Tucson Gem Show 2009

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 2009 article.

21 Minute Read

Tucson Gem Show 2009

Left: A picture of the freeway still under construction 2009.

As you probably know if you came to the 2008 Tucson gem show the city had all the downtown roads torn up, especially the freeway where many of the main shows are.

Well this year there was good news and bad news. The freeway area as far as traffic and access was much improved over being torn up last year. Although there are still many areas of the freeway torn up and closed as well as new bridges and freeway being constructed. But in general the traffic flow was much better, however there was a whole lot less traffic this year too.

Things were generally not as badly screwed up on the streets and construction as they have been in the past. But there were some problem areas. I will say that the shuttles were free to ride but in most places down town the promoters were charging to park cars (usually $5.00). The shuttles this year were not as well run or as good as last year, but they worked. Parking was tight because the city is building some new buildings and quite a lot of the community center parking lots were being used.

I note that the valet parking at the AGTA show was up to $25 from $15 a few years ago. This fee is just sheer greed and "they gotcha" crap that the promoters and probably the city are getting away with. I do not mind paying for the service but I would say almost double the fees in less than 2 years? Just greed. They knew the parking was going to be restricted because of the construction and they screwed everybody as hard as they could.

So they get you either way and I really find the parking fees rather greedy on the promoter's and cities part. But it is what it is.Lizard

Left: An interesting carved lizard.

The weather was very nice for about the first 2/3rds of the show. Then we got a February cold front and this morning not only was it very, very cold (30 F, hey that is cold for us) but we got some light slush and snow just lovely.

Ok, as we all know the economy(s) has been pretty bad every where and the dollar is holding it's own and up a little depending on the country. But frankly our economy as every one knows is not so great. But our economy looks better when I examine all the other countries (especially Europe) and see they are really in the toilet. Almost all of them are a lot worse off then we are.

Every one and every thing is down and off. The only good news is that oil is cheap for the moment, at least here in the USA. Many of my friends from over seas tell me their oil and gas prices have not dropped and are still very high.

All this effects the amount of mining and the gem and rough business. This year's 2009 Tucson gem show was probably one of the slowest and least attended shows I have seen in many, many years. A lot of dealers just did not come, either because they thought they would not make any money or because they are not making any money and could not afford to come to the show.

Pretty grim. I had quite a few dealer friends of mine just tell me they were not coming and offer me their already paid for booths… Dealers have to pay for their booths by September generally to get the booths. So many of the dealers that did not come had already paid for their booths and and when they did not come, they just lost the money they had already paid. Enough said. Needless to say attendance was way down and there was not a lot of traffic customer wise. I would say the over all traffic was down considerably. It is hard to put a number on it, but probably between 40% to 60% over all. I saw almost no over seas people (excepting the dealers) and few to none of the Asians showed at all.

At the AGTA the lack of traffic and cut stones (merchandise) was rather shocking. I saw quite a few dealers that did not show up and many of the dealers that did come just did not have much to sell. I saw many, and I mean many dealer's cases that had only a few trays of stones in them. For example a whole show case with two 40 slot trays of small stones… That is it. Also there was virtually no lines on opening morning as compared to long lines and waits in the last few years.

At the GJX there was both more traffic and more merchandise, although not a lot more. The aisles were not crowded and while there were more stones than the AGTA, there still was not all that much. Especially compared to past years. I saw a little business being done at the GJX, as compared to almost none at the AGTA. Business or lack of business seemed to depend a lot on what goods the dealer(s) had. There was empty booths and plenty of space, because many dealers did not show. The Arizona Hotel was closed off this year and all the dealers that were there… were moved to the main tent. There was a side tent for the German cutters and carvers. I was told by a dealer that apparently the GJX tent is going to be in the same place next year. There is and has been speculation about when and where the GJX show will end up because the lot the tent is on is supposed to be used to build some government buildings sooner or later. I have no idea and have not heard anything concrete about the future location of the show. There is a lot of speculation and rumors. I have no idea. Two of the most likely rumors are that the show may all move back to the Arizona Hotel (I have been told the promoters own it, I do not know). The other rumor is that the whole show may move to the ball park and Hoilidome area. As I said these are just rumors so who knows. One dealer friend that does the show told me that in his contact the promoters can move the show anytime, anywhere they want and he has no recourse. So some one maybe planning some thing. It will be interesting to see what happens.

