-cut diamonds and garnets,” says Kitsos. “I absolutely loved her line.”
Her favorite discovery—the “the star of the show”—was a jewelry designer she’d never heard of before: Sophie Theakston out of London. “At the moment we met, I felt like we had been friends forever,” says Kitsos. “Her jewelry is absolutely royal, with her own 18k gold alloy that almost resembles a green gold in color and all my favorite motifs such as hamsas, mudra hands, and protective eyes. She uses natural quartz crystals captured in 18k gold that dangle from a chain, making the necklace seem both bohemian and luxurious at the same moment, and polki diamond necklaces and earrings that are elegant and yet perfect for everyday. I honestly have not been this excited about a line in a while. Her work makes you feel goddess-like—that’s the best summary of her work.”
Picking up a personal jewel or keepsake is part and parcel of most jewelry pros’ travels to the Tucson shows—you know it when you see it. “This year I literally stopped dead in my tracks when I stumbled upon a dealer of antique deity jewelry from India,” says Kitsos. “I saw this pendant in the case and told myself no matter what I was buying it.”
Pictured below, it is a 19th-century pendant of Shrinathji in the form of Vishnu made of 23k gold using the thewa process, which fuses 23k gold with glass.
“Upon more research, I learned that this deity is known as ‘the Preserver,’ and Vishnu is the supreme being who creates, protects, and transforms the universe,” adds Kitsos. “I just thought it was beautiful, and it is now my protective amulet.”
Top: Snapshots from Laura Kitsos’ adventures at the 2022 Tucson gem shows, where she left no stone unturned in search of unique finds for her Oak Park, Ill. store, Gem Jewelry Boutique (all photos except designer pack shots courtesy of Laura Kitsos).
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