Editorial

A Window into the 2024 Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase

Jennifer-Lynn Archuleta and Olga González FGA DGA get a glimpse of the upcoming year’s trends at the February 2024 Tucson gem shows. This article was published in Gem-A’s Spring 2024 issue of Gems & Jewellery Magazine.

 

At an AGTA seminar in during the 2024 Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase, GemGuide editor-in-chief Brecken Branstrator made a series of forecasts for the industry moving forward. The most significant predictions she made named green the next trending colour in gemstones; indicated a growing popularity of nontraditional gem material among designers due to price resistance; acknowledged an increasing appreciation for unique or new cuts, as well as independent cutters; and recognised increased attention to marketing claims and ‘greenwashing’. “So many of the trends dominating the coloured-stone market today and the conversations around them seem to come back to the important fact that buyers and consumers alike want stones that are unique and have a story to tell, whether that is from a physical standpoint—cut, colour, phenomena, rarity—or a responsible sourcing point of view. This is leading to an appreciation for even more gems outside of the traditional,” Ms Branstrator explained.

While foot traffic at the shows was generally reported to be down by vendors, official numbers proved otherwise; registration at the AGTA  GemFair was up three percent. Lowell Carhartt of Eons Expos, which runs the 22nd Street Show, reported that “Attendance was very brisk over the eighteen days of the show, reaching yet another attendance record of just over 50,000 visitors, many of them returnees.” The consensus was that those who attended were there to buy. “Overall sales exceeded expectations, with higher-end loose gemstones in great demand,” John W. Ford Sr., CEO of AGTA, stated in February.

Sellers across various shows confirmed what Mr Ford reported, but the most significant information we heard from sellers and attendees at the various shows bore out Ms Branstrator’s indications. While there were a number of trends apparent this year, including the popularity of pink gemstones and a greater presence of unisex jewellery pieces, feedback from the Tucson Showcase has established that unusual cuts, shades of green and thoughtful sustainability will affect the shape of the industry this year.

 

IT’S SO EASY BEING GREEN (AND PINK, AND MULTICOLOURED AND…)

While the Tucson shows are known as a haven for coloured gemstone aficionados, the varieties and hues of those gems changes over time. This year, shades of green are in vogue, with pastel tones also attracting attention. According to Dr Aaron Palke, senior field gemmologist at GIA, “This year’s Tucson shows saw a continuation and expansion of a trend set in motion a few years ago of the popularisation of colours outside of the traditional Big Three — especially teals and lighter-toned pastels.”

Across the shows, and within booths themselves, green of all shades and hues seemed to be king at Tucson. Fuli Gemstones, with their specialisation in peridot, had an excellent second year at the GJX Show, while Natasha Braunwart, brand and corporate social responsibility manager of Columbia Gem House, noticed a significant uptick in sales of Brazilian emerald. Niveet Nagpal, president of Omi Privé, which hosted booths at both AGTA and the Centurion Jewelry Show in Scottsdale, Arizona, said that this year the company had strong sales of loose stones, particularly demantoid and tsavorite garnets, with many of their clients asking for grandidierite. “Many of our best collector clients were excited for the new finds,” Mr Nagpal recalled. Even while reporting slower traffic, Mr Nagpal found the year to be on par with 2023.

While the popularity of green cannot be overstated, there was also an overarching demand for shades of pink in various forms. Bolstered by the mainstream success of Barbie and the ubiquity of ‘Valentino Pink’, the trend encompasses everything from soft pastel-pink pearls to bright pink sapphires, reflecting a broader cultural shift towards embracing playful, vibrant colours in jewellery. Pink is being reinterpreted in modern designs that appeal to a wide audience. The use of pink in various shades and textures provides a fresh and youthful energy to jewellery, making it fashionable and fun. Generation Z shoppers (those born between the late 1990s and the mid-2010s) are nostalgic for a more colourful past and are the target market for unconventionally vibrant jewels. Our vendors found the same; Dudley Blauwet told us that “Barbie pink is still popular,”

Feedback from the Tucson Showcase has established that unusual cuts, shades of green and thoughful sustainability will affect the shape of the industry this year.

