Tucson Gem Show 2006

This is our brief review of the Tucson Gem Show 2006 – both the show and our trip to the area. In addition to review information on the show, this page includes consumer information, as well as some tourist and rock hounding stuff. Please enjoy anything you find useful or interesting.

Tucson is an elephant – Nobody can see it all in the time the show runs, especially with venues multiplying every year. I don’t intend for this tiny page to be a global source of information. I recommend you read every review you can to see what I may have missed or left out of this.

gem show tucson

Searching parcels of rough with my friend, Lorin.


The weather in Tucson was beautiful this year during our days there – Sunny, and very pleasant for walking and shopping. But, if you come here, always be prepared for anything from rain to chill to sunburn…

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High-grading Bins of Peridot in the sun made for a fun afternoon.

Plans & Reservations:

Make them early; make them detailed; study the guide! Accommodations were more expensive and harder to find in respectable quarters this year, and I recommend being early planning for next time around.

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 even more shopping time this year than I did last year, and we had to move faster than was fun much of the time. I’ll have to schedule yet more time for the 2007 show.

Some of the new venues this year contributed to “show sprawl”, and required traveling cross-town. With GLDA’s move to the west and other shows like Smuggler’s Inn and Clarion popping up on the east end, you need to allow even more time for more shows and more travel between them. We joked several times about donning roller-skates!

Traffic was more intense than in the past, and the advantage of driving is diminishing in favor of
the many show shuttles that are running. Compliments to the Riverpark (Pueblo) for the outgoing shuttle drivers who solicited us for rides to that show – Very nice indeed.

I now recommend taking at least 8 days if you want to shop, and at that you should have your shopping carefully scheduled and be well acquainted with the guide.

An old shooting instructor of mine used to say “Move fast, shoot slow” – meaning to get to your location quickly and then do to business carefully while there. This idea is valuable at Tucson, and a disappointing increase in the number of vendors peddling junk and trinkets – flea-market-type things – has reduced the signal-to-noise ratio at the same time the show has sprawled.

Remember, though, in the rush to do business, one wants to preserve the polite enjoyment of friends from far-away places by “dealing slowly” and politely. Some of our friends travel 40 hours by airplane and endure intrusive searches by customs officials in multiple countries just to get to the market. We are grateful for their company and stories of their year as well as for their goods and amenability to bargaining. Time is always too short, and we must pay attention to niceties: Plan your trip and activities so you can really enjoy the show rather than just brutalizing it.

Politeness – Again:

Again, we witnessed repeatedly the simple fiscal wisdom of waiting one’s turn, being patient and polite to vendors as well as other patrons. Almost universally, such strategies paid-off in opportunities to see “the good stuff” that isn’t always in plain sight – and in easier negotiations.

The decline of civility in some locations – and most notably the big “wholesale only” shows – was quite disturbing. Vendors in the larger shows were less friendly than in the smaller ones – and the patrons were astoundingly rude – from aggressively shoving fellow patrons out of the way – to facing each other down in games of “show aisle chicken” – to the undulating roll-away-luggage obstacle courses that blockaded some locations as stationary shoppers idly shoved their bags into and out of the aisles, oblivious to the hazard they were inflicting on fellow patrons.

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You won’t find warm hospitality like this at the wholesale shows.
This dealer is showing me a nice parcel of Indicolite from Mozambique.

Big shows / Little shows / No-shows:

The “wholesale” shows were generally not as pleasant or as fun – nor did they contain the best deals. I assume this is due to the higher overhead that the larger shows charge. I noticed few exceptions to this.

Some show hosts were even less informed this year about business regulations outside their home jurisdiction, and were generally unapologetic about their ignorance. I think there’s a serious need for a central clearinghouse for wholesale credentials – and a need for education about the issues of business credentials for those who are not from Tucson (most of the patrons!)

At least one of the advertised shows on the north end of town was a “no-show” – We drove to the advertised location only to discover no signs, no people, NO SHOW. I didn’t have time to investigate further, but suffice it to say one should take nothing for granted.

Specific Venues:

When shopping “hotel row” (Pueblo/River Park, La Quinta, Howard Johnson, Rapa River  & Days Inn – I recommend parking at the Convention center and walking or catching a shuttle. The on-site parking can be a real headache. Pueblo appeared to be experimenting with new strategies for parking – causing a traffic hazard on Freeway. I look for this venue to abandon the whole parking nightmare sometime in the future in favor of an off-site park-and-ride service that will probably work better for them – and patrons.

The shows on “hotel row” continued to be reasonable shopping this year, and we renewed connections with some of our favorite vendors.

The Executive Inn has grown, adding some outside vendors, and collecting some new ones of interest, including some more of our old friends.

Smuggler’s Inn was a bit disappointing. Despite their advertisement of “a show in every room”, much of their location was unoccupied, and many of the vendors there said they’ll set-up elsewhere next year. I look for even more new venues to open up next year, as I heard this kind of talk from various vendors in various locations. Competition for the hospitality dollar could be a good thing for vendors and patrons alike.

