Welcome to the Tucson Show Report 2014, and our sharing of the adventure and my take on the event, the locations, the market, and more. Hope you enjoy.
This year, we went even earlier than usual, and took advantage of the “quiet before the storm” that is usually the Tucson crowd. Only this year, that storm didn’t appear to ever really get thick. Even by Feb 3, the crowds weren’t as thick as usual, IMO.
This may have contributed to what seemed like a more casual and comfortable atmosphere – and a much more friendly one from every stripe of vendor and hospitality worker we encountered.
Even hotel housekeeping seemed a little less grumpy, though a tip was still welcome – and cause for even greater service.
High-end rough was very scarce, and prices were insanely high – particularly in Tourmaline and Aquamarine – with asking prices often double what they’d been just a few years ago. That was when you could find these materials.
The asking price for this Aquamarine (at right) was $40 / gram.
And as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, dealers were asking me if I’d brought anything to SELL. However, there was plenty to be found in middle and commercial-grade materials.
Check the mountains of Amethyst, Green Amethyst, and Citrine in these two photos:
The same vendor from Brazil had a nice selection of very-good-grade Citrine and Amethyst inside, along with quantity-priced Garnets, and more:
…as well as a good selection of … something I acquired for the Advanced Academy course on “Artistic Inclusions” – something every student will get one of this time around…
Once you get rolling at Tucson – with roomfuls of fossils and pyrite punctuated by high-end Kunzite like this:
… and, you walk up and heft pieces from 20-liter bins full of chunks like this Topaz, the juices really start pumping.
We connected with some old friends:
Check out the fist-sized Rubellite that Niran is lighting up in my hand – and the one he’s got in his hand!
These kinds of connections aren’t just fun. They’re also especially helpful when the market is thin. And, these friends helped make the trip productive with stuff like the photos that follow.
Mixed color Sapphire
(yes, it really is this color)
The selections started to open up:
And, there were some good selections of commercial and intermediate material – with the occasional nice find – all around the shows. (Haven’t I seen that guy somewhere before?)
We looked outside – where we found some really fun included materials:
We looked inside:
And, spent time hand-selecting:
To find some Aqua the Academy Students will be cutting in May:
And, there’s stuff of every color, shape, and size:
…until you get cross-eyed, and have to get some relaxation time and see the sights from a new perspective. You can’t just look at pretty rocks all the time. Sometimes, you have to look at the pretty desert sky.
This is John just off the lower launch at Box Canyon, only 40 minutes South of Tucson. What a beautiful way to spend the day, and we got to have a view like this:
This part of our trip was facilitated by Aaron Cromer of FlyingLizardParagliding.com in Tucson. What a way to see that beautiful basin. If you live near Tucson and want to learn to fly free like this, contact Aaron.
The next day, and back on the hunt, we found some nice Winza Ruby:
Spent some time pondering over the few nice clean Tourmaline we could find:
Here’s a close-up of this one:
And, here are some more, from Brazil:
Some of our old friends introduced us to some new friends:
They showed us some very pretty new material:
It looks like this close-up (extra credit for Faceting Academy Students who sight-ID this from the photo):
Keep the trusty kit handy for checking the rough. Here, I’m confirming the flawlessness of a nice Heliodor:
Looks like this after I get it home:
I scored a nice ingot of material suitable for student projects in the “Value By Design” course:
And, visited with Bruce White – the cat whose Corian laps I use and recommend:
It’s easy to get distracted by something like a nice handful of Ruby faceting rough:
… to the point you don’t really notice the time – or other things going on…
Did I mention that the dealers are fun and friendly?
Really enjoyed working with these guys and will look them up as a priority next time around…
There was more Tanzanite of reasonable size in the market than I’ve ever seen. Here’s a piece that decided it wanted to live in Oregon (at least until after it’s cut):
And, what’s Tucson without a photograph like this? (extra credit for Faceting Academy Students who tell me why I took this photo.)
We connected with more old friends, including Elayne Luer and well-known faceting great Ernie Hawes. I sure wish I’d have had more time to visit with these folks.
We did manage to make a few more new friends:
… like this guy, who cooks Zircon the old fashioned way:
He had some nice stuff:
Here’s what it looks like in good light:
We rounded our haul with a broad sampling of materials for both the Basic Training and Advanced Academy courses in May, where the students will be cutting stones from these parcels (extra credit for Faceting Academy Students who sight-ID this from the first photo):
That’s the fun, games, and photos part of this post. Here’s the business end of the Tucson Report for 2014:
The show had, as I mentioned, lighter traffic than usual. High-end rough was harder to find, and prices were stratospheric. Commercial to medium rough was still available. We found some things we don’t usually see much of, like Sphene and Tanzanite (more on the Tanz in a bit). Socially, the town seemed more friendly than in the past.