 

THINKING OUTSIDE THE BIG THREE

Jeweller/lapidarist Steven Tyler, who exhibited at the Pueblo Show this year, confirmed that “Faceting rough has certainly become more expensive than previous years.” This has prompted many cutters and designers to turn to gemstones outside the traditional ruby, sapphire and emerald to use in their pieces.

Due to its availability and its rich colour palette, tourmaline received a great deal of attention at this year’s Showcase. This gemstone is appreciated for its range of hues, from vibrant pinks to deep greens, and can be found at affordable price points. Pink tourmaline was a favourite, cherished for its warm, inviting tones that range from subtle blush to bold fuchsia. The gem’s popularity is also due to its unique properties, such as its pleochroism, which can allow it to show different colours when viewed from different angles. This makes tourmaline a preferred choice among designers looking to add depth and intrigue to their creations.

Other nontraditional gems also found buyers this year. Marc Assayag of the Tookalook Gallery explained, “I am particularly interested in tanzanite and the opportunity it represents outside of the ‘Big Three’ gems. Given this, my booth presented over 150 tanzanite stones that have particularly good cut and colour. In addition to these gems, I had natural crystals and a few finished pieces of jewellery. The rest of the booth was eclectic as far as gems, but I pride myself on exclusive quality in any stone that I sell. The other side of my booth was my volume product: fossil coral.”

Though corundum and emerald are always sought out, some gem dealers are known to regular Tucson clientele for their outside-the-box stock and were prepared to meet such demands. Niveet Nagpal of Omi Privé reported, “While the Big Three are always big sellers for us, we are known for our rarer offerings like alexandrite and Paraíba tourmaline. This past year we included cobalt-blue spinel and demantoid garnet pieces with success.” While he conceded that buyers tended to be more conservative in spending than in past years, unusual stones were still in demand.

While many dealers have worked to source new and unique material for this year’s shows, others, such as lapidarist John Bradshaw of Coast to Coast Rare Stones, are relying on stock they have retained for the perfect moment; Mr Bradshaw said that “I’m still cutting from stocks of rough purchased when it was available!” Dallas Prince, who has exhibited at the AGTA show for ten years, noted that “I am truly a hoarder of fabulous gems, so some of the stones that were used in the newest designs were from my years of collecting. Some of the show favourites were indicolite, Malaya pink garnet and unheated tanzanite. Also, I happen to love the new Pantone Color of the Year, Peach Fuzz, so I had a beautiful arrangement of peach morganite!”
(For more on the Pantone Color of the Year, please see pp. 46-47).

Mary van der Aa, who exhibits at the Pueblo Show each year, has long been an advocate of the use of garnet and other, rarer stones in her jewellery. “This year I made a few pieces with trapiche emerald,” she recounted. “Such a cool stone and so underutilised. I also worked with phenakite and sphene, some more of my favourites.” Her Garanatus necklace, comprising multiple types and colours of garnet (77.26 tcw) set in platinum, was on display at the Tucson Fine Mineral Gallery after taking first place in Best Use of Platinum and Color at the AGTA Spectrum Awards.

Generation Z shoppers are nostalgic for a more colourful past and are the target market for unconventionally vibrant jewels.

 

CUTS ABOVE THE REST

In addition to standing out from the crowd by gem type and colour, dealers and exhibitors found that cut and other qualities helped set them apart from other sellers. While calibrated sizes certainly sold, a number of vendors noted that unconventional cuts reached a wide audience this year. These atypical styles, in turn, allow their clientele to differentiate themselves from other designers and jewellery lovers. Steven Tyler recalled that “we noticed an increased interest in fantasy-cut gemstones and how they are made or can be used. A lot of people asking about design possibilities,” and noticed that a good number of people were interested in his Fantasy Recut Service, which recarves old and/or damaged gemstones into new shapes. Dallas Prince agreed, remarking that “I love using unique cuts and varieties of gems in my designs. This, I believe, is the reason our show was so successful this year.”

