Tucson Gem Show 2005

This is our brief review of Tucson Gem Show 2005 – both the show and our trip to the area. In addition to review information on the show, this page includes consumer warning information, as well as some tourist information. Please enjoy anything you find useful or interesting.

Tucson is an elephant, and I don’t intend for this tiny page to be a global source of information. I personally read every review of the shows – to get different perspectives – and to see what I missed. I recommend you do the same!


The trip was great, as always. We left Oregon with chilly temps, and enjoyed the “warmer” weather in Arizona, even though it was colder there this year than last.

There were a number of new venues this year, allowing a host of new dealers and a growing variety of offerings. Some shows were billed in the show guide as being oriented primarily toward specific interests, such as beads. However, even those shows offered some “out of place” vendors with materials of interest to us. I needed more shopping time this year than I did last
year, and I’ll schedule yet more time for the 2006 show. I recommend taking at least a week if you really want to shop. Even then, you should plan your shopping carefully.

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed some trends in show content and the quality of my overall experience. I’m continuing to find most of the large wholesale shows of declining interest with each year. The high show overhead is reflected in the prices of goods, while rough material is disappearing in favor of beads and polished goods.

We should all offer thanks to Tucson Police Department which showed a friendly and professional presence at every venue. They were nearly always handy, and universally friendly and helpful. In my opinion, they go a long way toward making the visitor’s experience safe and pleasant.

This year we arrived early to join the opening day stampede at several venues. After long waits, choking on second-hand smoke in crowded queues attended by disorganized show representatives, I’ve concluded that opening day – or at least opening morning of the larger wholesale shows – is to be avoided.

One Magical Way to Better Deals and More Fun:

When shopping the hotel shows, remember that you are entering the sleeping quarters – as well as the office and showroom – of the person you are about to bargain / haggle with, and a little rapport can help out your wallet. Use some “golden rule”, and think a moment before you enter – about how you would like people to behave in your home.

Polite, patient, professional shoppers get to see “the good stuff” from under the counter – and they get a better deal than the rude, pushy, impatient person. I personally saw some pieces this year that were not shown to the public – and I was offered prices below the “bottom line” that others haggled down to. I’m not better looking – I just exercised a little more politeness…

Remember that hospitality is a refined and integral aspect of business in some cultures – especially those from the Middle East. This is why I love doing business with the people from Pakistan and Afghanistan – They are always the warmest and most gracious people.

Simple Tips:

  • Remember that you are both host and guest. They are in your country and you are in their sleeping quarters. Try to be a gracious host as well as a polite guest.
  • Hotel shows are crowded – Give people some space while you wait your turn to look and negotiate.
  • Speak softly so you won’t interfere with other business.
  • If it’s cheaper across town then quietly go there and buy it! In any case be quiet about it here where this dealer is making their living.
  • Make kind (if any) observations about the goods.
  • Make polite and reasonable offers – Half the asked price is usually way less than appropriate – and likely to insult the dealer – decreasing your chances for a better price.
  • Keep your smoke outside and away from the doorway.
  • Most of the dealers speak more English than we do of their language. They are neither hard of hearing nor stupid…
  • Pay attention to cultural issues – Some cultures don’t dicker at all, while others are uncomfortable if you don’t. Some dealers will tell you outright that the price offered is their final price. This is usually a clue. Obnoxious behavior is unlikely to procure a better deal…

Show Specific:

  • GJX is always a fun show, where we met colleagues, friends, and customers – who were exhibiting or shopping. This is a good show, but see my comments above about opening day…
  • GLDA, already known for being unfriendly to patrons, moved to a new venue some distance from town. According to their representatives, the very limited parking was full nearly two hours prior to open. The only alternative was to drive back to town and catch a bus back to the venue – or to skip the venue altogether (which we did). With several new, lower-overhead venues available and time at a premium, I personally will not bother with this venue in the future unless they make some drastic changes.
  • G&LW had the customer service idea down – running golf-cart shuttles continuously to whisk patrons from parking into the venue – and back when we were done. Thanks for a friendly show!
  • Holiday Inn Holidome was again well-run and friendly. We always go there to see the guys from Morion and our friends at Raytech.
  • Electric Park had more to offer than last year, and is growing to be one of my favorite venues, where I can drool over huge saws and giant flat-lapping machines.
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Sorting through bins of Pakistani Peridot in the sun

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…and parcels of Tourmaline in the shade

  • Pueblo Inn / Riverpark Inn treated us to a really nasty experience. Their representatives were so aggressively menacing that we even called the cops. When we complained to the hotel manager, his only comment about our experience there was to threaten to sue me if I tell anyone what they did. Suffice it to say I would never park there again…
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Sorting a tray of Sphene at Pueblo Inn

  • Rapa River had some great stuff inside and out…
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…like a chunk of drusy that’s bigger than Ray

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Another shot behind Rapa River – So many rocks, so little time…

Bins of Smoky Quartz and Green Gold Quartz (note the coffee-table stands made from geode Amethyst standing in the background)

  • Howard Johnson / AKS is always a great spot to find good material – I spent a bundle there this year.
  • Executive Inn was a good venue: We always go there to see the guys from Lasco Diamond Tools, but there was less rough offered than in the past. The best thing about Executive Inn this year was the new restaurant next door.
  • The Inn Suites was a good place to shop rough this year – and a great place to visit if you’re an Opal nut. Glenn from Rainbow Ridge Mine had his usual impressive display – and offered his usual great hospitality.

Rough Deals

Last year I wrote: “There was generally less material that I found inviting, and what I did see was both lower quality and higher price than last year. Who knows if this is a general trend, or the result of various political and economic factors?”

This year, it looks like a trend. The rough available was mostly lower-grade. Better grades of material were priced very high – and often available as “lot only” – in parcels that would break the bank…

The Mexican Fire Opal I looked through this year was all small and commercial grade. I purchased one piece – at five times the price that piece would have demanded two years ago. Most of what they had on hand was “whole lot only – no picking” in kilo-sized lots. There were commercial opportunities here, but nothing I wanted to personally cut. I’m hearing rumors about these mines drying up – and the market certainly looks like it to me…

The Demantoid I’d acquired for a bargain last year was gone this year. What’s in stock is all I will have to offer until who-knows-when.

I still found some great material this year – and some really exciting new things.

Spodumene (Kunzite and Hiddenite) was in the market again this year, and affordable, but the quality pieces were much higher than last year. I did see some phenomenal stuff, and a few bargains waiting for the persistent shopper. I treated myself to a nice crystal of Triphane and a chunk of Hiddenite.

I found more and nicer Emerald rough this year than last – from Columbia and Brazil.

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Here’s a pretty crystal, ready for the trim-saw

Peridot from Pakistan was again plentiful, but not in the quality I found last year. There were loads of specimen and commercial grades, available for very reasonable prices – and there were still reasonable facet-grade pieces of 3+ grams available for serious bargain prices. You just had to find them hiding among the other material.

Some of the Peridot with Ludwigite inclusions will produce nice gems such as the following two examples:

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Here’s a 17+ gram Peridot crystal with Ludwigite
inclusions that I rescued from a pile of “specimens”.
The crystal shape and inclusions instantly inspired
a new design idea…

Tourmaline remained very difficult to locate in quality / size / price combinations that would represent a good opportunity. I purchased some commercial grade material –

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…and one bargain Rubellite of about 8 grams.

High quality Tourmaline was even more scarce than last year, and the prices were high, with “good blue” (but closed-C-axis) material fetching $150 per gram. Some rough was priced firmly at my calculation of the wholesale value that the finished gems would command.

I found a nice parcel of Iolite from Madagascar for an excellent price.

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Here’s one of the better pieces

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I purchased this great 34-gram Aquamarine
from a dealer at the Inn Suites –
a gentleman I work with every year.

Some really great Sapphire was discovered “under the counter” in a specimen dealer’s location. I got blues, fancies, and color-change Sapphire from this guy. Here are a few photos:

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Here are some of first stones I cut from that lot:

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1.02 carat Padparadscha Sapphire

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2.17 carat untreated Blue Sapphire

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1.44 carat Orange and Pink Sapphire

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.83 carat Hot Pink Sapphire

There are always incredible discoveries.
The following items are good examples.

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Facet-grade Spinel from a new find in China
located in a specimen dealer’s hotel room

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The prize was this 11+ gram piece.
It produced the following gem:

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An 11mm, 6.56 carat natural Red Spinel

The next two photos are Dichroic beryl
(Kelly green on the C axis and Yellow on the A-B axis).
I’ve never seen this Brazilian material before:

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40+ Gram specimen
Two views, displaying both color axes

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Two views, displaying both color axes
Next, another “specimen rescue” – Vivianite

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… weighing almost 7 grams.
I’m excited to tackle the challenge
this gorgeous crystal presents.