The GL&W Holidome traffic was down considerably, and I did not see much business being done. Several dealers friends there told me it was terrible and they probably were going to loose money. The amount of pearls and beads is mind boggling there. They had fair traffic, but nothing like I have seen in the past. Usually the women grabbing beads with their suit cases are a real hazard there. This year I saw a few of the dowagers grabbing beads, but not that many.

At the Ball Park the number of dealers and tents was expanded quite a lot over last year. The traffic seemed so-so. I talked to several equipment manufacturers and they all told me things were really bad. So bad in several cases they were not sure they were going to make it. Time will tell, but to be honest on many of the equipment manufacturers I am not surprised because they are bad business people and as many of you that read my web site know I have talked many times about the manufacturers that do not support their dealers. These manufacturers are stupid and greedy as well as short sighted. Well guess what? Most of the manufacturers that do not support a fair healthy dealer network are going bye bye and/or are really having a tough time (which is a lot of them). No as you guessed I am not shedding any tears. Alpha Supply which has always been a major dealer there was sold recently and they did not do the show. No idea if Alpha supply will ever be back. There was some interesting new things at the ball park and they may do OK because of the retail weekend crowds, time will tell.

GLDA. I did not get there, it is way, way off the beaten path and takes a special trip and shuttle to get there. So to be honest I just did not bother and I suspect most other people did not make the trip either. I went last year and it was OK but really it was more about jewelry and watches, so really I had little interest. The trip is scenic and enjoyable because the hotel is in a pretty place, but business wise there was not much for me there.

JOGS show was definitely smaller this year, as were most of the shows, but I think that this show is interesting as well as pretty well run. I saw a lot of advertising for this show, which I like to see because that means the promoter is trying to build the show and make it a success. That sounds like common sense, but you would be shocked at how bad many promoters are… and how little they bother to do. It is indoors in an old mall building not far from the Holidome. It has easy access and good parking as well as shuttle services. So it is basically an up and comer I think. They had fair traffic the day I was there, and the traffic I am sure picked up when the Holidome opened a few days later. The types of things there are rather eclectic, which is one reason I find it interesting. You can find anything from rock slab tables and tiles to Turquoise, beads, some limited gemstones and fossils. Interesting.

The Rapa River (Pueblo), Days Inn, La Quinta along the freeway were all going but as near as I could tell they were all off considerably, pretty much like the rest of the show. Traffic when I was there was pretty light and there was not a lot of business. The amount of rough was pretty low and there was not much quality. What was quality was up considerably in price.

If I have one comment on this year and the gem business it is. "Money seeks quality." That is it in a nut shell. There is money and there are sales, but the business is all in the high quality stones and cutting. Simple as that. I had one friend that specializes in natural Sapphires, he did quite well when everyone else was not making money. My high quality gem stones are doing well also. So you faceters out there wake up and pay attention. The money is in quality always is and always will be.

Money and investment in gem investment grade gem stones is actually very strong and doing well. In my personal opinion there are few better places to put money than in quality gem stones. Where else would any savvy invester put a little extra money? The stock market? The Bond Market? Not very good places to put money right now, uless you have a very high pain tolerance.

So yes, the high quality gem stone market is doing well as smart investors look for quality stones to invest in while they wheather the bad stock markets, bond market, and real estate markets. Yes, the high quality investment grade gem stone market is booming.

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. 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. Yes, prices on quality material are going up and will on my web site as well in the near future.

Apatite - I did not see any to speak of.

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 high cost of oil (through most of the mining season). 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: An Afghan Aquamarine crystal (almost 700g or so) nice natural color unheated. Yes, it was sold… (guess who?)

Aquamarine - There was some very limited small rough 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. The majority of what I say had clarity problems.
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 a very limited selection of 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 3.5 kilo sawed clean parcel out of Brazil, it was parcel only. There has been some irradiation and glass scandals in the cut material lately so be careful buying anything cut.
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 - I really did not see much if any decent material..

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. There was some nice quality salmon colors from a fairly new mining area.

Andesine - None. Looks like the crooks selling the copper treated material have all gone to ground. I was told that the Tibet mine has been verified by a reliable source (see Note). But I was also told that the quantity is extremely limited. Basically a few back packs full at a time because the mine is at 14k feet and ALL the material has to be hand dug and packed out by humans. Very tough mining and it will not ever likely be a major source of material because it is just too difficult to mine.