The Clarion is a good new show, though a bit parking-challenged if they grow much. This location was a bit convoluted to navigate once indoors, but I think it will be higher on my list next time around if they keep the same vendors. Some vendors have migrated from Executive Inn to this location, and it was good to reconnect.

Electric Park has grown even more and this time showed more material, including the best assortment of Oregon Sunstone, both rough and cut that I saw at Tucson this year.

The G&LW show was better this year in terms of interesting me, although they suffered a few organizational issues on the day Holidome opened. They still have perhaps the best parking area / system / service in town, with golf carts circulating constantly to ferry buyers from their large parking area to the show door.

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AGTA was as always, the centerpiece, with displays, seminars, and educational as well as jewelry and equipment vendors.

We skipped GLDA again, because time is at such a premium in Tucson, and the inconvenient transportation issues that their new location imposes. In the time it would have taken to go there I visited three other venues. I hope they re-think their location and find something that will better accommodate serious buyers.

GJX appeared to have a smoother check-in this year at the opening, but I didn’t see much of interest beyond a few friends who display there. The only evident rough was way over-priced, and I recognized some individual rough stones that have been offered here for over four years. I think the overhead is a limiting factor, and another year like this one will see GJX removed from my list of “must visit”

The Radisson was back to hosting a show this year, and it was good to see much of the old GLDA crowd back at this location. This show’s organizers were courteous to AGTA badge-holders – I don’t know how they treated other travelers. This show is a warren to navigate, but it’s amazing the number of vendors they can host.

The Holidome was about the same as usual, though it was a site of some insane behavior by buyers. I did business with a few old friends, and found some good deals on low-end cut gems here, too.

Rough Deals:

In general, the rough market was rough. Stones I saw were often leftovers from previous years, and I even recognized some specific stones from as long as four years ago. The material offered was generally of lower-grade color, lower-grade clarity, and smaller sizes – and was more expensive. I inquired from some dealers about this issue, and received some interesting information. Below are my remarks about specific materials, with photos of some of my purchases.

  • Tourmaline:I saw material from Brazil, Africa, and Afghanistan, with the Afghanistan material being the prettiest, and Africa second. Most of the better quality goods were offered by parcel only (no piece sales), and the prices were generally high. This conspired to keep out those without deep pockets. I believe that both political and economic issues are negatively influencing production at the mines in some locations.
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    Here’s a nice 5+ gram Afghani stone in an electrifying color.

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    Indicolite from Mozambique

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    Pink from Afghanistan

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    and Rubellite from Nigeria

  • Peridot:

    I saw a small amount of Arizona material that was nice, but a bit pricy. The Pakistani material was largely unavailable – and had very inflated prices when it was available (twice last-years’ asking price). I was told that this was due to the earthquake there.

    gem show tucson

    I did acquire some of the Pakistani Peridot, including some with the Ludwegite needles. I enjoy working with this – It produces some very interesting and unique gems, and I think the market is starting to appreciate such stones more.

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    I also saw many nice crystals of Peridot.

  • Mexican Fire Opal:

    Another year of declining size and quality along with increasing prices (asking $8k per kilo of
    commercial-grade material). I think we may be at the tail-end of the fine material from Mexico – especially the fine red. The miners I talked to indicated that they were not finding much.

  • Fire Agate:I saw less quality material than what was available last year, and the miners I bought from last year were not even at the show. I’m not an expert on this material, so I don’t know if there are supply issues or…?
  • Rutilated Quartz:Price continues to rise, with most of the material I saw of driveway-gravel-grade. Everyone
    I asked said good material was becoming more difficult to acquire.
  • “Green Amethyst”:Piles of this stuff were in the market, and there were controversies over the proper name for it.
    I met one dealer who offered only in pre-sealed 5-kilo bags. Most vendors did not want to sell this material outside of 1-kilo minimum lots, but the prices were good as gem-grade kilo-lots of large cuttable anything goes. There were piles of the stuff available in very large and clean pieces. I’m anxious to cut some of it in concave designs.
  • Sapphire:Natural Corundum always seems difficult to find in any quantity, size, and quality. I did purchase some stones from the same supplier I worked with last year, although size and quantity were way down while price was significantly higher.

    Here are a couple of pretty pinks and a purple:

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    Here are a couple of the untreated blues:

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    I can’t wait to get to these pretty stones on the dop!

  • Spinel:We acquired some more Spinel from one of the new finds in China (There are two). This material shows mostly pastel colors, but will produce some beautiful stones. We are already looking forward to next years’ production from this location.
    gem show tucson

    Here’s one of the wonderful cranberry-colored
    stones from the second China find

  • Beryl:The price on good Aquamarine was up, and strong color was more difficult to find. I met a dealer who was selling an old collection that included bucketfuls of Beryls, including aquamarine, Goshenite, and Morganite, along with many other cutting materials, including Topaz, Smoky Quartz, etc.
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    A few hours of searching yielded this nicer Aquamarine crystal.

    gem show tucson

    More searching yielded a 30-odd gram Morganite.

    gem show tucson

    …and, a large Apatite

  • Special / Unusual Stones:
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    Through an established contact, I acquired
    this spectacular Aquamarine crystal from Afghanistan

    gem show tucson

    …and this beautiful Kunzite

    gem show tucson

    I met a Miner from Mexico who sold me some
    really wonderful glass-clean Apatite in large sizes.

    gem show tucson

    Garnet prices were mostly far beyond
    reason, but I did find this nice Demantoid

    gem show tucson

    A large stone from a parcel labeled as
    Hessonite, though I suspect others in the parcel to be Grandite.

