The Tucson Gem and Mineral Show is like no other. Dozens of hotels, lining interstate 10, house thousands of exhibitors. Hotel rooms are reserved a year, or years in advance, and each room is a show room by day and bedroom by night. Every courtyard and parking area is packed with exhibitors. Huge tents are erected in every open space, housing cohesive groups of exhibitors and offering security at night. One hotel show may feature mostly monumental crystal specimens, and the next hotel may house bead and pearl vendors. One floor or wing may exhibit rubies and precious sapphires in all colors of the rainbow, another wing of the hotel may feature fossils, many of which are Smithsonian quality. The cross-section of exhibitors is amazing and it's difficult to stay focused on ones priorities. The cultural diversity within the walls of the hotels is extreme; lapis from Afghanistan, opals from Australia, Mexican opals, bone carvings from Bali, wood carvings from New Guinea, emeralds from Colombia, diamonds from South Africa, rubies and sapphires from India, amber from Russia, fossilized ivory from Alaska. The list is endless and much of what I love about this show is the cross-cultural melding of it all. Turbans, dread locks, tie dye, suits, saris or K-Mart. All is equal in this playing field.
John and I flew into
With John under the weather, we get a slower start than usual today, but once we get going, John, with his built in G.P.S. system guides me directly to our favorite vendors. Mexican fire opals and Australian opals are high on this years shopping list and John knows what to look for in a quality opal. I respect his opinion so when we get down to serious business, we bounce our thoughts back and forth when we examine a "lot" of stones. We examine each stone from all directions, in and out of halogen light. We often take a few stones outside into natural light, leaving a credit card and one of my high-end 18K gold opal pieces as security. We check for inclusions and discuss design possibilities. Will this stone be configured into a pendant, a ring; will a dragon guard this treasure, or will I create an elegant abstract?
This is our 4th consecutive year coming to
We spend the late afternoon picking through trays of Opals at our favorite Mexican Opal supplier whose mine is in
We've been on our feet all day and our stomachs are grumbling. I give John his choice of dinner venue and he chooses a past favorite, the "Clam Jumper." 4 years ago when John was 12, our hotel was just was a few blocks down from this restaurant. Back then, John spotted the inviting corner restaurant, read the sign aloud to me, suggested that we eat there and asked why it was named the Clam Jumper? I laughed and pointed out that it was not the Clam Jumper, but the Claim Jumper, a bit more appropriate in a mining desert area. This has become our inside joke and one of our favorite dinner spot after long days of shopping the Gem and Mineral show. I drive East on Broadway towards the Clam Jumper Restaurant. It's a big chain dinner house, but the food has always been surprisingly good and very reasonable compared to
Wednesday- More Opals
Yesterday we discovered a charming Mexican breakfast cafe in the heart of downtown
morning and John, feeling better, devours Chorizo and eggs and washes it down with a cup of coffee. I enjoy a repeat of yesterday, huevos Mexicanos and a large salad. The two most prestigious shows open this morning, the AGTA and the GTA. We arrive 30 minutes early, find a coveted parking space at the convention center and enter to pick up our badges to the show. I have pre-registered, but somehow missed the online field to add a badge for John. With paperwork in hand and Johns' business card attached, I step up to the window. The dour faced woman locates Marty Magic in her computer, scans Johns’ paperwork and card and then asks to see his picture ID. I tell her that he is just 16 and doesn't have a picture ID. She tells us that he may not enter the show. I feel my blood pressure rise, and point out that at 16 he doesn't even need a picture ID to fly. She holds her ground and I ask to speak to a supervisor. We step down to the far window and I explain my problem. She is compassionate and overrides the previous woman, confirming, "of course he doesn't have a photo I D; he is only 16 years old." Relieved and with the appropriate badges, I glide down the main escalator and enter the AGTA show. (John slides down the banister, confirming that he is indeed just 16 years old.) The security is tight and each badge has a bar code that is scanned as you enter and exit a hall.
