By Star Sosa
Every winter, for the past 15 years or so, I’ve made the journey to the Mecca of the gem world, the Tucson Gem Show. Nancy has joined me for the past four or five trips and it is now our yearly ritual to go out west and see the latest and greatest in gems, beads, pearls, parts, tools, jewelry, you name it, if it pertains to jewelry, it’s here.
The name of the show is a bit misleading. This is not a singular event, but a convergence of multiple promoters, venues and shows. There are actually forty separate shows going on over approximately two weeks. People converge from all over the world on this desert town to buy, sell, learn and interact. In addition to the recognized venues, the Interstate 10 corridor is usually lined with tents and a flea market atmosphere reigns.
You can find lots of fascinating things here in addition to gems and jewelry. Many shows specialize in exotic mineral specimens or collectible native artifacts from Africa, India, Tibet, South American and the American Southwest. The metaphysical crowd is here with jewelry made from meteorite borne gems, exotic crystals, quartz “singing” bowls, prayer flags and Buddha sculptures. The crowd varies from men in business suits to guys in full-fringed buckskins and women in saris. It’s really a bit of a circus.
Nancy and I typically take in only about five of the shows and that’s still quite a project. I took some photos to indicate the scope and the volume of product available. This year our purchases included more finished jewelry than ever before. In the past, we have concentrated on finding great pearls and beads and parts. When I first visited Tucson with my ex-husband, a gem cutter, we were looking primarily for rough, uncut gems and minerals for him to carve and sculpt. Each focus requires visiting a different part of the show and dealing with different people. Over time, you learn the best places to go and develop relationships with the right people.
You’ll also find tools and equipment and software and anything you can think of to set up or supply a jewelry studio or run a jewelry store. I managed to get one vendor to fix my necklace for me using a state of the art laser welder. In the past, we would have fixed the clasp with some epoxy, but the laser weld is a bit more permanent. The tool vendors usually have guest jewelers and vendors in the booth to show you how the tools work and provide the background of a bit of personal experience with the products.
The new CAD or computer aided design systems are really something to watch. It’s like Greek to me! But a skilled tech can enter the information into the computer to render an incredible 3-D image of the proposed jewelry design. Then a milling machine will actually take that information can carve the original wax prototype. There’s even a machine that works by spraying minute amounts of wax, like an ink-jet printer, gradually building up a 3-D prototype of the jewelry.
While at the show you also can further your education, getting certified in many levels of the industry. The AGTA, American Gem Trade Association, hosts a wide variety of classes and seminars and the GIA, Gemological Institute of America offers classes toward your Graduate Gemologist degree.
As you can see, there’s an amazing variety of interaction going on. What a great place to network, brainstorm, fantasize, and just hang out with beautiful things and interesting people. At dinner Saturday night I was joined by jewelry designers, a gemstone carver, a magazine publisher, a wax jewelry model maker, and several gold smiths. It’s an incredible mishmash of artists, miners, brokers, dealers, designers, manufacturers, and more. I can’t wait to go back.
Now, the next trip is to journey to Philadelphia to visit the Buyer’s Market of American Craft. There Nancy and I will place our orders for the year for original art glass, fine craft and fine jewelry. All handmade by North American Artists. This is a gorgeous show and stay tuned for my next installment with detail about that adventure.