Professional Jeweler Archive: What to Look for in Tucson

January 2001

Gemstones & Pearls/News

What to Look for in Tucson

Sapphire abundance, exceptional tsavorite, various pink gems and purple chalcedony will make headlines this year

To give you a leg up in preparation for the Tucson gem and minerals shows, we’ve surveyed the market for the latest news on the availability and popularity of colored gems and pearls. Here’s a preview of what you’ll find at the various shows scheduled between Jan. 27 and Feb. 11.


“All colors of sapphire will be particularly strong this year,” says Eric Braunwart of Columbia Gem House Inc., Vancouver, WA. “That’s the big story because so much material is available from Madagascar and Sri Lanka.”

There was concern about availability after Madagascar clamped down on problem visas following illegal purchases of gem rough last year. “But now the correct visas are being issued to qualified buyers,” says Tom Cushman of Allerton Cushman, Sun Valley, ID.

Cushman and others who frequent the island do say the quantity and quality of pink sapphire will decline in coming months because of shortages. But plenty of other colors will be available, including mauve, violet, orange, green and unusual blues. (Other gems from Madagascar will be available in Tucson also, including garnet, unusual quartz and sphene.)

Chinese Freshwater Cultured Pearls

Many dealers say freshwater cultured pearls from China will repeat their explosive presence from last year. In fact, some speculate that even bigger supplies will mean lower prices. But there are concerns about color. “While many Chinese pearls have beautiful natural colors, a lot are dyed or irradiated,” says Braunwart. “It can be very challenging to tell the difference.” His advice: Carefully examine any Chinese pearls you’re considering for evidence of color treatment.

Regardless, Chinese pearls are an inexpensive, beautiful and durable product. The trick is finding a supplier who properly discloses treatment or guarantees the product is natural.

Tsavorite and Tanzanite

Dealers say tsavorite garnet’s moment in the sun is just around the corner. “There is more material around than ever,” says Bear Williams of Bear Essentials, Jefferson City, MO. Despite increased supplies, prices for the green gem remain firm.

“A new source in Kenya called Kurase, just south of Tsavo National Park, is producing tsavorite with a blue tint; some say it’s the most beautiful tsavorite ever found,” he says, though much of it is quite included. Other sources in Kenya and last year’s find near Lindi, Tanzania, continue to produce fine qualities. Meanwhile, Madagascar reportedly is producing abundant supplies of green grossular garnet.

Tanzanite remains a question. Demand for the purplish blue gem remains high, but supplies are meager and prices have skyrocketed. Some retailers say the $450-$600-per-ct. range for fine qualities is driving interest to aquamarines and sapphires.

A hold-up at one part of the tanzanite mine in Merelani, Tanzania, in October ended in tragedy when dozens of miners were gunned down, casting doubt on production from the area any time soon. South African mining company Afgem continues to expand its infrastructure at Merelani’s Block C. Material from block C has yet to reach the market.

Nigerian Rubellite

While no rubellite is coming out of Nigeria at present, residual amounts are still available in the Thai market. Prices – once as low as $20-$40 per carat – are firming up but remain reasonable, say dealers. Bill Larson of Pala International, Fallbrook, CA, expects rubellite to be hot again this year because of its beauty.

Bernardo Feler of Brazrio International, Los Angeles, CA, says the low price of Nigerian rubellite has caused Brazil’s more expensive sources of the gem to close up. However, he says increased interest in pink and reddish stones is keeping the Brazilian market going for other gems, especially pink and reddish-orange imperial topaz, kunzite and morganite.

What’s New?

Tucson in February is always a place to debut new gemstones, and this year will be no exception. “There is a new source in Nevada for a very beautiful purple chalcedony,” says Michael Randall of Gem Reflections, San Anselmo, CA. An ample quantity will allow manufacturers to plan extended lines. The timing couldn’t be better because color fashion forecasters have singled out various shades of violet, purple and maroon.

Another highlight of the shows this year will be the introduction of Tucsonite, a black drusy chalcedony with platinum coating created by Bill Heher of Rare Earth Mining, Trumbull, CT. The effect is dramatic, shiny, white on black, “like looking at the lights of Tucson from the foothills,” says Heher.

– Robert Weldon, G.G.

Unusual colors of sapphire from Madagascar. Gems are courtesy of Menavi International, Ramat Gan, Israel; (972-3) 575-6992.

Photo by Robert Weldon

Natural drusy chalcedony with a human complement of platinum is named Tucsonite in honor of the city of Tucson. A portion of sales is earmarked for charitable causes. Gem is courtesy of Rare Earth Mining, Trumbull, CT; (203) 378-8672.

Photo by Robert Weldon

Purple chalcedony from Nevada will debut at Tucson. Gems are courtesy of Gem Reflections of California, San Anselmo, CA; (800) 453-4367.

Photo by Robert Weldon

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications