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Raw Inspiration: Buying Gems in Tucson

Karin Jacobson gem buying gem news travel

There’s nothing like a gem-buying excursion to get a jewelry designer’s heart thumping! I just got back from the Tucson Gem Show and my head is still spinning from all the gorgeous cut gemstones and mineral specimens I saw there. This event isn’t actually a single show, it’s a cluster of shows, some of which are open to the public and others only open to people in the trade who are pre-qualified buyers. 

I brought my husband Adam out with me for this trip. Even though I’d be working for part of the time, we were both very eager to get away from the cold, snowy Minnesota weather for a quick break! Adam was able to work remotely during the day at our Airbnb, and join me at the shows on weekend days. (He’s become something of a gem enthusiast as well, so he really enjoys tagging along.)

Greetings from Tucson!

The shows include everything from fine finished gems to rough gem material to fossils and big mineral specimens. There’s a lot to see and a TON of variety. The various shows draw huge crowds during the first half of February. My favorite show is AGTA - the American Gem Trade Association show - which mostly has cut gems and pearls. (They also have a show in Las Vegas that I visited in 2017.)

The shopping scene at AGTA - fabulous!

I could have spent days visiting all of the venues and checking out everything the gem shows have to offer, but we only had a short visit. (I needed to get back home and start preparing for my next show in Baltimore!) With limited time, I tried to focus on what I’d be buying ... but I did still get to see a few giant rocks!

It was rainy ... but worth getting a little damp to see these giant crystals!

I went to the shows with finished gems and I picked up some fabulous raw materials for new designs. Of course, my main stop was at Columbia Gem House, for fair trade goods! I re-stocked some of the things I regularly use like hexagon shaped rubies and Montana sapphires, but also got the chance to pick up some really fun new stuff - including these Prasiolite and Oregon Sunstone “geo-cuts.” I love this intriguing new shape!

Clockwise from top left: fair trade rubies from Liberia; Oregon goshenite; pink, green and bi-color tourmaline from Maine; prasiolite (green) and sunstone (coral color) geo-cuts.

I also visited John Dyer, the talented gem cutter I first met at the gem show in Las Vegas last year. This year, I wanted to pick up a couple of special pieces with really amazing, artistic cuts like this aquamarine and morganite with his Starbright cut.

Karin Jacobson in Tucson buying John Dyer starbright cut gems
Starbright Cut aquamarine and Morganite, cut by award winning gem cutter John Dyer.

Ever since the Aaron Faber show I’ve been using more and more pearls, so I also set myself to the task of finding a black pearl dealer. The company I ended up partnering with is based in Arizona, but the buyers spend their summers in Polynesia buying natural black pearls to bring back. (Makes sense, since Polynesia is the only place they are found!) I’m pretty well stocked up on pearls at the moment, but I just had to buy a few black pearls to work with soon...can’t wait to show you what I come up with!

Black pearls from Tahiti!

I also found some fun rutilated quartz pieces, rough aquamarine, and morganite from Robert Bentley who works with miners in Brazil and does some innovative cuts with interesting rough gems. These little rutilated pieces have needle-like black inclusions that look like tiny clusters of crystal within crystal!

These amazing stones are like tiny little worlds within gems!

AND Adam and I got to spend some time outside enjoying the Sonoran Desert. We took a fun side trip to the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum where we got to see all kinds of desert flora and fauna, and enjoy a lovely day.

Clockwise from top left: wildcats enjoying a cozy nook; a gorgeous succulent; a mountain goat shows off how easy it is to get to the top of the rocks; and my favorites - snoozing javelinas.

Actually, that day was the sunniest of the entire trip. This time of year is one of Arizona’s two rainy seasons (although considerably less rainy than the monsoon season in August when there are occasional downpours and flooding), so we had a few partially rainy days as well - including one of the days that we visited Saguaro National Park.

Some of the stunning plants we saw at Saguaro National Park.

But getting to see this rainbow over the desert entirely made up for getting a little damp on our hike!



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  • Margaret Pfeffer on

    Thanks for so generously sharing your trade show adventures and your treks in the desert. Both were amazing.


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