2014 - February. Another visit to the yearly Tucson Gem and mineral show. Having gone every year for the past 14 years I have gotten quite good at cruising through the show, seeing what's new, and catching up with industry friends. For those who don't know, the Tucson gem show, held every February in Tucson, Arizona, is the worlds largest and greatest gem, and mineral show. At nearly 40 venues, the show's massive size takes over the small city for the better part of 3 weeks, making an exciting and energetic time for all those attending.
The show's various venues showcase a variety of item, some for wholesale and manufacturers, some for store owners, and some for hobbyists. There are venues dedicated to fine gems, some for minerals, a large number for beads, and of course, some dedicated to the spiritual side of stones. My main focus are precious gems and minerals - precious as part of the trade, and minerals as a collector's hobby.
Because of the show's large size and importance in the world of gems and minerals, it's a good place to get a look at the worldwide industry trends, as well as prices and market availability. Running through the venues over the week I took note of a few important trends worth mentioning.
There are 2 main cut gemstone shows for trade only customers. These shows represent the majority of gemstones available worldwide, and supplier foreign and domestic bring goods for sale to jewelers and jewelry professionals. Looking over the goods, the first thing that pops out are prices and availability. Going booth to booth it's evident that old staple gemstones are becoming notably scares and pricey. Popular for many years, beautiful blue sapphires were nearly non-existent, with prices going through the roof on stones for sale. Also notably pricey were rubies, which seem to have gone up precipitously over the last 10 years. Perhaps 5 to 10 fold easily. One notable positive was that more and more beautiful Mozambique rubies were present, finally offering a relatively nice alternative to prohibited Burmese rubies and extinct Thai rubies. It's nice to see the quality of these gems improving as more mining activity takes place.
Meanwhile, emeralds were well represented, as were Paraiba colored tourmalines, tsavorites, and mandarin garnets. The problem however was that while there seemed to be an abundance of these gems, price are through the roof. Emeralds have doubled in price over the last year, even though, as it would seem, stock supplies are high. Because of the high price of tsavorite garnet, the similarly colored chrome tourmaline has also risen in price by about 40% year over year. These high prices lead to one inevitable conclusion - higher jewelry prices.
So what to make of the market? Well, the prices suggest a few things. Firstly, in the case of sapphires, the supply is just diminishing, and the mines are not producing as they once were. It also suggests that other markets (read Asian markets) are consuming these items at a much higher rate than the US market. Another take away is that the goods are passing through less hands to get to dealers. This basically means that the prices at the mines are going higher as the mine owners cut out various middle people to sell directly. It can also be inferred that larger players are controlling more and more of the supply, such as in the case of Emerald, where even though there is an abundance of stock, large cutters and mining companies are not looking to drop prices to move product. Simply, they would rather sell at higher prices in a slower fashion.
So with that I decided to spend more hobby time looking at minerals than cut gems.