When it comes to jewelry and gem shows, it doesn’t get more eclectic—and in my opinion, fun—than the annual Tucson gem and jewelry shows, which wrapped up this week in the Arizona metropolis.
The loose collective of fine gem shows (chiefly, AGTA’s GemFair) and numerous warehouse outposts filled with miles of tables bearing crystals and semi-precious gems attract retailers, gemologists, designers, and gem and jewelry lovers (many shows are open to the public).
I’ve been reporting on the jewelry industry for a decade, but this year was only my second year attending the Tucson shows. And for the second time I found myself enchanted by the event’s breezy desert environs (which allows for so many outdoor shows—what a joy to be lingering outside in February!), its wide array of product across at least a dozen venues, and the decidedly gung-ho attitudes of my fellow attendees, who seem as eager as I am to dig into the parking lot piles of rocks, frayed boxes of gems, and tables of minerals to find something truly beautiful and unique. Tucson is where you spot A-list jewelry designers sitting on the floor of an open-air warehouse, digging furiously through boxes of vintage gems. And may that always be the case!
Flying from Arizona’s sunbaked streets back home to frigid Washington D.C. in February will probably always be a bittersweet journey. But both years I’ve walked away from Tucson with fresh insights—on the jewelry and gem industry, consumer behaviors, economics, powerful trends (particularly those fomenting out west), and so much more. Here’s what I took away this year…
Aquamarine is Queen
If I had to crown the most popular gemstone at the 2023 Tucson shows, it would undoubtedly be aquamarine. March’s birthstone, which is mined mainly in Brazil, but it is also found in Nigeria, Madagascar, Zambia, Pakistan, and Mozambique, was everywhere at the Tucson shows—and several exhibitors, including designer Suzy Landa, and gem dealers AG Gems, Varshana Dholakia, and PH Gems International, had giant aquamarine stones in pendants and rings gleaming from their cases.
“I love aquamarine, and for me aquamarine and peridot are the two gems that look good on absolutely everyone,” said Landa, who showed her jewelry collection at the AGTA GemFair. “Orange and pink, on the other hand, are not going to look good on everyone.”
Robert Bentley of Robert Bentley Fine Gem Beads, said blues in general were flying out of his booth, including those made from aquamarine and shimmering teal indicolite. Ultimately, “Ocean blues and greens are really selling,” a booth representative said.
Landa added, “It’s funny that aquamarine is everywhere because it’s gotten stupid expensive.” It’s a sentiment that neatly brings us to the fact that…
Gemstones Are More Expensive Than Ever
There was a lot of sticker shock for retailers and designers in Tucson. The higher-than-expected prices of colored gems were a continual topic of conversation. Milling around the AGS Young Titleholder’s annual Tucson party—a fun and jam-packed soiree, as it is every year—gem dealer, influencer, and educator Erica Silverglide said, “Can you believe the prices of gems this year? They have doubled at least.”
Jewelry designer Elise Thompson was also taken aback by the increases. “Coming to the shows I knew that colored stone pricing increased, and that I would see even higher prices for rare materials,” she said. “What I was not prepared for was the increased price of gemstone beads. Prices were up across the board, at every show, from every vendor. We had to literally dig and spend hours looking for beads that had quality up to our standards but were not overpriced…I hope the market corrects itself, because this is discouraging is this is the new norm.”
What’s impacting gemstone prices? Most agree it’s a confluence of factors, and most of them began during the lockdowns and quarantines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Labor shortages at mines, the sporadic and prolonged closings of gemstone cutting operations worldwide, rising fuel prices, and supply chain disruptions that persist (but allegedly are improving?) are among the realities that have resulted in vaulting prices.
As a result, “retailers are really price-point shopping,” said Melinda Dillard, a representative at the booth of gemstone dealer Tim Roark. “They’re doing more note-taking and picture-taking and really [homing in] on price.”
Pink Can Be Profound
Among the most interesting finds at AGTA’s GemFair this year was a parcel of rare pezzottatite gems from Madagascar. Dazzling hot pink through and through, the gem was priced to collect—the best examples were going for around $4,900 a carat. Still, pezzottaite’s unusual color stopped retailers in their tracks again and again, because it looked unfamiliar. “Not a lot of the gem came up from the ground, and I have most of it,” explained Tom Cushman of exhibitor Allerton Cushman & Co., who’s also the country manager of the NGO Artminers Madagascar.
Also piquing lots of interest were gem-y jewels featuring rare pink and red spinels and Malaya garnet (a pinky-coral gemstone) at Omi Prive. The company’s director of marketing, Natalie Rodrigues, noted, “Pinks in general are selling really well—people love them.”
See you next year, Tucson!
Top photo: Rose quartz at Kino Gem Show