I’ve been attending the Tucson gem shows since 2001, which makes me something of an old-timer. Not as much an old-timer as those who’ve been going to GemFair for 40 years, mind you, but a veteran of the shows nonetheless.
Every year I approach the annual gem extravaganza with a sense of anticipation. Will we learn of a new gemstone find that throws the market into a tizzy (as happened in 2017, when Ethiopian emeralds were the talk of the town )? Which designers will I see browsing the aisles (David Yurman, perhaps, or a contingent of buyers from Tiffany & Co.?). What will the vibe be? Will the high end of the market sustain its momentum?
As I look to this year’s confluence of buying events in the Sonoran Desert, I’ve prepared a short agenda, which I’m sharing below, in case it’s helpful to anyone heading to the Southwest in a week’s time. Hope to see you there!
No. 1: Get a read on the pearl market
Pearl prices went haywire last year, reflecting both increased demand, primarily from Chinese consumers, and the knock-on effects of pandemic-induced production delays, which are still reverberating through the global supply chain. I’ll visit dealers at both GemFair and GJX to suss out if we can expect a correction soon.
The other pearl-related story on my radar is an educational session taking place Jan. 31 at the Accredited Gemologists Association (AGA) conference at the Marriott University Park, where Fatema Almahmood, senior gemologist at the Bahrain Institute for Pearls and Gemstones (DANAT), will give a presentation on pearls from Bahrain, a historic source of natural pearls that sustainable pearling advocates are keen to reestablish as a center of the pearl trade.
No. 2: Discern what designers are after
Last year I walked the shows with a handful of designers as they searched for opals, spinels, and zircons, for a piece about gem-hunting in Tucson that ran in The New York Times. Tagging along with jewelers as they search out dealers, ask questions, and buy stones is the best way to gain true insight into the styles, colors, and gems that are trending.
This year I’ve made plans to meet up with Adam Neeley, a Laguna Beach, Calif.–based high jeweler whose Echo earrings recently won the President’s Trophy in the Cultured Pearl Association of America’s 14th annual international design competition.
I’m also planning to do the rounds with David Hakimian, founder of DEJ Jewelry Solutions, a New York City–based firm that helps connect independent jewelry designers and retailers with jewelry manufacturers.
Watch this space for a recap of what I’ve learned.
No. 3: Check out the finished jewelry on offer
For most of Tucson’s history as a hub of the gemstone trade, the shows’ main draws were loose gems, fossils, and minerals. Finished jewels were reserved for more upscale events, such as Centurion, Baselworld (RIP), and JCK Las Vegas.
Over the years, jewelry shows arrived on the scene, including the JCK Tucson event that took over the J.W. Marriott Starr Pass until its final showing in 2020. But they often pulled buyers away from downtown, the nexus of gem week.
Now, thanks to a concentration of events taking place in historic buildings near the convention center—the Ethical Gem Fair, the new Out of the Jewelry Box Experience, and the Melee show, to name three—buyers don’t have to choose between gem-hunting and jewelry-buying because the main events for both are located within walking distance of one another.
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