Tucson 2023 — Part 4


I had intended to attend several seminars and demonstrations offered by the AGTA and USFG.  But I pretty much failed.  It seemed I was always at the wrong place immersed in something else when it came time for the interesting seminars.  I did make it over to the USFG a couple times, but did not stay long in either case.  I wish the location used by the USFG for its symposium (OPLC) was not so far away from everything else since it runs the same days at the AGTA and GJX shows.

People and Places

One of this year’s highlights was the GO dinner meet up at the El Charro. The group was smaller than the past few times I attended so we were placed in a small room by ourselves.  The situation was perfect — everyone could hear about the finds that had been made in the course of the shows as well as listening to some tall tales of other gem adventures.

Part of the magic of Tucson is that it brings together so  many people with common interests.  Folks who had been only names in an online forum or mentioned as experts in various articles are there and most often share their expertise.  Business relationships develop with dealers and new friends are made.  It is also fun to unexpectedly meet up with others from home while wandering through the shows.  I’ve almost come to expect meeting up with one of our local jewelers at AGTA — only this time it was at GJX.  Another surprise this year was to hear someone saying hello to me in one of the Pueblo dealer rooms — another SLO area person that I had not seen in years.

It took several days before I finally got to the point of doing an early morning hike around the paved  loop at Sentinel Peak (“A” mountain).  The first was a day where I needed to scrape the frost off the car windows to see where I was going.  I was glad that I had gloves and appropriate clothing for the chill. From the highest part, one gets a terrific view of Tucson.  The scale and number of the freeway show tents is impressive.  I tried to take a lot of photos of the city and show area as well as the sunrise (unlike previous years where I seemed to be focused on the cactus).

The other two mornings I managed to do the walk were warmer — but still more than cool enough for me to appreciate gloves. Only a few others were out walking that early.



This time I noticed more how the gem and mineral shows seemed to overwhelm the resources in Tucson.  Along the freeway area, there was a definite shortage of places to eat (other than food trucks at the shows.)  A google map search for restaurants had nearly all its suggestions greater than 4 miles away.  The hotels hosting the shows were showing their age and at least two in that area seemed to be closed.

As I drove around town, I found myself amused by some of the traffic engineering decisions.  Or annoyed by them as in the case where I was heading for the freeway needing to go in a direction to my right only to discover too late that the freeway entrance on that side of the road was going the other way and I should have been in the left lane for the direction I wanted.  (Not sure if it was north and south or east and west.)  Another one was the traffic “circles” that were created by digging up the middle of an intersection.  These were typically combined with speed bumps halfway between intersections.

The freeway entrance and exit ramps tended to be very long.  That should have made things a lot easier for drivers — except that the distance provided to merge into traffic was way short.  This also applied to merging on to the appropriate lanes of the frontage roads when exiting the freeway.  If you needed to make a right turn at the next intersection, you might need to cross two or three lanes very quickly.

Instead of a sign at an interesting with a one way street saying “right turn only”, I noticed that they had “Do Not Enter” signs placed where they would only be seen after the driver turned heading the wrong way into the street.

My favorite oddity were the intersections of two major streets where instead of a normal left turn lane and signal, the drivers had to go past the intersection to a U-Turn spot and then cross two lanes of traffic to make a right turn.  And I thought New Jersey’ jug handle approach to left turns was odd.

And finally, the car hurdles (speed bumps) at the Tucson airport were some of the biggest I have encountered.  Slow down all you want, but it will still be a big bounce as you drive over them.

The ratio of chairs to tables at the 22nd street show food court continues to puzzle me.  This is not a new situation.  In 2018, when my lunch was finally ready at the food truck, there was lots of table space, but no free chairs. Why so few chairs?


Tucson 2023 — Part 3

More Freeway shows

Monday morning, I set off with two companions planning to start with one wholesale venue, but due to a wrong turn getting off the freeway, decided to go to Kino first, instead.  At that point, I was starting to look for items to purchase for the local club’s use in grab bags for sale during the club show.  It was still terribly cold there, especially in tents.  After a while, two of us were ready to move on leaving our other companion to take a shuttle back to the freeway area when she was done.

We refreshed at our hotel and then headed to the other side of the freeway to explore the 22nd street show.  It was not as busy as it had been on the weekend, so I had a chance to visit with Elke and Bill Vance, hear what they have been doing sis 2020 and get lots of advice from Bill on faceting.

I was still at their booth when my phone alerted me about the meet and greet sponsored by the WJA, Ethical Gem Suppliers and Ethical Metalsmiths which was about a mile and a quarter away and would be starting in less than 30 minutes.  I appreciated the continuation of the walking path that was created since I was last in Tucson since it was a much nicer route than the freeway frontage road for getting half of the way there.  Most of the people showing there were finished gems only, but I got to talk with one who also has rough from Tanzania and Nigeria.


The next morning was another cold one.  We reached the AGTA show  being held in the convention center shortly after opening time.  The lines to get badges were somewhat long, but they moved along.  By the time we were through, they were a lot longer, so glad we arrived when we did.

The Spectrum and Cutting Edge winners were on display in the ballroom.  For some reason, AGTA uses a white carpet for that area which always makes me feel guilty for walking on it.  Unlike the last time I was there, they had most of the winners on display, not just a small sample.   I wish that they would post all of the entries on their website as I am sure that there were many other interesting entries.

The show floor in the main hall seemed better filled out than I had seen in previous years as well.  But for some reason, it did not seem as crowded as it had on the opening day in past years.

I was disappointed that Stuller was a no-show as well as well as those who provided software for jewelry design.  We did find one company who would take the digital files and do the 3d printing as well as casting. And there was also a company with a sphere instead of a box  for taking photos of small objects such as jewelry and gems.   It also included software to adjust the resulting photos or videos to make an attractive image for use online or print.  While not inexpensive, it seemed like it would greatly reduce the space and time required for small object photo shoots.

After lunch from the food trucks parked outside the back of the hall, we went across the street to the GJX show.  It was much as I remembered it.  Big, crowded and running the electrical conduits on the floor so if one wanted to follow the numbering of the booths, you had to keep remembering to step carefully at every row.  Thus, we explored the show along the other direction since it seemed a lot safer and avoided most of the obstacles along the floor.

As we wandered through the show, I recognized several dealers from previous years.  Again, there seemed to be fewer suppliers of equipment than I remembered.  With as much walking as I did that day, it was nice to take a break part way though in the food court area of the GJX space.  They had ample tables and chairs for folks  and since it was inside, not subject to the weather.



Tucson 2023 — Part 2

Other area shows

The next day, I decided to use the rental car to visit shows which were beyond walking distance. First, I thought that I would drive up Sentinel Peak (“A” mountain) and take some photos of the view.  However, it turned out that the gates for vehicle access would not be open until much later.  (Access was completely eliminated for a couple days each week as well.)

So I headed over to the Oracle show area to check out what John E Garsow had at the RMGM show.  The tent was very, very cold — there were holes high up in the walls for heater exhaust, but the heaters apparently had not materialized.  I had a nice visit catching up with John and buying an assortment of rough material. Most of the other dealers in that show were mineral and fossil vendors.  While not nearly as elegant as a hotel venue, RMGM appeared to have a bit higher quality material than what I saw at the 22nd street main tent.

After that I decided to check out the Casino del Sol show.  It was one of the places I had not visited in previous years.  It was located quite a distance from the freeway and the venue was as the name implied — a casino resort, very upscale compared to most of the hotels close to the freeway shows.  My hope was to check out a dealer of cut and rough gems from Malawi.  Unfortunately, that was the one booth which was empty.  On the whole, it was perfect for folks who are looking for beads of any kind and findings.  The quality appeared to be better and more varied than what I have seen at Gem Faire and G&LW shows.  The booth numbering was confusing and the aisles were not very wide, especially since it seemed to be a well-attended event.  There were also demonstrations and classes being held there during the show.

From there, it was back to the other side of the freeways, to the JOGS show.  Parking was awful as usual and the floorplan seemed less well marked than before.  There wasn’t a lot that interested me.  A couple of possibilities to cut or recut, but not ideal.  When I left the show, I thought I was going out the same door through which I had entered.  But no, it wasn’t and I was lucky to locate my rental car.

