Tucson Gem Show 2008

Jeff R Graham shares his opinions and thoughts on various topics in Just Ask Jeff. See what Jeff shares on the Just Ask Jeff: Tucson Gem Show 2008 article.

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Tucson Gem Show 2008Construction/gem show 2008

Left: A picture of the freeway under construction.

As you may have heard or know if you came to the Tucson show… The city and county have most of the freeway and a lot of the other roads around town torn up for construction.

They say "improvements" we will see, knowing the city I doubt it and as usual it will take a lot longer then they claim and be twice or three times as expensive. So getting around the show was a bit more difficult. But not quite as bad as you might think. The show promoters had pretty good shuttle services and they made more routes as well as smaller shuttle routes than in the past years. So I have to say the shuttles were really pretty good. I will note that the shuttles were free to ride but in most places down town the promoters were charging to park cars (usually $5.00). So they get you either way and I really find the parking fees rather greedy on the promoter's part. But it is what it is.Freeway hotels

Left: A picture of the freeway shows looking North.

The weather was a little cold for Tucson at the beginning of the show, but it was sunny and warm in the afternoon on most days.

About 7 days into the show we had a very typical cold spell come through. It rained and got colder for a couple of days and after the storm cleared off we had some very cold nights (for Tucson) down in the 30 degree range.

But really the weather was quite nice for the show.

In the picture at left you can see the La Quinta show, formerly the Holiday Inn Express show.

For some reason the hotel owners keep feeling the need to change the names of all the hotels. I have no idea why, but this habit of re-naming hotels can cause some confusion among people attending the show.

So be sure and read the show guides carefully and ask questions of the shuttle drivers and the people at the shuttle stops before you get on a shuttle. Other wise you could be in for a long ride in the wrong direction or maybe just a longer ride to get where you want to go then you need to sit through.La Quinta outside

Left: A picture of the La Quinta show looking towards the freeways along the outside tents.

The real story this year in the Tucson February show is not about rocks at all. The real story is the weak dollar and frankly the high price of fuel, diesel in particular, for mining. The high price of gold and other metals is not helping either as far as jewelers having money to spend and projects. These factors have a heavy impact on the mining business. Which in turn effects the supply of rough available as well as the cost of gem stones.

This is not counting the normal corrupt politics in many parts of Africa. Corrupt politics is currently causing violence and closing most all of the mines in Kenya and Tanzania right now. This is unfortunately fairly typical. Every time they have an election it usually is corrupt or at least some one thinks it is and the elections generally lead to protests and usually riots and some violence. This season the violence has been especially bad and people are getting killed in some areas.

As in most of Africa some of this violence is not only election politics but also tribal issues, so there always seems to be some thing to argue and fight over in Africa. Currently many of the Africans are busy rioting and protesting, so there is no production at all in most of the mining areas. It is a shame they would all be better off digging gem stones.

Also basically there is low production in places like Brazil, because there are no real buyers especially from the USA, which is probably the main market for most of the Brazil material. No buyers means no or low sales and no real demand. Which as you might guess caused the production to suffer.

There is not a lot of buying happening because the dollar is so weak. The dollar was down over 60% against the Euro at one time and as you might guess it just costs a lot of money to exchange money and do any kind of business when the rate goes up (or down depending on your view) that much. American buyers are just buying what they need to get along. Not much else and the high exchange rate is having a very big slowing effect on the entire market and production.

The foreign buyers of course were and are taking advantage of the exchange rate advantage. So most of what little quality rough is being produced is going to the European market. This all makes rough and cut stones especially imported materials much more expensive to the American buyers (that is us guys).

The bottom line on rough and gem stone prices is… %$*&($%$^^ Ouch. The prices are going to hurt. You can expect significant price increases on ALL quality rough. In many cases over double or not available at all. Hold on it is going to be a bumpy ride.

Fair warning guys, as I get time on www.faceters.com prices on many things will increase significantly. The rough is just not replaceable and even if I can get it the price on new rough are up dramatically. What you really want to know is about faceting rough. Well here you go. Here is what I saw or did not see as the case may be.

One last comment, I am beginning to see and hear of new production coming out of Africa as well as other places. There is a new Spessertite mine and a new Sapphire find in the north, not much happening in central or south Africa that I have seen or heard. So the gem cycle will (I think) start to swing the other way and rough will be available. Hopefully the dollar will recover and help us out. Of course prices will be higher. But so what else is new. Was there rough? The answer to this is not very much. and most of what I bought was not only old material but way up in price. Very expensive.

Apatite - I did not see very much large material, there was small material and the supply of the small stuff was about normal. I really do not cut it because it is too soft for about any practical application, so to me it is basically "that is pretty color" but I am not interested.

