Tucson – the Gem Shows!

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2007 Tucson Bead & Gem Show…I want to put this info down on paper…first for me because I want to remember every minute of this amazing trip, and second because I think that it may inspired some people who are sitting on the fence when it comes to making the decision to take the trip!

Let me dispel some of the misconceptions I had…

1. The Tucson Gem Show is this giant show with tons of booths…not quite…the Tucson Gem Show is actually 46 separate shows and each individual show can house 50 to 500 vendors.

2. After reading the Show Guide and seeing where the shows were located, I figured I would need a car…don’t do it…I probably spent a total of $150 on taxis (you would eliminate this cost totally if you stayed at a hotel near one of the venues). Tucson is undergoing a 5 year freeway renovation project and the traffic is a pain, aside from the fact that finding parking near most of the venues is very tough. The city of Tucson provided (FREE) a system of shuttles that went to the various shows, so if your hotel was near one of the shows – you had free transportation from 8am to 7pm every day.

3. You have to have a business license and re-sale number (one show actually required letters of reference from companies you’ve purchased from in the past) to get into (and buy) at most of the shows…as a student this was a huge fear for me as I no longer have a business. Most of the shows will admit Students without question, some want a student ID. The majority of the venues offered “Visitor” passes and you can buy from most of the vendors. The vendors that are “Wholesale Only” or required a “Minimum Purchase”, display that info prominently.

4. You can get amazing prices that will beat the Local Bead Store…True and False! If you are going to Tucson as a designer of one-of-a-kind pieces, while prices will definitely beat your LBS, you aren’t likely to get any great deals. If you have a beading supply business and can afford to purchase multiples, most vendors will offer deals by the gram, kilogram, or pound. You need to do your homework – most of the vendors deal in millimeters, centimeters, grams or kilograms, know your weights and measures, nothing says amateur like messing up a weight. One way to get your bearings is say an item is priced per carat…get the vendor to weigh out and price a medium size of the stone you are looking at so you will have an idea what you can find in your price range. At the bead vendors watch them weigh out a kilogram of beads for someone (most will let you mix and match and one vendor gave a $100 in free beads to anyone with business ID)…it will give you an idea of whether this is a deal or not.

5. Looks Matter – you know, the more I dressed down the easier it was to talk to some of the vendors…there are shows that I feel that “business attire” is necessary (the AGTA, GJX & GLDA Shows in particular). But the bottom line on the dress code is “business casual” – if you are like me, you are going to do a lot more walking than you have done in a while (and it is continuous day after day), so the most important piece of wardrobe is your shoes!!!

I think the easiest way to do this is by venue…so, come on everyone here we go!

AGTA at the Tucson Convention Center:

This is probably the most high-end and popular show…it will truly leave you breathless. Most of the people I talked to didn’t go into this show because they felt it was just faceted stones and diamonds…while that is a big portion of the show it also included beads and pearls (a shape I didn’t find anywhere else) and due to the larger market presence and budget of the companies represented, this show is key to learning trends and directions in fashion. When you go into the main Gem Hall and see a strand of emerald beads you have an example of what AAA Grade Emerald Beads should look like. While they may be way out of our price range it gives you an ideal for shopping at some of the other venues.

Trends I noticed at AGTA:

Cuprian Tourmaline: no matter how controversial this stone is, it is beautiful and it is everywhere! In the “Paraiba” color and a range of new colors (I am especially fond of the strong, almost neon quality of the violet) from Africa.

Micro-Beads: these tiny (most are 3-5mm) little smooth or faceted rondelles are HUGE…most vendors are carrying them…but buyer beware the quality varies from vendor to vendor and from strand to strand. These are being shown in Emerald, Ruby, Sapphire, Mixed Corundum (Ruby, with Blue and Yellow Sapphire), Emerald with Mixed Corundum and Diamonds (all colors, blue, champagne, yellow, cognac, milky white and clear white).

Diamonds: not only in the micro-beads but also really cool looks using natural rough diamond crystals. These came in a variety of styles and looks from 1ct crystals caged in 18kt gold to nugget beads chained together – Rosary style!

Pearls: I must say that pearls were in abundance with strands of every color, shape (crosses, biwa, mabe’, keshi, coin, potato, rice, button, even faceted) and size (micro 3mm to 12-16mm). Several vendors are showing the keshi pearls in new shapes…some have the ruffled lettuce-edge, some shaped more like leaves, side-drilled, center-drilled…I guess I’m saying if you like keshi – it is still big. I really felt I had probably seen every shape when I saw something that was really unique. One vendor (I didn’t see them anywhere else and I am kicking my self for not picking up a strand) had really beautiful champagne pearls that were a nice round pearl (approx. 9-10mm) with just a little of that “keshi” lettuce edge coming off one side, they really were beautiful…ah well!

