By Brecken Branstrator
According to feedback from a number of exhibitors from the Tucson gem shows this year, interesting and unusual stones were getting their time in the limelight. Pictured here is trapiche ruby from Mayer & Watt.
The annual Tucson gem shows in February are a blessing for a number of reasons.

The first is that it gives all of us in much colder climates the opportunity to head out West to the warm (at least during the daytime) desert and get some Vitamin C.

It’s also a fabulous time to catch up with industry friends and be able to totally geek out over gems with the exact crowd that appreciates the enthusiasm.

This year, with the entire National Jeweler team finally making the trek to Tucson with me, I walked the many show floors and talked to many exhibitors at AGTA’s GemFair, the GJX show and then had some of my own fun out in the tents and hotel shows.

Overall, the buying activity seemed to be decent and everyone, at the very least, was more than happy to be back in the desert and seemed optimistic about the direction in which the gem market is heading.

Here’s a round-up of some of the trends prevalent out West, both from my own observations and from the feedback I got after talking to a number of exhibitors.

1. Sapphires. This one didn’t surprise me, as it’s been a consistent topic in the gemstone market for a while now, but I always feel the need to include it since sapphires are doing so well right now.

Not only did I see sapphires everywhere in Tucson, but for so many of the exhibitors that I talked to both during the shows and afterward, this was one of the first answers they gave me when I asked what was selling.

And not just blue, which has stayed hot as it leverages the colored bridal trends and blue stones ride a popularity wave right now, but the fancy-colored sapphires and the warm options they bring as well.

2. Pastels. Consumers are craving them, designers are putting them in many of their designs and dealers are happy to provide them; pastel-colored gems are definitely having a moment.

My first point about sapphires has a lot to do with this trend, as people have told me time and again that the peachy and pink fancy-colored sapphires have helped keep interest in the classic stones, and the conversation around this color set continued in the desert.

Also doing well right now are aquamarine, amethyst, morganite and the blush shades of garnet, all of which offer a nice, subtle colored stone look at affordable price points.

20170224 SpinelA spinel from Omi Gems
3. Spinel. This gemstone seems to have taken its new status as an August birthstone and run with it.

It seemed like spinels were everywhere in Tucson, and they weren’t just being displayed by many exhibitors but also purchased by many attendees.

Reds and pinks might be among the most sought-after, but the uptick in demand for the stone has trickled through to its other colors, like lilac, gray and steely blue.

One exhibitor in a post-Tucson conversation told me that demand was high for all of the gem’s colors she offered at GemFair--red, coral, light pink and the gray/platinum hues.

4. Rubies, especially from Mozambique. While Burmese rubies may have stolen the spotlight in the fall as the news broke that they could be imported again, it was their African counterparts that brought so much of the love for the red corundum to Tucson.

There were so many fine Mozambican rubies at the shows, which is fitting since it seems to be the direction in which that market is really heading.

I had one exhibitor tell me that their fine Mozambique material garnered a lot of attention, with their Burmese ruby-like characteristics and coloring and their much more affordable pricing.

He added that the company, and several other dealers he has talked to, believe that interest in this particular stone will continue to grow as consumers realize just how great the material is.

20170224 Moz rubyA 3.16-carat unheated ruby from Mozambique (Image courtesy Mayer & Watt)
Another dealer said that more and more people have been asking him directly for their Mozambican goods, which hadn’t been the norm for them in the United States as, he said, origin tends to matter less to the buyers here than in Asian markets.

Interestingly, he told me that be believes the increased awareness is due in large part to the marketing efforts done by Gemfields to promote their rubies.

5. Special stones. Tucson is always great for a hands-on learning experience, but this year there seemed to be even more interesting and rare stones than I remember in years past.

I was introduced to sphene a few times and had a long conversation with a dealer about trapiche gems--and not just of the emerald variety--and where he thought that market was going for these stones (more to come on that topic in a blog post next month).

Another dealer told me that while he did sell a lot of emeralds and sapphires, he noticed that people were getting to be a bit more adventurous with their buying during this year’s Tucson shows.

Special stones also includes stones with quality and interesting cuts, because that was a prediction from many dealers before the show and it certainly seemed to hold true.

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