Fuli Gemstones debuted their namesake cut in September 2023, making this the first year that the Fuli cut has sold. Pia Tonna, the company’s executive director and chief marketing officer, divulged that the gemstones sold on day one of the GJX Show, thanks in part to press coverage of the new product. The cut and the material itself is, of course, also responsible for Fuli’s success: “We aim to be innovative, and cutting is a speciality for our peridot. People seem to like what we are doing,” Ms Tonna noted.

Glenn Lehrer of Lehrer Designs, Inc., who exhibited at the AGTA show, is known for his branded cuts. He stated, “We carried some of our newer-style cuts this year that up to this point was only available in finished jewellery manufactured for my TV show sales. They sold well as loose stones to designers.” Mr Lehrer also found that some of his vapour-coated topazes, also generally offered via his TV sales, were popular at this year’s booth. He offered this material in a variety of colours, cuts and sizes to cater to the tastes of the Tucson traffic.

Natasha Braunwart, of Columbia Gem House, disclosed that their cuts were popular this year, including one new option unveiled in late 2023. “Since we have our own cutting workshop, we have a lot of flexibility and opportunity to be creative with our cutting. One newer proprietary example is the Woz Cut.” This new style is inspired by an eight-sided cushion cut once performed by gem cutter John Wozencraft, an old friend of founder Eric Braunwart. The company’s Occult and Zodiac collections, newly launched carving assemblages, were also successful, though overall visitors were receptive the variety of cuts they found at the Columbia Gem House booths. Ms Braunwart stated, “In many cases, I think we actually introduced people to different varieties or styles for gem carvings that they didn’t know were an option.”

 

GETTING THOUGHTFUL ABOUT SUSTAINABILITY

This year’s attendees showed a concerted interest in responsible sourcing and ethical practices while being mindful of marketing ploys. As consumers become increasingly conscious of the environmental and ethical implications of their purchases, designers are responding by incorporating recycled materials and ethically sourced gemstones into their creations. By repurposing metals and gems, artisans are not only reducing the industry’s environmental footprint, but also ensuring that their pieces align with the values of modern consumers. By and large, vendors were ready and willing to have these conversations; as Dallas Prince explained, “All conversations that concern the impact on our environment were certainly welcome.”

Of particular concern to many, as Ms Branstrator mentioned in her talk, was ‘greenwashing’, or an advertising ploy companies may use to make them seem more environmentally friendly than they actually are. Visitors to this year’s Showcase seemed to have a greater awareness of ethical practices and greenwashing, speaking to vendors about these actions to ensure the sincerity of the business. Sheahan Stephen, president of Sheahan Stephen Sapphires, had these conversations ‘on a granular level’, which he believed were affected by discussions on social media. Natasha Braunwart of Columbia Gem House, which had booths at both AGTA and the Ethical Gem Show, noticed that “People do seem to be questioning and discussing this more, but because we’ve been doing this so long — transparent responsible sourcing in particular — it didn’t seem to come up much as a direct conversation at our booth.”

 

OTHER TRENDS AT THE SHOWCASE

Tucson is, of course, known not only for helping to establish the year’s trends, but for the unusual finds on display and for purchase.

Lab-Grown Diamonds. As consumer interest in alternatively sourced material grows, lab-grown diamond continues to make a significant impact in the trade and, consequently, had a notable presence at the Tucson Showcase. Lab-grown diamonds offer some customers an alluring alternative to traditional mining, since they reduce some human rights concerns that are traditionally associated with diamond extraction. Their increasing popularity is a testament to the evolving attitudes towards sustainability in the luxury market, with consumers seeking beauty and affordability in their choices. Jake Debs of Elite Fine Jewelers, which had booths at both JOGS and the Holidome, was pleasantly surprised by the popularity of their synthetic inventory.
“We brought lab-grown diamond pieces this year, something we just recently started carrying and selling. We had a whole case designated for lab-grown diamonds, and they were a huge hit.”

