Personalities at the Tucson Gem Show-Part 2: The G.J.X.


The 110,000 square foot tent that houses the G.J.X. (Gem and Jewelry Exchange) is crowded, noisy, and busy.  Vendors’ booths are small and packed together like puzzle pieces.  Walking is treacherous with all the “speed bumps” covering the web of electrical wires that light each booth.  As you slowly make your way down the aisles, you’re likely to see jade bangles next to faceted gemstones and microscopes next to strands of pearls.

As you’d expect with a tent, creature comforts are at a minimum.  There’s no place to sit except near the food booths.  Choices for lunch are limited to foods like hotdogs and tacos.  The temporary restrooms are located outside the tent.  Inside the tent, the air is warm and a little stagnant.

Still, this highly reputable show is for wholesalers only.  You must present the G.J.X. sticker to enter.  Some of the vendors are A.G.T.A. members but, for whatever reason, were not able to be part of the A.G.T.A. show.  Other vendors are grouped together by geographic origin such as the Idar-Oberstein group from Germany, famous for its magnificent stone cutting.

It was there that I met a young gem cutter named Christopher Kreis.  Christopher travels with his mother and father to gem shows around the world, selling his creations.  Trained in traditional cutting methods, he felt that these methods limited the stones’ potential.  He wanted, like a sculptor, to bring out the natural beauty of each specimen.  This meant creating new styles of cutting that are actually patented under his name.  Creations such as “the fluid drop”, made from natural blue topaz, are the result.  Looking at the stone, you feel like you’re looking at a captured droplet of crystal clear water.

I asked him if he’d ever thought of another career.  At first, he didn’t seem to understand the question.  Of course, his father’s family has been in the jewelry business for over 200 years and his mother’s family for even longer!  Perhaps he never thought of working outside the jewelry industry.  But then he spoke of how he loved the variety of his work.  He gets to explore gem mines in the great outdoors, create beauty in the solitude of his workshop, and travel the world meeting people who love his work.  It does sound like a good life!

The personality of this bright man was distinctly different from the show where he was exhibiting.  Christopher was so unassuming and peaceful.  He seemed youthful but with a wisdom beyond his years.  The G.J.X. is robust and loud.  It lacks the sophistication of the A.G.T.A., but, with over 700 vendors, it makes up for it with energy, enthusiasm and wide selection.


Personalities at the Tucson Gem Show–Part 1: The A.G.T.A.

Tucson Gem Show 2015 at the A.G.T.A.

Tucson Gem Show 2015 at the A.G.T.A.

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.



All You Ever Wanted to Know About the Tucson Gem Show

Tucson Gem Show 2015 at the A.G.T.A.

Tucson Gem Show 2015 at the A.G.T.A.

Every year, in the first two weeks of February, the Tucson Gem Show draws about 55,000 people from all over the world.  The show means millions of dollars of revenue for the city of Tucson.  What is all the fuss about?


1) How did the Tucson Gem Show get started?

Back in the mid-1950s, members of the Tucson Gem and Mineral Society decided to have a free exhibition of gems and minerals.  It was a big hit.  They had to find a bigger venue for the next year.  Today, the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show takes over the Tucson Convention Center on the second Thursday in February.  And it’s still run by the volunteer members of the Society. Over the next several years, word got out that Tucson had a great gem and mineral show.  More and more vendors wanted to exhibit there, and, of course, that led to more and more people coming to visit and buy.

2) What is the Tucson Gem Show like today?

It’s huge!  There are now over 40 different venues with thousands of vendors and dealers.  Some shows, like the A.G.T.A. (American Gem Trade Association), get housed in a big convention center.  Booths are set up numerically, like city streets.  You need a guide book for navigation.  Other shows set up in hotels, big outdoor tents, or even outside.  These shows, which all seem to be named with an acronym, can be many miles apart, and shuttles are set up to take buyers from one show to the next.  Somehow Tucson finds room for everyone.

3) Who goes to the show?

People from all over the world come to Tucson.  You’ll see people from Germany, Hong Kong, Brazil, and Thailand. Buyers and sellers of gemstones and jewelry make the Tucson Gem Show one of their top priorities.  But lots of people who just love rocks and minerals also go to the show.  There are a few shows, like the A.G.T.A., that only admit people who plan to re-sell what they buy.  But many more shows are open to the public.

4) What types of goods are sold?

It might be easier to answer what ISN’T sold!  There are cut, faceted gemstones for sale as well as rough, uncut gems.  You can buy jewelry–finished and unfinished.  Millions of beads are sold, as well as findings (metal pieces used in making jewelry).  You can find amazing mineral and fossil specimens.  There are always items made out of rock–like carvings of animals, bookends, and bowls.  And then there’s microscopes, tweezers, and all the other equipment you use when working with stones.

5) What else can you do at the show besides buy and sell?

There are lots of educational seminars on topics in the gem and jewelry industry.  Hands on demonstrations of equipment are common.  Major museums like the Smithsonian bring in gem, mineral and fossil displays.  But the best thing to do at the show is people-watch.  It’s a show that brings in a wide variety of interesting people.


So all the “fuss” over the Tucson Gem Show is warranted.  It IS a big deal.  If you are searching for that special gemstone and you can’t make it to Tucson, remember to ask Teri or Matt for help.  They go every year.



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