Loose in Tucson

This year’s array of gem and mineral shows in Tucson, Arizona—40 shows at 38 venues—allowed attendees to see every kind of gemstone that’s currently available.

The three major shows—AGTA GemFair, Gem & Jewelry Exchange tent, and GLDA (Gem and Lapidary Dealers Association) show—all offered more finished jewelry than usual, but the outer shows displayed fewer gems and minerals and more rugs and beaded pottery than in the past, making it tough to uncover the hidden gem treasures.

Nevertheless, there was no shortage of high-quality gems, including some unique and unusual specimens, in Tucson. Following are some of the highlights.


1. Sunstone. The most-talked-about gem was sunstone from two sources: the original Ponderosa claim in Oregon and a new find in Tibet.

Material from the Ponderosa Mine—which many believe is the source of the finest of all Oregon sunstone—was available again after a few years’ hiatus. After the death of mine owner Larry Gray in 2001, the mine lay dormant until last year when it resumed production. Desert Sun Mining & Gems, Depoe Bay, Ore., is in the process of completing a purchase agreement that could eventually give it sole possession of the property. Estimated yield is 20,000 carats per year, for up to one hundred years.

The owner of the Tibetan mine, Jackie Li of DoWin Development Co., was at Pala International where Bill Larson and company promoted the gem. Most of the material was a medium-to-dark, strongly saturated reddish orange. Li, who donated some specimens to the Smithsonian Institution for its reference collection, also had bicolors and rare greens. Similar material was promoted at the GJX tent by Feng Chen of AndeGem, Los Angeles and Hong Kong.

Don Buford of Dust Devil Mining in Cloverdale, Ore., showing at the Hotel Arizona, had plenty of fine brownish orange and reddish orange sunstone, with and without schiller. (Schiller is the glistening effect caused from inclusions of tiny copper platelets.) Ev Tucker, owner of Rogue Lapidary, Medford, Ore., presented matching sunstone briolettes.

2.Moonstone. Designers who need large but affordable gems love this one. Orange sherbet Indian moonstones surfaced this year, as did some very fine quality traditional whites. Manu Nichani at Blue Moon Enterprises in Carlsbad, Calif., said he’s never seen color like this before.

3.Unheated Madagascan aquamarine. Of the many gem varieties found in Madagascar, these were the most unusual in Tucson. Glenn Preus, Glenn Preus Lapidary, Honolulu, had a fine example in a 19.82 ct. rectangular cushion cut.

4.Rose-color amethyst. William Pung of CPS Gems in Los Angeles showed a new gem find of amethyst from Cambodia. Combining two popular colors in one stone, the purple/pink- and violet/rose-color amethyst is trademarked Pinkberry.

5.Prasiolite. The term is being used to identify a heated amethyst, but, because it sounds like “praseolite”—a natural-color leek green cordierite (aka iolite)—the name is causing some confusion. Prasiolite is big, clean, inexpensive, and—to reiterate—heat treated. It’s also a hit on television shopping channels. ACN recently broadcast this remark: “Prasiolite used to be a dollar or two per carat, but designers have found this new gemstone. In Tucson we saw the same stones in designer pieces being sold for $30,000.” The person making the comment didn’t say what other gems and metals were used in the $30,000 designer piece, so if your customer was watching, he or she might believe that prasiolite is rare and expensive. It isn’t.

6.Cuprian manganese elbaite. Everybody else may call it Paraíba tourmaline, but unless it comes from Paraíba, Brazil, and has the electric blue color associated with the original mine production, it’s just another pretty tourmaline. Thanks to a new find in Mozambique, as well as material still coming from Nigeria, plus Brazilian sources close to Paraíba, there were lots of pretty Paraíba-like tourmalines in Tucson.

7.Emeralds from Afghanistan. Arthur Groom, Arthur Groom & Co., New York/N.J., showed his latest find of Afghanistan material. Color, transparency, and clarity were comparable to the finest Colombian emeralds we’ve seen.

8.Take it for granite. Roberto Sutter of Horizonte Switzerland (who also carries traditional gem materials) showed a jewelry line that incorporates granite from paving stone. The material is certified paving stone from the front of Kramgasse 49 in the city of Bern, Switzerland. This is the house where Albert Einstein lived, 100 years ago, as he refined his theory of relativity. It makes for some unusual and pretty jewelry.


There were several rare gems at the shows worth mentioning:

Painite. This was probably the rarest of all the buzz-worthy gems that actually could be seen. Bill Larson at Pala International had several pieces for sale. Prior to this find, only three gems had ever been cut.

Haüyne. This gem (pronounced “HOW-een”) has a remarkable blue color but is never found any larger than a quarter-carat. “The intensity of the cobalt blue color is decisive,” writes Constantin Wild from Idar-Oberstein, Germany, who showed at the Hotel Arizona in the Idar-Oberstein ballroom. “Having a few inclusions is acceptable, since flawless stones hardly occur.” Haüyne is related to lazurite, and both can have a rich Kashmir blue color. John Bradshaw at Coast to Coast Rare Stones also showed haüyne.

Benitoite. Add California’s state gem to the list of disappearing gemstones. “The property has been fully reclaimed, and all commercial operations have ended,” says Paul Cory, IteCo Inc., Powell, Ohio. “In all likelihood, it is safe to say forever.” Of the entire 2005 production, IteCo got enough rough to cut perhaps 100 stones of more than a carat.

Sweet home rhodochrosite. This isn’t so much rare as simply in great demand, says Cory. “Since the mine has closed, the demand has increased beyond our wildest expectations,” he says. “All of our major customers want more stones than we can produce for them.” Cory says they’re trying to keep everyone happy. “It’s like walking a tightrope, but I think we did a good job of it this year.”