The Tucson Gem Show attracts interesting people. People come from all over the world, and they have stories to tell. But the individual shows also have personality. This series will concentrate on three different shows–the A.G.T.A. (American Gem Trade Association); the G.J.X. (Gem and Jewelry Exchange); and the Pueblo Gem Show–and the stories I heard at each show.
The A.G.T.A. gets top billing at the Tucson Gem Show. It takes up the Convention Center, the fanciest venue, during the peak days of the two-week show. Its exhibitors must be members of the association, which has the highest ethical standards for full disclosure of any gem enhancement or origin.
It always feels calm and safe at the A.G.T.A. Everyone’s there to make a living, but there’s enough mutual respect and integrity to keep an honest exchange. It’s also very comfortable at the A.G.T.A. Booths have more elbow room, the environment is cool and carpeted, and the restrooms are of the permanent variety. At lunchtime, open doors lead outside to tables and chairs surrounded by food trucks offering wide variety.
The other shows know that you have to pre-register and meet the standards of A.G.T.A. before they’ll let you in the door. So, if you have your A.G.T.A. badge, you’re usually guaranteed entry to any other show. The A.G.T.A. deals only in wholesale, so the general public is not allowed.
Loose, cut gemstones are the specialty of the A.G.T.A. Only a few, high-end jewelers show finished pieces. The show also has booths set up for the top gemological schools and laboratories. There are educational seminars bringing in well-known speakers of the gem and jewelry industry. The Smithsonian Institution shows off its new gemstones and jewelry.
So, what is the “personality” of the A.G.T.A. Tucson Gem Show? It’s cool, cultured and full of integrity. It might also be just a little bit snooty. Everyone is well dressed at the A.G.T.A. People drink lattes for breakfast and have salad for lunch. There’s no one noisy or hot or grumpy at the A.G.T.A.
Maybe it’s this abundance of high class culture that draws me to the more down-to-earth vendors at the show. One such woman who, along with her husband, owns turquoise mines in Nevada, told a great story about a piece of turquoise I bought for my mother. It came from an area near the Ajax Mine, found in the Candelaria Mountains. She told me that one day she and her husband were walking their property and stumbled upon some pieces of turquoise just lying like gravel. They looked around and found a pick ax handle pounded into the ground nearby. It looked old, and they determined that it was probably left by a miner back in the 1930s. They think the miner saw what they saw and marked the place with the intention of returning. But, for some unknown reason, he never did.
When they started mining, they found a vein of turquoise. It’s called the Candelaria Pick Handle Mine. I can’t wait to tell my mom this story. And I’m so glad the owner took the time to tell me. Jewelry is best when it comes with a story. This one was like a good Western–rough and tough, with a little bit of mystery. And what a far cry from the classy, sophisticated story of the A.G.T.A. It was wonderful to experience both.
Next week’s story focuses on the G.J.X. show and a young stonecutter from Germany.