Note: It is important to realize that there are many experts that claim and maybe right (probably are correct) that the Tibet Andesine is not genuine and it is just more "copper diffused" Mexican material. My guess is that there maybe a very, very small amount of actual real material. We are talking a few hand fulls here, if this Andesine is genuine at all, we are talking about very few stones because the mine is 14,000 feet and just not a place that can really be mined except for hand tools. Which means if you start to see some of TV low lifes (and the other bottom feeders) selling thousands of carats of Tibet Andesine… well lets say those stones are probably about as real as the other Andesine they were selling. Which basically means it is all mostly copper diffused and not genuine in my opinion.

Note: Also be aware that the "copper diffusion treatments" are not just Andesine… There is proof of what I have been saying for years is correct. That much of the supposedly "copper bearing" Tourmalines (almost all cut stones) are also copper treated (diffused). Not all of them but a very substantial amout of these cut stones are "copper diffused" and not natural.

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. The new mine seems to be done at the moment too, I did see some specimens.
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 none.
Rhodolite - I saw none available.
Malaya - I saw none available.

Zambian Nodules

Tourmaline African - No new material was around in general, I did manage to buy some 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. Prices are up substantially.
Rubellite - Not available. None, Nada, Zip… 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) - Very little actually, not sure why. I heard several stories, but basically there was very little and the prices were almost double over last year. Many colors of the irradiated blue I just could not get. One story is all the material is being cut for the Chinese market, could be true I do not know… 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 - None.
Imperial - None.
Tan to peach/pink - Very, very little.

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

Peridot - Not much and what I did see there was very little to none clean. I bought a very small parcel of large clean material and it took all day to select it out of many kilos and a lot of arguing to get a price. Prices are up substantially.

Sapphire - None available rough. Generally supply was down in the cut too. I call them pre-forms. Prices for the cut were up and there was not a lot. I did manage to get an old lot of Top Montana Sapphires and will be posting them stay tuned…

Spinels - None available rough in general. I did see a $700k parcel of large, all quarter sized pieces of red. That is it…

Opal (fire/orange/jelly) - Available but in lower quality and quantity than in 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.

Basically rough is getting scarce and more expensive in all the main commercial types. Tourmaline, Aquamarine, Spinels, Peridot, et… Rough as well as cut stone in quality and better sizes are all getting hard to find and much more money.

In man-made colors Quartz is about the same and readily available. Topaz, clears are available, blue is for some reason scarce.

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.

Note: A lot of the supposedly copper bearing cut stones are being proven to be "copper diffused" in similar processes to the Andesine scandals. So my advice is to stay away from them.

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, the word is out that most of it has been copper diffused and I hardly saw a single stone this year…

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, almost no large stones.
Mint Merlani, I did not see a single cut stone.
Reds were around but not a lot.
Aquamarine was around in cut stones, particularly in the lighter shades and smaller stones. There were a few large stones from old inventory, about the only type of large stones I saw of any size. 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.
Prices were up and there was not much.
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 as well as business was down significantly. I suspect this was one of the worst shows in a long time. I also suspect that all the shows next year in 2010 will be smaller because there will definitely be some dealer attrition. I would guess there will be about 30% less dealers next year. Basically the strong will survive and the weak will be gone. The good news is the business's that are in good shape will be well positioned for more expansion and profit in the next few years as the weak drop off.

As for manufacturers of equipment (faceting, cabbing, et…) there has been and will continue to be some thinning of the herd. The ones that are supporting their dealers (this is a very short list) will do well and probably continue to increase their margins. The others that cut throat and screw their dealers (all ones I will not recommend or do business with) are going to have a very hard time and frankly it could not happen to more deserving people…

Yes, that sounds harsh, it may be, but many of these manufacturers were to say the least short sighted and could not care less about their dealers trying to make a living. Trust me on this I was one of the dealers… Well the chickens are coming home to roost and many of these manufacturers are having tough times and quite a few of them will be gone by next year and if they do manage to survive it will be just barely. Maybe some of them will learn a lesson and support their dealers and improve their products. But I doubt it. My opinion is that they reaped what they sowed. Rest in peace.

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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