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    I also found another example of the dichroic green beryl from Brazil.
    This one is nearly 3/4 inch thick. I think I’ll devise a
    cut to show off the interesting interior features.

    The most unusual thing I bought on this trip was some beautiful drusy chalcedony “flowers” from China. I’m already working on some jewelry designs for them:

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Shopping Tucson Tips:

If you’re going to shop at Tucson, it’s a good idea to have your gemological ducks in a row. Be careful about the vendors you choose to do business with – Look for someone who is there year after year. Also, bring the tools you need to be confident about your purchase. Or, bring your own expert. I believe that the AGTA show actually has a lab on-site to facilitate transactions.

Many vendors are not expert in the material they are selling, so mislabeling or misidentifications may not be intentional. Some materials are mined in the same location, resulting in mixed parcels. Filters can be of some use for these situations, but few things trump experience. Here are some of the gemological gaffes I saw or suspected this year alone – just the ones I noticed in rapid passing:

  • Rough Spinel labeled “Ruby”
  • Rough Citrine labeled “Apatite”
  • Rough Triphane labeled “Kunzite”(Kunzite seems to have become a generic for Spodumene)
  • “Natural” Spinel Octahedra that I suspect were flux-grown.
  • Rough Tourmaline (and perhaps other minerals) mixed in with Spinel rough
  • Other mixed materials, including suspected Quartz mixed with parcels of Goshenite

Know your financial depth: Have a budget and work from that. Make sure you have enough gas money to get home.

Know your gemological depth: If you can’t even pronounce “Paraiba”, maybe think twice about purchasing the exotic and insanely expensive material.

It also pays to establish relationships with dealers over time. Two of the nicest pieces I acquired on this trip came from a dealer I’ve been working with for many years.

Did I mention politeness? (see last year’s report for a dissertation on this).


City of Tucson and show promoters seem to be doing a great job with security. The police and armed contractor presence is very evident at nearly every venue. They are to be congratulated for their professionalism and their helpfulness.

You are still responsible for you, and I recommend managing both negotiable funds and purchases carefully. Most decent hotels have in-room safes, and safety deposit box rental is cheap insurance.

Be sensible about selecting your accommodations, your travel, and your parking. WALKING IN THE SUNSHINE is part of the fun of the Tucson experience – especially if you’re usually cooped up in an office or snowed-in during January. Walk a little extra and enjoy the freedom – especially if that lets you park in a more secure area. One of our party suffered serious damage to his vehicle this year when someone attempted to steal it overnight…

Tourist Stuff:

  • Another plug is in order for Sultan Palace at 345 Drachman St. (520-622-2892) offering authentic Afghani cuisine. Their hospitality and food was as great as we remembered. If you’re in Tucson check them out.
  • Saguaro National Park is a scenic 15 minute
    drive from downtown Tucson. The scenery is striking, and the flora and fauna are incredible. We didn’t have time to give this park the attention it deserves, but I’m certain we’ll explore it again next time. The unofficial website linnked at www.saguaro.national-park.com/is also quite infomative.


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    The scenery is straight from a John Wayne movie.

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    I wonder who calls this high-rise home?

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    Click for size perspective.

    Click for close-up of fruit.

    Click for close-up of thorns.

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    You have to stand next to one of these to appreciate how big they get.

  • The town of Bisbee is a great day-trip from Tucson, and the track passes through some very historic territory, including Tombstone. At Bisbee, mine tours are available, and the shops and food are a great relief from the turbo-charged atmosphere at Tucson.We especially enjoyed the art and hospitality at the Tang Gallery – When you go there, give our best to Mina Tang Kan and also be sure to say hello to Pancho for us. We visit lots of galleries on our travles, but this one is special.
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    The architecture alone is worth the trip.

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    Interesting geology!!

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    The open-pit Copper mine south of town yawns large.
    We never dreamt of mining on this scale!

  • No trip away from home is complete without rock-hounding along the way.
    gem show tucson


    I love Oregon, but I’m falling in love with Nevada.
    Anyone for a walk?!!

    gem show tucson

    Wonder what we could find up there??

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    Nevada isn’t all desert, either. Walker Lake is beautiful.

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    Nevada wind storms created some eerie effects.

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    Here’s our Jasper-hunting spot.

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    A close look produced some awesome Jaspers,
    Agates, and a few pieces of Petrified Wood.
    Check out some of the cherries:

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    You’ve got to have a sunset photo to end it with!

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…


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