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Sleepless In Tucson: Gem Show Returns to Glory Days

Tucson 2006 was the gem show equivalent of both the Cannes and Sundance film festivals—a strong, steady procession of premieres and revivals that harkened back to the show's glory days in the late 1980s and early 1990s when new discoveries dominated the event. Because so much of note was happening this year, visitors were on the run from dawn to way past dark.

The grapevine was buzzing with rumors (all of them true) about amazing finds of copper-bearing turquoise-colored tourmaline from Afghanistan, Mozambique, and Nigeria that was being likened to material from the find at Paraiba in Brazil. Although not quite as intensely throbbing with color as the legendary tourmaline it evoked, the new Asian and African stones were worthy of excitement and asking prices had already climbed well beyond the $1,000 per carat mark. Prices left the earth's atmosphere just as many dealers were dropping out of the bidding as they did during Paraiba tourmaline's price ascent around 1990.

Thankfully, those wanting to pay down-to-earth prices for the new teal and sea-foam green tourmalines still found material within their budgets and logic. Indeed, price spreads for what is now being called "Paraiba-type" tourmaline were mile-wide—a mixture of realistic and wishful thinking. While on the subject of green tourmaline, it is worth noting that lovely new June greens from Afghanistan were as affordable as they were abundant.

If there had been an official color for Tucson 2006 it would have been green, with heavy undercurrents of blue. Besides new finds of tourmaline, we saw marvelous new aquamarine from Mozambique as well as a promising trickle of treasure from Burma. The African material has already been named "Santa Maria Africana" in homage to its strong color resemblance to that from Brazil's most famous mine for this blue beryl.

In the green gem category, mention must be made of the influx of emerald from Afghanistan. The influx couldn't come at a better time. The emerald market seems once again healthy and the treatment scandals of the past have finally been forgiven, if not yet forgotten.

Like Cannes, Tucson is a launch pad for new productions from the major, well-established players—usually perennial favorites like corundum or newly emergent front-line gems like garnet. Let's call this the Hollywood side of Tucson.

But Tucson also bears comparison to Sundance because it is a coming out party and showplace for lesser-known gems once unfairly called "B-list stones" because of certain gemological handicaps like low-range hardness or strong cleavage. These little-known gems are like underground or indie films that take the town by surprise, and sometimes storm, to make headlines as big as any made by the perennials.

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gold pendant designed by Jason Baskin for The Gem Vault, Flemington, New Jersey
Pakistani sphene, 2.25 carats, in a 14k gold pendant designed by Jason Baskin for The Gem Vault, Flemington, New Jersey, a retailer that specializes in unusual gems