After landing, the first thing you notice about Tucson is that the air is different. Clearer, fresher, it’s like breathing for the first time. This simple experience defines the desert city. There’s a purity to the simple, rugged landscape. Reddish brown stones and saguaro cacti dot the landscape. The heat of the Sonoran Desert barely registers during the day, as a steady breeze keeps you cool. Its song is like a Native American flute, pleasing to hear and calming. Pusch Ridge and the Santa Catalina Mountains provide a majestic backdrop to the little dramas that make up life. It’s easy to understand how many are drawn to Tucson. More difficult is understanding why anyone would want to leave. Each year, Shop LC travels to this sleepy desert city for the Tucson gem and mineral shows.
What are the Tucson Gem and Mineral Shows?
Since the 1940s, the Tucson Gem and Mineral Society have been dedicating itself to collecting gems and developing lapidary knowledge. Several years after its inception, the Society began hosting the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show.
- The first true gem show was held in Tucson in 1948.
- Today’s shows encompass 2 ½ weeks of events.
- Close to 4,000 companies sell their wares.
- Over 60,000 visitors come to Tucson for the gem shows.
- Tucson hosts the biggest gem event in the world.
- The events inject over $120 million into the local economy.
It’s the oldest gem and mineral show in the world. Built from the pure passion and appreciation of gemstones and minerals, these early events are the reason we now have the modern shows. Each year, over 60,000 collectors, hobbyists, buyers, and curious public descend on Tucson to share an appreciation of gems, minerals, fossils, and more!
Now in its 64th year, the modern Tucson gem shows is a collection of more than 40 different events. Sprawling over the city, you’ll find a gem event at every corner, ranging from proper exhibition halls, tent camps, and hotels-turned-storefronts. If the gem or mineral exists, you’re likely to find it at the gem fair. Almost 4,000 companies are present, selling gem rough and raw materials to finished jewelry pieces. During the two-and-a-half-week event, over 60,000 visitors will pass through the City of Tucson as they hunt for their unique treasures and keepsakes.
What Makes Each Event Different?
While the majority of events are open to the public, there are many specialized gemstone shows throughout the city. Many cater directly to wholesale buyers and retailers, and others only sell specific merchandise, such as finished gemstones and jewelry. Only a handful of groups with the buying power of Shop LC are present at these events. While visiting Tucson, we attend several of these different gemstone events.
- JOGS Tucson Gem and Mineral Event: The JOGS Show hosts a variety of miners, designers, and gem cutters from across the globe. It was here that we first met our friends at Outlaw Rocks.
- Gem and Jewelry Expo (GJX): Considered by many to be one of the most elite shows, GJX only focuses on finished products, such as polished gemstones and jewelry.
- Tucson Gem and Mineral Show: The oldest event, this show features a huge educational component. Visitors learn a great deal from the themed exhibitions each year.
Why is Shop LC at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Showcase?
To better understand the presence of Shop LC in Tucson, I consulted with a member of our team, Vineeth. From our wholesale division, Vineeth is like a scout. He helps identify prospective miners and vendors who would be good partners. It’s easy to see why he excels in this role. Handsome, with a pleasant smile and gentle demeanor, it’s hard not to like him. He’s a perfect introduction to the Shop LC family.
Vineeth explains to me, “We come with an objective. Some stones are easy to acquire in Jaipur, and the price is good. Others are more expensive. We’ll look for them here in Tuscon.” Besides replenishing our stores for the gems you know and love, we’re also looking for brand new stones to share with you.
At Tucson, we came across both in abundance! As far as the eye can see, every booth was overflowing with exciting gemstones. Many, I could recognize. But even after nearly eight years of working with stones, many were brand-new to me.
Perhaps even more important are the relationships we develop within the industry. Pradeep, one of our veteran buyers, explained it simply, “Networking is more valuable than selling. The relationships we develop and sustain are what keep us going.” Discussing it further, I understand what Pradeep was teaching me. Even though we may not buy from a vendor this year, visiting with them, and keeping our relationships in the industry secure help us in the long run. “I may need tanzanite from my old friend one day,” he says with a twinkle in his eye, patting the display case of the booth we’re near. “Staying on good terms and paying our debts keeps our reputation in the industry strong.”
How Do We Buy Gems?