I would estimate that 1000 booths fill the main convention hall, each professionally lit with elegant displays and enticing gemstones. An auxiliary hall houses the tools, machinery and jewelry service booths. We decide to get the less exciting stuff out of the way and start with this room, dutifully inquiring and gathering brochures about 3D computer programs and asking to see a demonstration of a photo light box set up. I need to improve my photo set up for my web shots and Art is learning a 3D cad program with which to create his own jewelry designs.
In the main exhibition hall, John leads the way, systematically guiding us up one aisle and down the next. The gemstones on display are a visual overload and part of Johns’ job is to keep us focused on our shopping list. We walk quickly past most booths, screeching to a halt whenever we see the iridescent flash of opals. There are numerous displays of opals, mostly Australian boulder opal, and we take our time at each one. Most of these jewelry booths have their opals displayed on top of their counters in black felt lined trays so that it is easy to sort through. It is not uncommon to have dozens of open trays of this material with pieces costing several thousand dollars each, but the museum pieces are under glass and we ask to examine many incredible pieces of Lightening Ridge and Black Opal costing tens of thousands of dollars each. A rainbow shimmer draws us into a booth selling ammonite jewelry and rough. Huge mineralized ammonite fossils, all colors of the rainbow, line the back of the booth, and an array of ammonite jewelry fills the front showcase. There are small inexpensive pieces already mounted with simple silver bails, but also several trays of loose unset pieces. These interest us and we learn that most cut ammonite is one sided, but the imperial ammonite is opalized/mineralized on both faces of the fossil. The colors are iridescent green, blue, red and gold and the patterns on the stones are reminiscent of dragon scales. We have them hold three of the most desirable pieces while we ponder and continue to shop but only walk a few more aisles before turning back to purchase the pieces. I envision dragons wrapping around this unusual and beautiful material.
After 4 hours shopping this show, we cross over to the GTA tent. This show requires its own registration, but with the elite AGTA badges, acquiring the added sticker is easy. After a quick bite of fair food, we enter and begin our systematic shopping. The smörgåsbord of gemstones is overwhelming and there are quite a few booths selling Mexican fire opals. We have a packet of opals on hold from yesterday but we make our most significant purchase from a new vendor. Although we didn't purchase anything at his booth last year, he remembers John and me and provides us each chairs and good lighting to make our selection. His opal mine is also in Magdalena
The show is closing and we are on sensory overload so we reward our hard work with another "Clam Jumper" dinner. Once again, within the privacy of our booth, we arrange our growing collection on the tabletop, discussing each treasure. I am fortunate that John shares my love of opals and enjoys the challenge of the hunt.
Our flight home isn’t until 7:30 P.M. tonight, so we still have the entire day to shop. I’ve pretty much spent my budget, but a few less exciting items remain on my shopping list, mainly, silver chains and findings. We start our day off, stopping at a different show at a nearby hotel complex. The shows focus is fossils and minerals and everything is extremely fascinating but not what we need. Each hotel room houses amazing museum quality mineral specimens and we wish we had hours to spend perusing. There are several rooms that offer small crystal specimens suitable for jewelry, and I succumb to temptation and purchase a tanzanite crystal that will be guarded by a golden dragon. There are a number of exhibitors inside a large conference hall selling dinosaur fossils, some genuine and some replicas and it’s hard to tear ourselves away from the huge lizard skeletons.
I want to revisit one opal dealer that we discovered on our first day. He had a display of Mexican Fire Opals and some unusually large matrix opal cabochons. I know that buying more will put me over my intended budget, but I want to take another look. I enter the danger zone when the young man from
Our final stops are at three of the big tent shows out near the airport. I purchase the necessary sterling silver chains and with an hour remaining, we decide to hit one last show. We stopped by this show briefly last year, but were very hurried. We are hurried again this year, but stop dead in our tracks when we spot an exceptional Mexican Opal booth. This young man is also from
As the plane takes off, we watch the glittering lights of