OK let’s do a quick tour of the AGTA Show at the Convention Center:

After checking in (which BTW I would suggest you do before going to Tucson – most shows allow you to pre-register) you walk down a hall filled with photographic displays and individual booths manned by all of the various trade organizations that support the Jewelry Industry (both in the US and Internationally) and all the major schools and testing laboratories are also represented.

The first major Hall was the “Designer Pavilion” housing work by people you have only seen in the pages of glossy fashion & society magazines along with the 2007 AGTA Spectrum Award Winners (AGTA Spectrum Awards is an annual natural colored gemstone & cultured pearl jewelry design competition.). You can see the winners here: [http://www.agta.org/consumer/spectrum/2007winners.htm]

Next you visit the Main Gem Hall – literally aisle after aisle (17 rows back to back) of some of the most spectacular gems I have ever seen…most humans will never in their lives see gems of this quality! There was also a small display of some of the museum-grade gems that have been donated to GIA’s private collection and small grouping of items from the traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian Institution.

Gem Hall II housed the new “Colored Diamond” area and very interesting and surprisingly affordable “Estate Jewelry” area all along side several rows of Metals, Findings and Tools vendors. Tucked in the corner of this room was a surprise that I wasn’t aware of MJSA was offering a series of seminars called “At The Bench…” each subject was different but in total gave a great representation of the industry. For a list of seminars see:

OK, Moving On…Tucson Electric Park, here we go…

When you take the GemRide shuttle to the Electric Park you enter between the two separate shows the Tucson Electric Park Show on the left and the Electric Park RV Show to the right – we are going to start with the larger of the two shows.

For those of you who are wondering Tucson Electric Park is a Sports Complex, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Spring Training Camp for the Chicago White Sox.

This is probably the most rugged venue…you not only need comfortable shoes for this site but rugged, comfortable shoes! The entire event is outdoors on gravel. Most of the shows are open to the public with just a couple roped off as “for wholesale only”. That doesn’t mean that you can’t get wholesale deals here, just offer your re-sale number and a sizable order.

There is one HUGE main tent this was anchored by a large Indonesian company that carried an assortment of products (I particularly loved the carved burls) and Southwest Silver on one end and Kents Tools and Alpha Supply on the other. With an assortment of various shops in between…a few carving shops (one of my favs was here), some rough, some beads, a couple faceters and lots of finished jewelery.

This tent held my attention for hours…Alpha Supply (very friendly and helpful folks) had demos going on everyday…Tony Aldrige would demo any feature of the Foredom that was important to your field; Ed Johnson cut Ocean Jasper to the pattern on the stone in an amazing demo of the new “ring” saw, it is like haveing a scroll saw for stones (this may be my next major purchase) and several different people did faceting demos…and my personal favorite demo was the Tools by Miland booth…a tool geeks haven!

As if this wasn’t enough there were two other tents that housed tool companies…the Diamond Pacific Tent and the Crystalite Tent. The other large tents housed Village Originals – yes their product looks just as good in person; Blake Brothers (Wholesale Only!); the balance were an eclectic mix of products, rough, jewelry and even clothing! There was a very cool company (can’t remember the name, unfortunately) that would wire-wrap a piece that you bought while you waited…great idea! I got my favorite purchase from Wild Ginger Imports – an incredible selection of moths, beetles and a leaf bug (yes real!) behind glass in a shadow box.

Most of the other vendors either had their own tent or were in the open space in a central booth “village” area! This was definitely the venue to find great deals on gem rough, jars of opals, agates of all kind, jade and really nice rugs & wood carvings.

Now – to the real reason I spent so much time at the Electric Park, the Electric Park Learning Center:


This couldn’t have been a more welcoming venue – friendly staff and truly world class instructors. Their schedule was very complete and was a great fit with the other seminars available…from Beading to Faceting (including an entire day of faceting from across the pond, with Scot – Danny Hargreaves – he was a wealth of information and a eager to share his craft)

For me, the highlights were…

Setting a Stone Within a Stone – Hans Durstling

Selecting Good Faceting Rough – John Franke

Selling Your Craft – Tony Aldridge

Getting the Most from Your Diamond Saw – Bill Ritter

Cabachon Cutting, Step-by-Step – Bill Depue

Tumbling for Jewelers – Ed Johnson

Drilling Holes in Gem Material – Bill Ritter

Check the links above for info about the offerings for 2008!

write by rodriguez

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