Next was a quick survey of the Kino show.  As always it was windy and cold there.  The layout seemed a bit more organized than in previous years.  In the past, I found a few equipment dealers there in addition to the many with rocks and fossils.  Unfortunately, the ones I wanted to see were not there this time.

In my  last couple days in Tucson, I managed to get in a couple other shows which were located away from the freeway area.  One of these was the G&LW Holidome and Gem Mall show.  That one has a huge parking lot with golf cart shuttles to take buyers to the front doors and multiple huge tents.  In one of the tents there were a few suppliers of better quality gems and jewelry, but mostly there was a lot of beads and lower end material.  Also obvious was empty space which had not been the case in previous years.  Unless I hear that things have changed, it is one show I can skip in future years.

The other place I visited on my last full day in Tucson, was the Mineral City show.  It was as the name implies — lots of dealers with all sorts of minerals spread over multiple buildings.  It is one of several locations in off Oracle Road a bit north of the freeway show area.  I saw only a little of the place, but it looks like a must for those who are mineral collectors or just like seeing some of nature’s artwork.


Tucson 2023 — Part 1

Saturday morning the trip started with the flight leaving SLO (San Luis Obispo) in darkness heading east and south into the rising sun.  It was a full plane and a short flight to Phoenix for connections could be found to just about anywhere.  My seat was way in the rear, and I was impressed by my fellow passengers behaving sensibly when exiting the plane.  Instead of everyone getting up from their seats and crowding the aisle, they waited until those in front had moved!  Naturally in Phoenix, my flight to Tucson was four moving walkways distant from the terminal where I landed.  Not all that much later I was arriving on-time in Tucson.

After parking the rental car at the hotel and getting something for lunch, I headed off to survey the “freeway” shows until it was time to check in for my room.  Much was just as I remembered it, with only minor changes since 2020.  Some vendors were exactly where I recalled, and others were no longer around.  The 22nd Street show tents were fairly busy.  Their main tent seemed to have less congestion than before — I believe they eliminated a row of smaller booths and increased the size  of the booths and remaining two aisles.  A new third tent was added to the 22nd Street show.  That one was set up with the three aisles.  The JGM tent in the next  block had a lot of empty space as usual but they added many small outside tents.

Then, on the other side of the freeway, there was the Pueblo show.  While the hotel has gone through more than one identity change, the show has stayed with the original name.  It was the first place in Tucson I visited many years ago, so it has a sort feeling of “home”.   It seemed to be a slow day which was great for me to visit with vendors and friends from previous years.  On the other hand, not so great for dealers’ sales. Finally back to check-in to my hotel and then take a quick look around the show there and at the next door hotel.


The hotel was much as I remembered.  The lobby and first floor rooms held dealers and the space for outside dealer tents seemed to have expanded.  However the amenities had gone downhill a bit.  The room was missing the expected microwave and fridge.  (Supposedly had been ordered, but yet to be delivered.)  The breakfast area was somewhat larger since it was moved from the tiny bit left in the lobby to a 2nd floor conference room.  This change also made it harder for staff to monitor and resupply the breakfast offerings.  It also seemed that the variety of items available for breakfast was fewer than in previous years with no variation from day to day.  The staff was polite and friendly, but obviously overwhelmed by the swarms attending the Tucson shows — which seemed to be the case at many other places serving the visitors.  I did find it amusing that the “C” door still did not unlock for the room keys and an appropriate size rock was still being used to allow access back into the building.

(Sign in hotel elevator.  Took until the last day to see the typo.)

Experiment with photos

Photographing faceted gems has continued to frustrate me. I find it hard to get the camera to see what I see, especially the sparkle of the stones. Perhaps the only way to do that is with video where the reflections of the light change as the stone turns.

Anyway, yesterday, I conducted an experiment with my fairly new Pixel 6 cell phone. Most of the photos were pretty poor. I didn’t have the phone set in a tripod and would need more time than allotted to figure out the best positioning of stone, phone and lighting. But a couple of shots did surprise me with nice detailing of the facets and color.

First is a 2.58 carat peridot, cut in an 8 mm. octagon shape. The characteristic black disc shaped inclusion shows clearly in the photo. When the stone is held in hand it has such great sparkle that the inclusion is hard to find.

The second photo is of a 1.89 carat orange garnet. The color is very close to that of some “Madeira” citrines I had just cut as well.