Tucson 2010

Tucson Show 2010

The Tucson gem and mineral show is a pilgrimage that anyone interested in gems, minerals, fossils or jewellery should make at least once.

I have been more then 25 times and spent over a year of my life at the show. In that time it has grown from being held in 3 motels to over 40 locations scattered across Tucson.

An amethyst geode as big as a car

It is my thermometer for aging or a “micro life” within my normal life. I see so many world wide friends there and catch up on their lives and experiences. We exchange information, contacts, ideas, trends and future directions. As such, the Tucson show is more than just the world’s biggest gem show. It is a beautiful tapestry of the complete gemstone industry and those wonderful people who make up its threads.

An amazing thing about the Tucson show is that there is always the “wow” factor. It does not matter how often you go; there is something on display that will knock your eyes out.

Perhaps a downside is the 13 hour cramped plane flight to L.A. Perhaps it is the 4 hour wait for a connecting flight to Tucson. Or more likely it is the anticipation of what is to come that makes the waiting more protracted.

For many years I have traveled with Terry Coldham (Gemstone expert and connoisseur. Terry owns wholesale businesses, Sapphex  and Affiliated Importer’s). Every year he say’s he does not need to go but the magnetic uniqueness of the event somehow draws him back.

Peter and agate slice

This year we stayed at the Day’s Inn right in the hub of the show. This was one of the original motel selling sites and the first motel I ever stayed at. That first trip Terry and I accompanied famous mineral collector Albert Chapman. Albert’s lessons in aesthetics of a specimen have been invaluable to me over the years and I have transported his concepts to all other aspects of our industry from selecting gemstone sculptures to opal cutting.

2009 was a slow year for many Tucson dealers. The worldwide economic downturn had a definite impact and for many dealers sales were down dramatically. We had noticed the number of buyers that normally increases year after year were significantly fewer. 2010 was going to be very interesting, especially for Tucson’s future shows.

2010 saw no noticeable drop in the number of sellers. The number of buyers appeared to be around the same as 2009, perhaps a little higher. Talking to a mixture of sellers revealed interesting results. Although sales were not like earlier years they were on average better then 2010. Some of the Australian opal dealers were doing much better and were happy with their sales. Some sellers were having the best selling year they had ever had, so the potential for good sales was still there. Other sellers were disappointed but overall Tucson was alive and kicking and will continue to evolve and show the pulse, trends and future directions of the gemstone industry.

A decent fossil

Buying was excellent. If you knew your prices there were plenty of good buys, plenty of variety and our dollar being strong gave great value. I had less then $20 in my wallet when I reached Los Angeles airport and my credit cards had a distinct red colour.

It is always interesting to see new stones from new deposits and talk to those people directly involved with them. To me an opal deposit in the Welo Province in Ethiopia was particularly interesting. Discovered on the side of a very steep canyon early in 2008 it is producing some wonderfully bright light base opal. Unlike other opal deposits in Ethiopia this opal is apparently quite stable. Of course only time will tell if this is true.  I looked closely at perhaps 50 stones all priced over $2000. They reminded me of the best opal from Lambina in South Australia or some of the early crystal/jelly opal of Andamooka. The colours were vibrant with full colour throughout. The amazing aspect of this deposit is the amount of good opal that has come from such a small area. I was shown pictures of the current extent of the workings and the difficulty in reaching and mining the deposit. And here lies an interesting scenario.

Interesting fossils

At the possible wrath of some Aussie opal lovers I dare to make this statement.  If this field is as extensive as it may well be, perhaps in the future, Australia could loose it’s dominance in the light opal market. At the moment it is early days but those involved believe the current opal production is only “scratching the surface” and they believe the future is incredibly bright. However, Ethiopian politics may well hinder the development of the industry. We will all have to wait and see.

We started with breakfast at our favorite Tucson breakfast diner “The Old Times Kafe”. (This wonderful establishment never changes. It has the same owners, staff and décor as it did when we first went there years ago – even down to the cement goose with broken beak at the entrance! We are greeted each year and they know exactly what our order will be and that we like our coffee  AFTER the meal.

Our days were filled with business and the nights were spent dining out, eating too much and catching up with friends. We dined with a broad spectrum of the industry. A Chinese factory owner, a Brazilian gemstone cutter, a world leading gemstone expert and author, a leading bulk rough dealer being typical dining partners. This year we also had dinner with Martin Soklich and his mother Maureen from Soklich Trading Co of Perth (Who I had not seen since I was 16) The conversation each night was diverse, interesting, educational and stimulating.

Peter and friend

A speech by Bruce Bridges at the annual International Colored Gemstone Association Tucson get together was extremely moving (The night was a dedicated tribute to Campbell Bridges). Campbell Bridges is attributed with the discovery of Tsavorite. On August 11 in Kenya, Bruce, his father and four others were viciously attacked by a mob and Campbell Bridges was murdered. Bruce made the point that they knew who committed the murder but authorities were doing little to apprehend the killer. Just days after this tribute Daniel Mnene was apprehended by a member of the Bridges’ private security force and police finally arrested and charged him with the murder. The inside story of this whole saga is quite incredible.

Large quartz sphere

The actual Tucson Mineral Show at the convention centre high lighted gemstone crystals and unusual gemstones cut from them. There were so many WOW pieces I could not mention them all. Although pictures just don’t seem to do justice some are included here.

I was particularly impressed with the five tone marble sculpture “American Woman” by Francisco Sotomayor. This life-size sculpture of a woman reclining on a 10 foot long concert grande piano is a masterpiece. Talking to the sculptor was fascinating and gave me a greater insight into the carving problems and idiosyncrasies of marble as a carving median. (It started with a twenty ton block and took 1,600 hours over a 16 month period to complete).    The website http://www.franciscosfineart.com/ is well worth a look that shows the sculpture evolve from the block of marble to completion. There is also an interesting segment on the Yule marble mine.

Giant amethyst geodes as big as a car, complete fossil dinosaurs, emeralds the size of match boxes and Tanzanites as big as eggs can all be seen at Tucson. Often it is something less spectacular but ultimately more unusual that attracts me these days. I particularly liked a Benitoite crystal group forming in a letter C.

A box made from Tigeriron and a blue topaz crystal also found the spot.

Tucson is a unique experience. It goes beyond the beautiful gemstones, fossils and minerals displayed. It is the total experience that makes the event special.

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