Amethyst/Citrine - Was available, but supply and quality are much lower than the last few years. This probably has a lot to do with the low value of the dollar and the low production. Prices on Brazilian material were up sharply.
Ametrine - Supply is zero, none, nada, zip. There was certainly no rough around.
Man made colors - Even more… There was a significant increase in the types and colors available in basically "nuked" Quartz. There was a lot of the green/yellow, lemon/yellow, and green Quartz colors available as well as honey and cognac. Readily available material of about any color and pretty inexpensive comparatively.


Above: A Brazilian Aquamarine crystal (almost exactly 1 kilo) flawless and top natural color unheated. Yes, it was sold. (guess who?)

Aquamarine - There was nothing available in good quality color from Africa. There basically is no rough available coming out from the mines right now at least no quantity. With the exception of a couple parcels I bought from my regular suppliers before Tucson, all I saw was a few small scraps from left over parcels from previous years.
Aquamarine - From Afghanistan and Pakistan was available, but not in large quantity and the majority of this material is light to pale in saturation (crystal shaped). Not much in large sizes (over 10g) clean but this material was around. Not like in the past but some around.
Aquamarine - I did not see much Aqua in small sizes 3-6 carats from Brazil in light saturation around, but if you were willing to work hard to find clean pieces in the piles of material, you could find some. There was the usual selection of very large expensive aquamarine crystals around, many coming out of vaults from production years ago because the prices are up. See above.
Morganite - No pink at all, in general. I did see a few very large pieces from old production being offered. I heard rumors of a fine but never say a single piece.
Emerald - Was not available in faceting quality. I mean that they were around but the rough was so full of junk that it was worthless. Nothing I would call real faceting rough was available. This is normal…
Goshenite - Was around, but mostly small and not especially clean, an occasional large piece.
Helidore - Was available in limited supply. Mostly the gold color and mostly nuked but I did see some pieces.

Labradorite - There may have been a little rough at the show, but I did not see any. I am getting some 30g+ from my Mexican suppliers once and a while. But the Mexicans tell me that the Chinese are buying all the mine production in general.
Sunstone - Available in about the same quantity and quality as the last few years. Probably slightly up in price depending on what you wanted. There was a good supply of average color and schiller. But larger top color watermelons, reds, and greens were not really available in general.

Andesine - None. As many people may know I have had and do have serious questions on the Andesine being marketed and sold buy many large retailers. Here is an article on my opinions and observations.

The continuing questionable Andesine story.

Pyrope - I really did not see very much Garnet at all.
Spessertite - Mandarin orange Garnet is pretty much played out. A few odds and ends from the old mines. There is a new mine being worked and I did see some of that material but there was not a lot because of the election violence and the production was closed at the time of the show.
Grossular - Garnets were very scarce, I did not see any thing but a few from old production. Very expensive.
Mali - Garnets were not available rough in general and cut prices if you could find one were very high. I saw very little.
Rhodolite - Was available, but nothing like the quantity that used to be around and getting more expensive. Not very much around.
Malaya - This material is always rare in quality color, I did see some nice pieces from guys dragging them out from under the mattress's, where they were stashed years ago. Pretty darned expensive, but nice.

Rough stone

Tourmaline African - No new material was around in general, I did manage to buy some new Zambian nodules recently produced (for a much higher price than last time), but that is all. I did see a little Brazilian material, all green and thin small crystals. Prices were up sharply and very little rough was around.
Afghanistan - There was some material but the prices and competition for it was fierce because of high demand and low supply. It is strictly a sellers market. I did see a few spectacular Turquoise colored parcels but the prices were breath taking and parcels only. Some parcels were bought and sold in my presence.
Rubellite - Not available. The Nigerian mine(s) are gone and prices are escalating very quickly for quality pink and Rubellites. Expect to pay a lot more for it, if you can find it. Indicolite - None available rough in general. I really saw very little of what I could call "real" blue.
Green - Nothing nice available rough. I really did not see much except for some small thin crystals.
All other types - None available rough generally. I did not see any copper bearing material except for cut this year.

Blue(s) - Pretty much back to normal, production wise. Rough Swiss Topaz is NOT available because of the "new" inspection and certification requirements by the USA government. So NO rough, the producers were mainly importing cut goods because of the cost of testing and certification. I was told (time will tell) that Swiss color will not and cannot be imported as anything but cut. So no rough will be available. Colorless Topaz - Available, but the price of clear is going up, particularly in 4g and over because of the run on treated blue Topaz from the low end cutting houses.
Pink Topaz - There was nice color small (nothing clean over a gram and not much clean anyway) pink from Pakistan. Very expensive.
Imperial - None available rough. I have been told the mine is basically not producing, I do not know.
Tan to peach/pink - A fair amount of Pakistan material. But most of it is not color stable and not much was clean enough to bother with.

Chrysoberyl - None, with the exception of the material available from a few select retail dealers and all pretty small in size.