While attending the various shows, I witnessed firsthand our buying team closing several deals. It’s a fast and furious affair. Days ahead of the buyers, Vineeth has already identified potential partners, old and new. After establishing a rapport, he’ll invite our buyers to inspect the gem material in person. This is where it gets interesting.
The gem buyers consider the stones on their individual merits. For gems you’ve seen before, it’s very simple. The buyers affirm that the mine’s material is up to Shop LC standards, and the deal is closed with a handshake. The vendor will wrap up the rough stone and later have it moved for transportation to our Jaipur factory.
New stones are a bit trickier. Just as we measure stones along the color, clarity, cut, and carat, our buying team must make similar considerations. The initial curb appeal is most important! If a stone doesn’t have that aura of charisma to pull you in, it’s not likely to do well with our audience. They’ve learned from our Hosts and Education Center that gems come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, and it must impress.
I watch Anil, a gem buyer, at work during several purchases. He works with methodical precision. There is no doubt he has done this many times before as he oozes cool expertise. First, he wets the gem rough. Every booth has plenty of spray bottles handy for this exact purpose. Wetting the rough instantly gives insight into what a finished gemstone looks like, after cutting and polishing. Secondly, he sorts through each piece of rough, checking the clarity. Every piece is handled as he flashes it towards the sun. Studying his movements, I discern how he quickly and easily gauges the clarity of fire opal rough. To me, it’s like watching a master of karate move through his kata exercises. And before you know it, he’s done. He considers it a good buy. A handshake later, and the miner-vendor is wrapping the parcel for shipment.
What Stones Can We Expect in 2018?
As you’d expect, new stones are coming this year! Shop LC buyers hunted long and hard for these new finds, whether new takes on old favorites or completely original and brand new stones. Expect to see in coming months a variety of exciting new finds.
- Noble Shungite: You’re already familiar with its highly popular matte black cousin. Noble shungite possesses a unique gun-metal sheen.
- Green Opal: A chance opportunity led our buyers to pick up this pistachio-colored gem. And thanks to our connection with our trusted vendor offering the stone, you’ll get it at an amazing price!
- Egyptian Turquoise: Not readily seen in Western markets, Egyptian turquoise features stark, hypnotic blues cradled in an attractive spider web matrix.
- Oregon Pink Opal: Our friends at Outlaw Rocks shared pink opal with us during the JOGS Gem and Mineral Show. This pink opal occurs in a parallel vein to the peach opal you already know and love!
- Dino Bone: Many were excited when dino bone first came to Shop LC. Joining the ruddy gembone we premiered, expect to see apple reds and reflective blues in the months ahead.
- Pink Kunzite: While we’ve offered kunzite in the past, our new supply from Afghanistan represents the top pink color. It’s a variety we’ve not seen anywhere else.
- Sierra Nevada Turquoise: This striking turquoise displays dots of color over a brown-black matrix. It’s a unique pattern from the Otterson family, who also supply our Royston turquoise.
- Peruvian Banded Opal: You’re already familiar with our luscious Peruvian pink opal. This banded variety is a tantalizing treat! When shaped and polished as a cabochon, alternating bands of white, pink, and black color mean that stones take on the look of Neapolitan ice cream.
What Happens to Unsold Stones?
During our time in Tucson, we spoke with dozens of vendors about their individual stories, and what brought them to the gem shows. For many, the Tucson events will make or break their year. For them, it’s vital to sell out their inventories as their livelihood is at stake.
Others, like Hausen Rock Treasures, follow a circuit of major gem events. Hausen explained to us that the Tucson event starts their year. But, after the gem and mineral shows end, they’ll send their entire operation to New York, for the gem shows there. For the balance of the year, they’ll continue attending smaller and smaller shows until their inventory is sold.
You’ll also see the bargains go into full swing as the days drag along. Many sellers are eager to liquidate their remaining inventory. They’ll offer steep discounts in the hopes of selling their stock of gem rough. For those without means to transport material back home, this might be their only choice. Chatting with vendors, I learned that transportation through national delivery companies could be $300 or more per pallet.
Other companies will store material in Tucson, for another chance the following year. Numerous storage units litter the city, and many will be filled to the brim with vendor stock. The following year, they’ll once again be emptied in preparation for another event.
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