Gem News International Gems & Gemology, Spring 2017, Vol. 53, No. 1

An Inside Look at the 2017 Tucson Shows

Iron-Stained Quartz
A 59.28 ct quartz with iron staining. Photo by Robert Weldon/GIA, courtesy of Rare Earth Mining Co.

The 2017 Tucson gem and mineral shows drew eager buyers from all over the globe. Although many dealers reported lower traffic this year, most were content with the volume of business and noted that buyers were “serious.”

As in previous years, we identified some strong trends:

  • Demand for special one-of-a-kind pieces in both pearls and colored gemstones
  • Continuing investment by multinational companies in colored gemstone mining and distribution
  • A growing focus on ethically sourced gemstones and beneficiation
  • Strong demand for high-end gems and a softening of demand for commercial goods
  • Continuing importance of the secondary market in the U.S. for exceptional pieces
  • Innovative partnerships emerging between individual colored gemstone mines, designer cutters, and television merchandisers
Black opal cabochon from Lightning Ridge.
An Inside Look at the 2017 Tucson Shows

This year’s big story was the emergence of Ethiopia as a potentially major source of gem-quality emerald. These new gems resemble other schist-hosted emeralds, especially those from Brazil and Zambia. Although most of the material is less saturated and included, dealers are excited that the new source also produces fine gem-grade crystals of exceptional size, color, and clarity.

Dealers also talked about the October 2016 removal of U.S. sanctions on Myanmar, legalizing the import of Burmese jadeite and rubies. According to Edward Boehm of RareSource, the lifting of the ban was widely welcomed, but Myanmar government reforms of the gem mining sector have some way to go. Conditions on the ground are much improved, however. Boehm told us new production might take some time to appear, which would impact prices and selection of available goods in the short term.

Large multinational companies have significantly impacted colored gemstone mining and distribution over the last decade. Gemfields’ Kagem and Montepuez mines supply approximately one-third of global emerald and 70% of global ruby production, respectively. At this year’s show we were able to interview Gemfields CEO Ian Harebottle for his perspective on the company’s operations and its 2013 merger with luxury brand Fabergé.

Representing another publicly traded company intending to mine ruby in Mozambique, Christiaan Jordaan of Mustang Resources LLC told us about Mustang’s initial 2016 bulk sampling and exploration activities. The company hopes to become an important supplier of commercial and gem-quality ruby.

Marcello Ribeiro of Belmont Group updated us on developments at the company’s Belmont and Canaan emerald mines at Itabira, Brazil. He emphasized the importance of sound mine planning through fieldwork and trace-element analysis of potential emerald host rocks.

David Bindra of B&B Fine Gems confirmed the importance of the secondary market for exceptional gems, which are in very high demand. He noted less consumption of commercial to mid-grade material.

A partnership between Morocco’s Geostone Group and U.S. gem carver Glenn Lehrer illustrates another interesting development. Production from Geostone’s Moroccan amethyst mine is cut to Lehrer’s high standards in an Indian factory, featuring a branded designer cut with high weight retention. The resulting faceted stones—and finished amethyst jewelry—are sold directly to consumers through television merchandising. The approach helps build a niche for Moroccan amethyst and brings the benefits of scale to designer cutting, which is usually associated with unique pieces.

Eternity Emerald’s Arthur Groom shared his rough emerald buying expertise with us, especially his years of experience negotiating with miners in Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley. He noted that the quality of Afghan emerald is not realized in the West because large, fine crystals are often damaged by improper blasting and extraction techniques.

Potentate Mining’s Warren Boyd showed us sapphire production from Montana’s Rock Creek alluvial deposits, including a remarkable 12.61 ct blue sapphire cut from a 6.37 g rough crystal. Although most of the production has greenish or brownish pastel colors, it reacts well to heat treatment. Boyd told us bright natural colors are in high demand. He showed several suites of fancy sapphires cut by his client, Americut. Montana’s alluvial sapphire deposits will be the subject of an upcoming G&G field report.

The trend toward ethical, sustainable business practices and transparent supply chains is exemplified by Sheahan Stephen of Sheahan Stephen Sapphires, Inc. His company documents and guarantees the integrity of the gems it sells from the mine, through treatment and cutting and directly to the customer.

Nigeria is an under-documented source of fine rubellite and indicolite tourmaline and predominantly blue basalt-hosted sapphire. For this reason, we especially welcomed talking to Zoe Michelou, who represented a Nigerian mining company. She updated us on production of these gemstones from that country’s Oyo, Kwara, and Taraba states.

Gem paintings, which GIA has documented in Vietnam and Mogok, made their first appearance at Tucson. Wanlaya Suwannapirom’s Than Thong Arts booth featured an array of art-inspired handmade portraits and miniatures. The technique converts otherwise unusable natural gem fragments into valuable art objects and wearable art such as pendants and pins.

Gem artist Alexander Kreis showed us a spectacular 27.20 ct freeform tanzanite complemented by a custom ring mount made by his mother Sonja, a master goldsmith. They related the importance of the story behind a jewelry piece for their clients—how details of the stone’s cut and the ring’s design represent the toil and effort of the Tanzanian miners and imbue the piece with added significance.

Fran Mastoloni provided a cultured pearl market update, explaining how careful selection and matching of the different cultured pearl types into a range of varied necklaces help him cater to the market’s desire for distinctive “fashion-forward” yet flexible jewelry.

Dealer Bill Vance of Vance Gems exhibited rare gem-quality magnesio-axinites from just one location in Merelani, Tanzania. This material displayed remarkable fluorescence, and we hope to report further on its chemistry in the near future.

We were delighted to find a Southwest-inspired Starship Enterprise, handmade by David Freedland of David R. Freedland Jr. Designs in sterling silver. This quirky blend of science fiction and traditional inlay work is one of the show’s unexpected finds.

Finally, no survey of the Tucson shows would be complete without Paula Crevoshay’s one-of-a-kind designs. This year, she showcased a bracelet featuring five large freeform fire opals, a swallowtail butterfly pin with yellow and black diamonds, an elephant pin with mother-of-pearl tusks, and a stunning cuff bracelet featuring a spectacular boulder opal centerpiece.

Duncan Pay is the editor-in-chief, and Tao Hsu is the technical editor, of Gems & Gemology. Andy Lucas is manager of field gemology for education, Eric Welch is photo editor, and Albert Salvato is videographer at GIA in Carlsbad, California.