Artefacts. Inspired by ancient civilizations and imbued with a sense of mystery and heritage, artefact jewellery, such as that seen at the Armenta booth at the Centurion Show in Scottsdale, brings a touch of history to contemporary fashion. From intricately carved pendants embedded with or resembling relics of lost civilisations to rings adorned with symbols of ancient wisdom, these pieces tell stories of bygone eras. Archaeological motifs such as hieroglyphics, Mayan glyphs and Greek-key patterns are prominent; fragments of the past, such as ancient coins and cameos, add an air of authenticity and intrigue to designs. Crafted with attention to details suchas weathered finishes — an homage the passage of time — artefact jewellery invites wearers to connect with the past while making a bold statement in the present. Sustainability, so at the forefront of minds this show, is a key theme within this subsect as well. The fusion of ancient aesthetics with contemporary sustainability practices reflects a growing desire to honour the past while building a more responsible future within the world of design.

‘Mob-Wife’ Aesthetic. A perfect avenue for high-end jewellers, the so-called ‘mob wife’ trend glamorises the glitz and opulence of the lives of a mobster’s beloved. It has hints of 1980s influences and is inspired by the recent revival in popularity of the TV show The Sopranos, as well as with the current obsession with vintage and retro influences. Fashionistas pair fur coats, animal prints and dark-toned clothing. The key to the look is big, chunky, statement yellow gold-and-diamond jewellery. Bold gold is a declaration of confidence and power. The trend is all
over TikTok and Instagram and is a great way to appeal to younger generations.

Genderfluid Jewellery. Today it can seem puerile to define pieces as either ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ when it limits the potential audience, artistry and socio-political message behind your work. Genderfluid fashion is gaining ground, in an age where earrings, necklaces, bracelets, rings and brooches (see pp. 29–33) are being worn by all regardless of identity. Jewellery in this category is characterised by its adaptability and elegance, often featuring clean lines, minimalist or geometric designs, and focuses on functionality.
(For more on unisex jewellery, see Summer 2022 G&J, pp. 21–23.)

Contrast. Another notable trend is the emphasis on contrast, particularly in the use of contrasting metals in a jewel or contrasting colours within single stones. The trend brings an exciting dynamic to jewellery design, where the interplay of different hues, textures and cuts creates a visually striking effect. Jewellers are experimenting with bold combinations, such as pairing opaque stones with transparent ones, working with bicolour tourmalines or mixing metals. Celebrating the natural beauty and uniqueness of each gem, and its interplay within a piece, provides an opportunity for artistic designs. Even with the feeling that foot traffic was slower, exhibitors and buyers found much to be excited about in Tucson. While buyers were cautious and conservative with their spending, most vendors did well, and some registered excellent sales. The trends that have been established at the Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase have exhibitors like John Bradshaw of Coast to Coast Rare Stones much to look forward to for 2024: “These were my best sales since my first in Tucson… I am forever an optimist!”

While foot traffic at the shows was generally reported to be down by vendors, official numbers proved otherwise.

 

WHAT EXHIBITORS WISH YOU KNEW

We asked several of our respondents what they wish Tucson attendees, and G&J readers, knew about them or their businesses. Here is what they told us; their answers might surprise you.

Dudley Blauwet (Dudley Blauwet Gems): I am a manufacturer with a huge variety of gems, well cut with many fancy shapes and price points from $2 to over $500,000.

Natasha Braunwart (Columbia Gem House): I wish they knew that we have just as many, if not more, large gemstones than we do melee. People really know us well for our melee, but we have an exceptional inventory of larger stones.

Jake Debs (Elite Fine Gems): We are willing to work with customers on price; nearly every price is negotiable.

Niveet Nagpal (Omi Privé): “It is okay to ask us about anything gemstone related!”

Dallas Prince (Dallas Prince Designs): “Oddly, many visitors to my booth have seen me at some point on television. It gives them a sense of already knowing something about me, so they are at ease to speak with me about my jewellery. There is a comfort level at our booth that welcomes everyone whether they are buying, collecting or learning. If there was one unknown detail to reveal about me, it is that I was a pharmaceutical/premed major in college (not kidding!).”

Sheahan Stephen (Sheahan Stephen Sapphires): “Why I chose to do this business versus working in microprocessor design, specifically inline yield engineering.”

Mary van der Aa: That we (she and Todd Wacks of Tucson Todd’s Gems) do it all ourselves — none of our work is duplicated or mass produced. That I do not do this just for the money; it is about connection and getting my pieces to good homes. That we are skilled, have all diplomas from GIA and want to teach and share our passions!

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