I have been attending the Tucson Gem show with Jeremy for the past three years, and it has now become our annual event. During the month of February (some shows start in late January) the whole city of Tucson turns into gem and mineral shows. There are tents everywhere. Convention centers are filled with booths and hotel rooms transform into small shops of beads, fossils, minerals and jewelry.
There are few things that I always bring to Tucson, but the number one essential item is the humidifier. Tucson is a lot drier than Southern California and it’s usually a lot cooler and windy in February. The dry heat of the hotel rooms and chilly winds play havoc on unaccustomed skin and it is a must-have for us. I brought travel-size humidifiers in the past but they just weren’t enough. This year I bought a quarter gallon size that runs for 10 hours.
When visiting shows wet wipes, hand sanitizers and bottled water are necessities. Tucson is not only dry but dusty and so are the piles of beads and findings. The tented gem shows have limited bathrooms (the good old port-a-potties). I get so immersed to the hunt for something special that I often forget to eat or drink. I am adding power bars to my list for next year.
The first day of Tucson is all about pearls. This year started with a lecture by Elisabeth Strack at 9am. Strack, a gemologist specializing in pearls and the author of Pearls the most comprehensive book on pearls, gave a lecture on “Pearl testing: How to distinguish cultured pearls from each other”. Working with pearls every day, I heavily rely on my experience to tell the difference in pearls. The lecture focused on the scientific methods to differentiate fake, freshwater, saltwater and natural pearls.
After the lecture the Pearl-Guiders met at the lecture room and began our “pearl walk”. The pearl walk consists of visiting pearl vendors at the AGTA show in Tucson convention center and GJX show that is across the street from AGTA. We started with the GJX and went booth to booth meeting with US and overseas pearl vendors. We visited Kojima Pearls who carries beautiful finished pearl jewelry as well as unfinished strands and loose pearls, Jewelmer, the king of golden south sea pearl, and Sea of Cortez pearls, just to name a few.
During the walk, I wandered off from the group for a bit and stumbled into a booth with interesting looking shells. They were called Agatized Gastropods. The seller told us that these fossilized shells were over 100 million years old. I decided to purchase this unique find and as the rest of the group came to the booth they were also mesmerized by them. Jeremy bought a pair and most of the group bought some. Click the photo on the left to see a super-size version of these amazing shells!
From GJX we walked over to Riverpark Inn where we met with John Tu from Taiko Imports. John is another beloved vendor that Pearl-Guiders love to purchase from. We spent a good amount of time looking for specific pearls that were on Pearl-Guiders’ shopping lists. After we parted from John’s booth we called it a day since Jeremy and I were attending the CPAA (Cultured Pearl Association of America) party that evening. Besides the humidifier and wet wipes, I bring along lots of pearl jewelry. Every night we have some sort of dinner or party to attend and I need to be decked out in pearls!
On Day 2 I scoped out the AGTA show in the morning. The AGTA show has more of the high-end pieces like finished jewelry in gold and precious stones as well as some pearls and beads. I found an 18K diamond bar clasp that would hold 10 strands of pearls with diamond spacer bars to secure the pearl strands in place. It was expensive, so I decided to think about it for a while. It was a good thing I wrote down the price because I went back to the booth on the last day to make the purchase and the vendor had quoted me a different price. I plan to use the findings for the PearlParadise look book for the Fall/Winter 2013.
Kether, Pearl-Guide.com member Caitlin’s daughter and Pearl Ruckus attendee, came to pick me up from AGTA and we left to see the other shows. Jeremy stayed for meetings with other pearl people. He and I have very different agendas at Tucson. He goes to reconnect with other pearl vendors and experts while I try to go to many shows possible to find something special for my little h line and The Pearl Collective.
After a quick lunch, Kether and I drove to JOGS show where we didn’t stay for very long. A lot of the things sold there were finished silver or base metal jewelry. There are a lot of low-end tchotchkes that are sold in these shows. You can’t really tell from reading through the list of directories and there isn’t much information online either. We moved to the Holidome where there’s more variety of goods. I found some odd shaped corals that were perfect to frame pearls or stones in. I like pairing gold chain and turquoise beads with corals and it may be a new line for little h. I also found some 6 mm diamond screw clasps for the PearlParadise editorial look book. We’re always on the lookout for different clasps in style and sizes and I was pleased to find some small clasps that would work for the upcoming look book.
We ran out of time that day and I returned to our hotel afterwards to get ready for the annual Pearl-Guide dinner that we host. The group is growing larger every year and it is a blast to dine with pearl enthusiasts like Caitlin Williams and Elisabeth Strack.
I had the third day all to myself. It was a little daunting to drive the enormous Ford Explorer we rented but I had a great time. I went to the Gem Mall and spent most of the day there. I had really good finds for Pearl Collective. Our spike collection has been a big hit and I was on a hunt for different style of spikes. I found some styles that were different from our past ones. I got myself a strand of turquoise slate shaped beads as well as tear drop shaped freshwater pearls that were framed in gold plated silver. I saw some vintage pearl brooches that were crescent moon shaped.
That evening Jeremy and I attended the GIA Alumni party. We had donated some of our finest freshwater pearls and South Sea pearl earrings for their fund-raising auction.
The final day of the show I purchased some stones at the GJX show. I walked around the show from the back end since I didn’t check out the area during the pearl walk. I found a booth filled with rare colors and assortments of stones. I purchased small Geode Agates. I thought it would be fun to insert pearls in these crystal filled hollow shaped agates.
Before I did more financial damage Jeremy found me and we were off to the airport. I had so much fun at the show this year because it reminded me of the time when I frequently went to local gem shows. It’s truly entertaining to find intriguing stones or beads and let your imagination run.