A Tale of Tucson

Living up to its reputation as the world’s largest collection of gem fairs, the 2005 Tucson gem and mineral shows had more of everything, including some unusual gems, along with a few items you should be aware of.

Availability. There was no Nigerian tourmaline strike or Madagascar ruby find to give Tucson a standout gem this year. Instead, all stones had a chance to be noticed. The range of choices, amounts, and qualities made Tucson a buyer’s dream. Or nightmare for those who couldn’t remember which stone was where or had trouble deciding which stone was the better buy.

The Ordinaries. There were a few well-known standouts in the “usual suspects” category. Gems like unheated Burma sapphires, tanzanites, and spessartine garnets were abundant, and priced well for everyone. Peridot from Arizona and Pakistan was readily available, as were Mexican fire opals, blue chalcedony, and red spinel. Briolettes and drops were the hot shapes. And there were so many pearls that we have a separate report for them (see p. 136).

You Pick It. As usual, Tucson featured piles of gemstones, casting doubt on the rarity factor. This was especially true for gems like Paraíba tourmalines, demantoid garnets, Sweet Home rhodochrosites, and Lightning Ridge black opals, all commanding high prices. To find this kind of selection outside Tucson, a buyer would rack up frequent flyer miles by the tens of thousands.

What Did We See? Wilson Yip at Korite International, Canada, showed a new find of ammolite. This material lacks ammolite’s usual mosaic pattern. Termed collection grade, the top category for this gem material, it looked like painted brush strokes of rainbows. Less than 5 percent of the salable gem material found will make collection grade. Visit www.korite.com for more information.

Jason of LuCoral, New York, showed us some of his best supply of coral—Mediterranean pink as well as Japanese red, in cabs, carved branches, and rough. Call (800) 342-0026 for more information.

Lucky Gems, New York, had the largest layout of Chinese freshwater cultured pearls. Visit www.lucky-gems.com for more information.

Noel Muñoz of Opalos Minas Las Cruces, Jalisco, Mexico, displayed cabochon, faceted, in-matrix, and rough fire opal. A number of dealers showed a good selection, but mostly in cabs. Faceted material was limited. Call 386-74-40-309 for more information.

Alert: Glass-Filled Ruby. The major gem laboratories have identified glass-filled ruby entering the market. The process is similar to the Yehuda treatment for diamond—a low-temperature filling of surface-reaching fractures. To see the telltale flash effect, look parallel to the filled fracture for a yellow/blue flash along the filling. This glass filling is not the glass residue found after high-temperature heat treatment.

To find out how much of this material is in the market, we went shopping. It didn’t take long before we found the material. It was all over Tucson, and most not labeled. Everyone we asked who carried the material did disclose the treatment, but only after we asked. Some at first just said “treated,” which would lead most to assume heat treated. But upon asking directly if the material was glass filled, the answer was always, “Yes.”

There’s a huge price difference between filled and heated ruby. Color Impex, located in Bangkok, Thailand, and Jaipur, India, showed us a 5.47 ct. filled ruby priced at $300/ct.

Members from GIA’s Gem Laboratory were collecting samples of both rough and faceted material for before-and-after research. Rough was purchased at $2–$3/ct. Faceted goods were seen around the show for $80–$500/ct.

The Cost of Disclosure. Emerson Tavares de Souza from Minas Gerais, Brazil, carried some irradiated fluorite, advertised as the inexpensive ($12/ct.) tanzanite imitation. (Fluorite has a hardness of 4 with easy octahedral cleavage. No one could explain why it would make a good substitute.)

Another tanzanite simulant was described as quartz. When pressed for more information, the vendor explained that the material was only “60 percent quartz.” Quick deduction identifies the substitute as glass.

Yellow-orangey sapphire briolettes for $5/ct. at one vendor were “only heated,” claiming “we only have AGTA-approved treatments,” while another vendor just two booths away, selling the same briolettes—priced a bit higher at $8/ct.—disclosed beryllium diffusion. Bhupendra Mookim at SPB Gems, New York, showed a briolette necklace of beryllium-treated sapphire weighing 287 cts. (Remember, briolettes look only half the size of what they actually weigh, and sapphires weigh more than diamonds of the same size.) The necklace was only relatively inexpensive, considering the prices for natural-color sapphire or even traditional heat-treated sapphire. Call (800) 343-4367 for more information.

Overheard in the Hall. “Did you see the Chinese sunstone? I don’t think it’s from China. It looks a lot like Oregon material.” JCK is currently exploring the possibilities.

Buy Right. The key to success in Tucson is to know prices before you arrive. That’s a difficult feat, since many of the dealers also shop the show the first day, looking to see who has what and at what price. If you see it for a decent price the first day, buy it. If you don’t, it may be gone by the next day or available in someone else’s booth—at a higher price.

The Extraordinaries. There was a noticeable limit to natural gold in quartz, but plentiful gold-impregnated quartz. James Taylor of Eureka Gems, Fountain Hills, Ariz., showing at the Inn Suites Arizona Mineral and Fossil show, displayed the relatively new product, “gold in natural quartz.” While it looks appealing, something indefinable made it look unnatural.

Three Strikes for GLDA Move. For the past several years, Tucson’s big three shows have been the AGTA GemFair, the Gem & Jewelry Exchange tent, and the Gem and Lapidary Dealers Association Inc. at the Radisson City Center. GLDA decided last year to move its show to the Marriott in the hills, its Starr Pass Resort & Spa. Strike One: No parking at the Pass; buyers had to take a bus and hike to the resort. Strike two: Too out of the way; buyers complained that they had to spend the whole day to work the show. Strike three: The exhibitor aisles were just as narrow and crowded as at last year’s Radisson City Center—one of the main reasons for moving.

The Radisson, still on contract with GLDA, was without a gem show this year. Roughly half of the GLDA exhibitors did not want to move. So the GJX tent added an annex this year to hold the GLDA mutineers. GJX moves into the Radisson in 2006.