How to Shop the Tucson Shows


The most important event for colored stone sales is actually more than 20 events. The Tucson gem and mineral shows, which take place every February, provide a preview of trends that influence the industry for the entire year. Tucson is the place to view innovations, discover what’s selling, and stock up on color. Nowhere else will you find as many gemstone choices.

Predicting the trends. This year’s event will spotlight a number of new gemstone finds. Rubellite tourmaline from the new Nigerian deposits will be plentiful. The color of the bright red material is reported to be natural. The new rubellite is also cleaner than most red tourmaline, which tends to be heavily included, like emerald. Also new from Nigeria is bright burnt orange spessartine garnet, a good fashion coordinate if earth tones remain popular.

Keep your eyes open for Chinese freshwater pearls, which should continue to grow in popularity. Prices are still unstable, but dealers familiar with production say exciting new developments will be unveiled at the show.

Look for iolite to enjoy increased marketability this year. Expert cutters are using more of it, and tanzanite prices are rising, a situation bound to produce greater sales of iolite. The most popular sizes range from 3 cts. to 5 cts., with prices of $40 to $60 per carat. Top gems may fetch $75 per carat.

Sales of emeralds, specifically finer-quality stones with moderate enhancement, may increase this year. In fact, with prices still at bargain levels, emerald could emerge as a Tucson bestseller. If you buy emerald, make sure you know which fillers were used. (Cedarwood oil has gained acceptance as the “traditional” enhancement, Arthur Groom’s Gematrat as the modern one.) Some companies are including documents stating the type and amount of filler, but laboratory reports that cite evidence of enhancement won’t necessarily identify a specific filler.

If you’re in the market for corundum, you’ll find a new emphasis on country of origin. Burma is the key source for knowledgeable buyers of blue sapphire. In the case of ruby, dealers will use terms like “classic Mogok” to differentiate between that prime source of Burmese ruby and Mong Hsu Burmese ruby, which is more prone to treatment. The issue of ruby enhancements will loom larger this year, but sales of both Mogok and Mong Hsu ruby could take off if sellers disclose whether the gems have been treated.

Gemstone shopping. For purposes of budgeting, it’s useful to develop categories. I recommend four: staple items for everyday sales, likely trends, unusual gemstones that can set your store apart from the competition, and innovative cutting designs.

This year’s staple items are ruby, emerald, sapphire, tanzanite, amethyst, tourmaline, and any other gems that typically sell in your store, including birthstones. Staples are usually standard shapes and cuts.

Trends in gemstones often are influenced by trends in fashion. If fashion dictates blue gemstones, for example, buy more tanzanite, iolite, and sapphire. If trend items are already part of the staple category, buy more of them. The colors predicted for the year 2000 are skin tones; earth tones; pale peach tones; and cool shades of blue, pink, and green.

Unusual gemstones might include Paraíba tourmaline, demantoid garnet, or alexandrite. Not all jewelers can include such expensive gems in their budgets, but those who can will certainly attract customer interest. Other gemstones in the “unusual” category include tsavorite, red spinel, fine imperial topaz, and imperial jade. Spending in this category gives you a chance to turn customers into collectors.

Innovative cutting design is a fun category that doesn’t have to bust the budget. Because innovative cuts usually result in greater weight loss, rough material tends to be inexpensive. (Gem cutters have budgets, too.) Amethyst, citrine, and other inexpensive gems have served as the raw material for many innovative cuts. Such cuts often allow greater profits at prices most consumers can afford.

Education and technology. Tucson offers tremendous educational opportunities, both formal and informal. By simply walking around the two dozen or so trade shows and asking questions, you’ll increase your gem knowledge. Most dealers are friendly, if you don’t take too much of their time without buying. You can listen to firsthand stories of mining operations and talk to dealers from around the world. You can learn about geology and take a look at most, if not all, of the 2,000-plus minerals that exist in nature. Do yourself a favor one of these years and take a few extra days just for learning.

The American Gem Trade Association sets up each year at the convention center. AGTA offers a trade show and a daily slate of formal educational programs. Most are free. Check the AGTA show guide for lectures and times. The Gemological Institute of America also provides educational programs at the AGTA location in the convention center. GIA’s programs require fees, which vary depending on the program.

Technology had a slow start in the jewelry industry, but it’s advancing rapidly. You’ll find technological products, services, and publications throughout the AGTA show, especially in the upstairs Galleria area. This is the place to learn about new developments in the industry.

Marketing Tucson. Capitalize on Tucson by promoting it to your customers with follow-up mailings and events. In fact, you can turn your Tucson experience into a major promotional opportunity each year. Customers will anticipate your return, knowing you’ll have unique gemstones they won’t find anywhere else. You can truthfully tell customers that you’ve just come back from the most important colored gemstone buying event in the world. Entice them with an exclusive showing of innovative gem cutting and unusual collector’s specimens. Once you expose them to new gem varieties, they’ll come back year after year to see what’s new from Tucson.

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