Peridot - I looked at several spectacular parcels of gorgeous large pieces, but they were parcel only and all well over a kilo and the pricing was $200/g plus for the "parcels only". They did sell the parcels. A little small material was around but almost no clean material.

Sapphire - None available rough. Generally the usual amount in native cuts were available. I call them pre-forms. Prices for the cut seemed up but nothing major.

Spinels - None available rough. Some available cut, but not a lot. I did manage to buy a nice parcel of Morrogoro Spinels from old inventory a guy had been saving for a rainy day. The price was quite high, but it was very nice material.

Opal (fire/orange/jelly) - Available in about the same quantity and quality as the last few years in small sizes. That is to say it was available, but higher quality/large material was not really around rough.

Blue - There was not much rough, not much cut, not a lot of any around. Just not much.
All other Types - There was basically not much, most of the Tanzania areas are no longer producing material, a few have been bought and are only producing for Bangkok cutting houses. Look for fancy Zircons to continue going up in price.

In general rough is on a down cycle and because of poor supply the rough that is available is getting more expensive. These cycles are fairly common in the supply of gemstones and hopefully this down cycle will not last long.

Not every thing is negative, there was rough, some of it pretty nice. However there was, and is going to be significant price increase on quality commercial rough, like Tourmaline, Aquamarine, fancy Garnets.

Remember that. Amethyst, Citrine, Sunstone, Garnets (not green), and some other rough is still readily available and reasonably priced. So there is plenty to cut.

One last thing, which is good news / bad news. There was a very limited amount of cut stones, especially in Rubellite. The good news is there was not much of some types available cut and the prices are all up. If you have the rough you will make good money on the cut. The bad news is if you do not have the rough you are out of luck.

Cut Stones - What did I see?

Virtually no natural Rubellites available cut at all, so prices are going up, way up. Virtually none of the nuked Brazil junk Rubellite either. Also none of the Nigerian Rubellite that is all shot through with rutile needles and flaws in general. No one seemed to have any. I hardly saw a piece of Rubellite and not much pink either.
Mints and greens in Tourmaline were not available unless small. Some around but more expensive and nothing much larger than a few carats.
Blues were very scarce as well as the Mozambique copper bearing material. The copper bearing stuff was around but nothing like last year and expensive. Normal blues were very scarce as usual. Blue/greens were not around.

In general I really did not see any cut labradorite (gold/yellow) around. I think that because of the low supply of faceting rough. that natural gold Labradorite may become a more marketed stone than it has been in the past. As I said my Mexican suppler's say their rough is being bought by the Chinese, but there is still material around and there is material being produced in Oregon (Sunstone is Feldspar). It only makes sense that a market looking for a quality stone to sell will turn to Labradorite sooner or later. The material cuts easily and makes a pretty stone.

Andesine as I noted in the article above was very abundant in red/orange especially and available. As I said I personally have serious questions about treatments (in my opinion) that maybe being used to create the color(s). But there was a lot of the material available. Which for a supposedly "rare" material make me wonder.

In Garnets there was not nearly as much Rhodolite and Spessertite as in the past, but there was some, but all pretty small.
Green Garnets there was a small amount of Tsavorite in smaller sizes cut, some larger.
Mint Merlani, I did not see a single cut stone, but I am sure there were a few.
Reds were around but not a lot.
Aquamarine was around in cut stones, particularly in the lighter shades. There was good color available but not very much. There were some large stones from old inventory, about the only type of large stones I saw. Up in price.
Morganite was not available in the classic pink, and not in much any other color like peach either.
Emerald, what can I say, the normal junk. Probably more of the normal junk Emeralds than usual.
About the same supply cut as usually and prices were up but not all that out of the usual.
About the same low supply cut as usually and prices were up.
Cut stones were around, the prices up a bit, but there did not seem to be as much as I would come to expect. Of course probably the majority of cut Citrine and amethyst is man-made and being sold as "do not ask, do not tell…"
Cut stones were around, nothing like they have been in the past. Prices are up, and there was not much available.

A few last comments.

The show traffic was down over all as well as sales. That is what I hear from most of the people I know. The show dollar wise was OK most people tell me but down if you had the right goods, if not then the show was terrible. I suspect the jewelers had a tough time of it because not only is the cost of stones up significantly but the cost of metals like gold are also very high in cost. There is no telling when the cost of metals may get more reasonable, but I am sure the high cost is effecting gem stone sales as well as business in general.

Over all the 2008 Tucson show was probably considered to be fair, but not great and the attendance seemed to be down about 30% or so. That is a comment I heard from many friend. But with the high cost of fuel (thanks to the oil companies) and the weak dollar not helping at all. The show was not all that bad really if you were lucky enough to have the right goods.

Jeff R. Graham

The late Jeff Graham was a prolific faceter, creator of many original faceting designs, and the author of several highly-regarded instructional faceting books such as Gram Faceting Designs.

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