TUCSON.  For years I heard this city being described as the gemmologist’s ultimate Valhalla. Every February I would see instagram awash with beautiful stones, amazing specimens and pictures of gemstone dealers at the different Tucson shows. On their return, friends would show off their haul of the latest gemmy weird and wonderful. I had actually planned to go with a friend during the strange year after covid when things had opened up but there was the lingering worry ‘one might get stuck with covid over there’ and thus cancelled the trip. So when my colleague Alistair mentioned that we would go there this year on a work trip, one can imagine my excitement.

Despite having had Tucson in my mind for a while, I didn’t really know what to expect. I was pleased that I had at least been in charge of booking the flights rather than Alistair and thus had check in luggage – a fact for which we were only mildly shamed by both Marcus and Bindy who only ever take hand-luggage on their work trips – even for three weeks in Brazil! Our flight was on Saturday morning so we would arrive in Tucson on the evening of the same day. On the way to the airport, I regretted that I didn’t have the foresight to get my nails done before the trip – many of you will, I’m sure, understand the attempts to take nice pictures of lovely stones when your nails look terrible.

Even though my best friend’s words echoed in my head ‘that one must never ever sit next to a colleague on a long-haul flight’, the excitement for the trip ahead meant we had plenty to chat about. Alistair and I had time to discuss our plans and goals for the week ahead. Our main reason for the trip wasn’t to buy in stock but to meet potential suppliers and customers, and in general to expand our network and get a better understanding of markets different from the UK where we are hoping to expand further in the future. After we had sufficiently brainstormed, Alistair soon became engrossed in Barbie while I had a blast watching one of the Austin Powers.

We stayed in an Airbnb about a 10min drive from the main shows, a little casita hand-built by the owner. After our arrival we were determined to avoid the jetlag as much as possible by going out for dinner. After a strange walk of about 30 minutes to what apparently were ‘nearby’ restaurants, and slightly delirious from having been awake for a very long time, we ordered some starters and a portion of rice, the size of which could easily have fed a group of four.

Street view from our airbnb with the amazing mountains in the background


We spent our first day at 22nd Street Mineral, Fossil, Gem and Jewellery show, one of the bigger shows which is open to both the trade and public. The show was fantastic with a huge array of all sorts of different items from fossil wood to dinosaur parts, from interesting gemstones to quartz bathtubs and meteorite skulls. As we were walking around with friends, I felt in very good hands as the only Tucson newbie. Our lovely friend Tori, who has been coming to Tucson for the gem fair every year since she was three weeks old, made sure to guide us to all the right places. The next day we went to the Pueblo show which seems to be many people’s favourite show of the week. I found the layout of the show rather confusing as one meanders in and out of a motel with lots of the dealers showing their goods in the motel rooms. Like 22nd Street, this one had a large array of different goods. There was a lot of rough and ornamental materials but also nice polished stones. It took us ages to go around as we got stuck in one of the first motel rooms, drawn in by a supplier with gems full of interesting inclusions. We both got very inspired to continue with our photomicrography back in London.



An amazing quartz bathtub and meteorite skull at the Pueblo show


On Tuesday, the AGTA and GJX started – two of the shows we were most interested in as their focus lies predominantly on finer quality cut stones. We saw fantastic sapphires, emeralds, jadeite, tsavorite… you name it. One dealer placed some paraiba tourmalines on my hand in the 2-4 ct range and said rather casually that I had three million dollars on my hand – as he was chatting away I could feel my hand get rather crampy. I was particularly taken by a rare parcel of diamond cabochons which looked like the most beautiful little droplets of water. Many fancy coloured zoisites drew in my attention, such as a pure green one and an amethyst purple one. I also liked seeing natural bi-coloured topazes, one of which was a stunning octagon half of which was vivid pink and the other half vivid orange. I saw many stones for the first time which I had never heard before such as jeremejevite. What stood out to us was that prices in general were rather high.


At the AGTA show; both of us with a large crystal of choice at Pueblo


We were pleased that we had set ourselves specific goals of what and who to look for as one could easily have stopped at every single booth for hours.  We wanted to make time to listen to certain talks and panels organised by the AGTA. We went to three we thought were most relevant to us. The first one was an incredibly interesting talk by Wim Vertriest and Billy Hughes on low temperature heat treatment of Burmese rubies. The second one focussed on vertical integration in gemstone mining which was of particular relevance to us as the business has recently started investing in a mine in Madagascar (see the previous blog post of Alistair’s recent visit). The third panel dealt with pearls and was a personal highlight of my week. I loved hearing how Gina Latendresse from the American Pearl Company told the story of how her father first became involved in the world of pearls and built up his family company. It was also very useful to get an update by Fran Mastoloni on the current state of the pearl market with its mind-blowingly high prices.

At the beautiful Star Pass Hotel with Tori

While we were out and about every day to visit different shows, we didn’t even come close to visiting all of them – this is how vast the gem fair is and how efficient one must be. Like the days, the evenings were enjoyably busy. The first event we went to was organised by Gemmology Worldwide at the beautiful Star Pass hotel which has fantastic views over Tucson, surrounded by mountains and cacti. Another evening, it was a joy to see the fantastic mineral specimens of the Alfie Norville Gem & Mineral Museum during GIA’s Night at the Museum. The historic Hotel Congress was a great place for drinks and for a big breakfast the next morning.  Plenty of margaritas were consumed at Kerry Gregory’s fabulous Tequila Thursday event. We continued that evening with a bout of very entertaining line dancing at a bar called The Maverick. It inspired me to get a lovely pair of cowboy boots the next day – when in Tucson…


Trying to convince Alistair to wear a cowboy hat to the office; in the Maverick

Our return journey home – though dreaded- went surprisingly quickly. I got a decent amount of sleep after the fantastic but intense week. We felt pleased with what we had seen, who we had met and what we had learned. My first Tucson was quite the whirlwind, but even better than expected. I hope I’ll be back next year for round two.

Floriane Hellström FGA DGA

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Marcus McCallum Ltd
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