And, what’s Tucson without at least one doorknob-sized gem rough?
This one was found next to that 17-gram Peridot pictured earlier:

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Imperial Topaz weighing 117 grams
(black lines are marks for sawing)

I found a few included Quartz to do some “needle cuts”. This one is already marked up for sawing to isolate the two good opportunities this piece offers. I’m shopping harder every year to locate these:

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Here are a couple of examples of centered needle cuts:

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If you have a special interest in any specific items mentioned above, you should contact me ASAP. There are a VERY LIMITED number of these extraordinary pieces. Once they are cut and sold, they will be GONE. And, as you have read above, stones that were plentiful this time may be unavailable next time around…


All the dealers I worked with this year were great – again, especially those from Pakistan and Afghanistan.

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Several showed me the “bottom shelf” stuff that dreams are made of – including gigantic Emerald and Aquamarine crystals – as well as some mind-blowing Spodumene.


I saw more examples of the old colored-string trick on the bead racks. The disturbing thing this year was that some American dealers were doing it – with Oregon Sunstone, no less. I looked at strands of nearly-colorless Sunstone beads priced in the multiple hundreds of dollars. They appeared quite pink entirely due to the red thread they were strung on. As someone who mines and markets Sunstone, I found this embarrassing and disappointing.

Fewer dealers were accepting checks this year, though more were taking credit cards. I also saw several using counterfeit-detection devices, and marking larger bills to note from whom they had been received. This indicates some problems with buyers passing funny money and rubber checks. You may want to plan to bring traveler’s checks and some cash.

Tourist Stuff

The Tucson area offers some great side-trips, and some great restaurants. We like Sweet Tomatoe’s salad buffet on Broadway, but our new favorite was the just-opened Sultan’s Palace at 345 Drachman St. (520-622-2892) offering authentic Afghani cuisine.

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Not all of the seating is at floor-level, but we enjoyed these comfortable arrangements after a long day of shopping. The food is incredible, and the service and hospitality are fantastic. This is my number one recommendation for interesting and delicious cuisine in Tucson. My personal favorite was the Lamb Kabob you can cut with a fork!

This year, we returned to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, and as I wrote last year, this half-day side trip is highly recommended.

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Trish photographed these hummingbirds…

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…and this Mountain Lion at the Museum

We drove down to Nogales to walk across into Mexico and shop the stalls there:

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This old fellow played a mean accordion.
The Mexico experience was fun, but
once will be enough, I’m sure.

On the way back from Mexico, we visited Tumacácori National Historical Park.
It’s just off I-19 and well worth the $3 charge to wander through the grounds, take photos, and sample some handmade tortillas. Here’s our photo, although the web site above has more and better ones:

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Another side-trip was Tombstone. I hope it was less of a tourist-trap during the days of Wyatt Earp. Other than the boot-hill cemetery (takes 20 minutes tops) I wouldn’t recommend this as a destination.

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The graves of Frank McLaury, Tom Mclaury
and Billy Clanton – Killed at the OK Corral October 26, 1881

On the way out of Arizona, Trish captured the
Northern Arizona sunset behind a Joshua Tree:

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– a perfect end to a great trip!

That’s all for this year – Feel free to write with any questions or suggestions that you may have. Maybe we’ll see you there next year…


2 thoughts on “Tucson Gem Show 2005”

  1. I want a princess cut 7mmx7mm pink saphire. I was told no one will do it because they lose too much stone. I want a softer pink not a real hot pink. I could change my mounting to a brilliant or radiant but prefer to have princess. Do you have that?

    1. Hi, Mary,

      Sapphire is a hexagonal habit gemstone, so the natural crystals are going to be roughly round most of the time. When they are broken, they don’t tend to break into square shapes, but more like lopsided hexagons or half-moons – which yield ovals and marquis shapes.

      I don’t think it’s so much a matter of a cutter willing to do the work as it is the client being willing to pay for a 2+-carat stone while receiving only a 1-carat stone. You want to notice that a 2+ carat stone is not only more expensive, but more expensive PER CARAT. So, you won’t be paying double, but more like 4x the cost of a round of the same weight.

      My recommendation to you is to either go with the shape in which the natural stone comes or to use Synthetic material which will let you have the shape and size you want without the prohibitive cost overhead – and the difficulty of finding a large enough rough.

      I hope this is helpful.

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