Trends in the Gem Market
I’m hearing from everyone in the trade – from old friends, new friends, vendors at Tucson and vendors I know only on-line. And, the stories are all consistent – and consistent with what the market is showing.
Downward pressures on production (supply): I’m hearing everything from restrictions on necessary resources like explosives, to increased environmental regulation, to increased government control and corruption (costs for bribery, etc). Everyone wants a piece of what they perceive as easy-come windfall. The war in Afghanistan is problematic, as is the increasing terrorist activity in Africa for these issues. I’m also hearing some stories about land-use pressures – like growing food instead of digging a hole.
Upward pressures on prices (demand): I’m hearing about prices going up at the mines faster than at the consumer end of the production stream. Some gem-producing locations are sending representatives to aggressively buy-out production in places where production is cheaper – and where the new production locality may threaten the old market (Sri Lankas in Africa). Some emerging markets are tapping supply closer to the source, paying premiums to do so.
World-wide fears about stability of fiat currency – and the desire to store value in durable, portable, stable ways – as well as the bubble in gold – are leading people (back) to a traditional strategy of precious stones.
The middle class in China is ballooning, and accelerating for the next decade, with consumer confidence rising and a culture that’s adopting some of the West’s appetite for conspicuous-consumption:
These throngs of people are competing for durable, value-storing, conspicuous-consumption goods. And, precious stones are part of that.
As the U.S. Dollar is weakened, and the Chinese and other markets become stronger – and more hungry for precious goods – we’re going to see a long-term run-up of prices in the finer grades of goods, with the big buyers doing business in cash and at mining localities.
The U.S. based faceter isn’t even going to see the quality of goods we used to – except for those who travel to the mines, or have contacts who do. If then.
So, for the foreseeable future, keep the rule about not passing any potential to find quality rough – and remember to ask. When you see something in the market, grab it. This is particularly true of Tanzanite in sizes significantly larger than 1 gram. If you don’t understand why, then do some research…
All of that seems to be “bad news” for U.S. cutters. And, combine it with the way U.S. manufacturers of high-precision faceting equipment are shipping overseas in greater quantity than ever before.
Not only is the rough going overseas (following strong currency and demand), but the machinery and some of the know-how to cut it. I just learned about a trend in the specific index gears being requested that tells me they are catching-on to some of the technology we teach in our “Value By Design” program. This also seems to be “bad news” for U.S. cutters.
Evolution does not favor “survival of the fittest”, but survival of the most adaptable. U.S.-based cutters need to be paying attention to the aspects of the trad that we control – as well as those over which we are losing control.
In recent months, there has been new production at some U.S. gem mines – in Maine, in particular. There has also been increasing interest in production in Oregon’s mines of Sunstones in the Rabbit Basin and Fire Opal on Juniper Ridge. We have some great domestic gem materials – and some that are not available elsewhere on the planet.
American cutters can focus more on domestically-mined gem rough, emphasizing to the U.S. market the socially and environmentally responsible and “made in America” factors – while emphasizing to the growing foreign market the exotic attractiveness of things American, and the kitsch of mined-and-cut-by-the-artist. (Means, do some fee-digging every chance you get)
I think American cutters are going to need to learn stronger yield/recovery strategies to go along with our “modern” optical notions. We’re going to need to learn better color management through design components (the Value By Design course material). The days of getting away with brilliant-cutting medium Aquamarine and still turning a profit are long gone.
Americans are good at innovation and our culture is generally open to free expression – things other cultures, and particularly the most growing of target markets – can not claim (for now). We need to take advantage of that, and follow in the footsteps of artists like Dalan Hargrave -with new styles, new expressions, and even new technologies for maximizing yield as well as presentation. We cannot sit on our hands and expect the economically-based cultural shifts coming to the most powerfully-growing economy in the world aren’t going to overtake us if we sit still.
The GOOD NEWS is that perhaps the biggest market for precious gems and gem art is about to explode for the next decade. And, for the moment, American technology, creativity, innovation, and even some great raw materials – are still out front.
American cutters need to GET QUALITY TRAINING that goes beyond the raw mechanics. They need to get good tools; source quality rough in America; and get creative with their art, branding, and value-added presentation.
We also need to work in unusual or new materials or techniques – and especially if the primary value in the finished product is the ORIGINAL artistic presentation. Pretenders to innovation and copy-artists are going to do less well in the coming years because they will be competing squarely with people who are also good at copying, have better access to rough, and reside where the cost of living is low. Real innovators, whose knowledge exceeds basic mechanics, and who can create distinctive presentations are going to prosper.
At the Faceting Academy, we focus on building these things by teaching far more than gross mechanics. We focus on fully understanding the science, unusual materials and methods, applied technology of using design to influence color, and an eye toward innovative artistic presentation with certain kinds of rough.
I’m going to do my best to contribute to he bright future that awaits the prepared.
See you there!