High-End, Rare, and American-Mined Gems Rule Tucson 2013 Gem Shows

Last year, after 30 years of exhibiting at the American Gem Trade Association GemFair in Tucson, Ariz., Omi Gems celebrated its best-ever show performance. So imagine the surprise and delight that greeted the Los ­Angeles–based jewelry manufacturer on day two of this year’s Feb. 5–10 gathering when a single transaction easily beat the 2012 total.

“This morning, we had a sale that was more than all of last year,” said vice president Niveet Nagpal. He declined to specify the sale total or divulge any details about the buyer except to say that he was a retailer from the Midwest. Nagpal added that the sapphire necklace that accounted for the bulk of the record-breaking sale featured certified royal blue sapphires from Sri Lanka.

“There’s a real appreciation for high-end quality jewelry that’s locally produced in L.A.,” Nagpal said.

For students of the trade searching for clues to the current state of the gemstone market, the phrases high-end and locally produced may hold the secrets. Anecdotal reports from gem dealers in Tucson suggest that business is thriving for dealers who specialize in rare or offbeat gems, as well as for those who promote gems mined in America.

At the Black Star Trading Co. booth in the Gem and Jewelry Exchange show, aka “the Tent,” a display card touted domestically mined stones such as andradite garnet and peridot from Arizona and amazonite from Colorado.

“We’re calling it our American line,” said owner Anne Mottek Lucas. “We started it last year, but this year it’s much more prevalent.” American gemstones are “a slow but sure force” in the market, she added, “even if they are a little more expensive.”

The high prices seemed par for the course in Tucson. “Prices of sapphires and most fine gems are going through the roof,” said Evan Caplan, a Los ­Angeles–based dealer showing at AGTA, as he cradled a 19 ct. heated Sri Lankan blue sapphire in his palm. The stone, he said, was priced at $9,000 per carat.

“A few years ago, it would have been $3,500 a carat,” Caplan said. “I’d say there’s been a 30 percent price rise in the last year.”

Despite the declining availability of fine-quality natural gemstones and the corresponding surge in prices, dealers in Tucson reported exceptional sales, particularly on days one and two of the show.

“It was my best first day ever,” said Bill Heher, owner of Rare Earth Mining in Trumbull, Conn., another AGTA exhibitor. He attributed his success to a robust selection of one-of-a-kind gems and minerals such as rhodocrosite stalactites, azurite malachite, and Deschutes jasper from Oregon, which he described as “the definitive picture jasper.”

“A jeweler can set themselves apart because there’s no competition on one-of-a-kinds,” Heher said, before summing up his experience at the show thus far: “There’s a saying: ‘As Tucson goes, so goes the rest of the year.’ And I can tell it’s going to be a great year for Rare Earth Mining.”

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