Arizona Shows See Scarcities, High Prices

Trends from Tucson: Sourcing difficulties and sticker shock were the talk of this year’s gem fairs.

April 2, 2023  |  Jennifer Heebner

Gem merchant Kambiz Sabouri is well-acquainted with supply-side struggles. Gone are the days when you could turn down material you thought was too pricey; expensive is the new norm. “There’s scarcity, so every time you shop, you pay more,” explains the president of Gem 2000, which deals in sapphires, rubies and alexandrite.

It was an issue that came up often at the February gem shows in Tucson, Arizona. From the AGTA GemFair Tucson to the Gem & Jewelry Exchange (GJX) and other local shows, high prices and low stock were the greatest common denominators for exhibitors. Another was requests for geometric cuts like hexagons, kites, shields, longer oval and pear shapes, and fancy silhouettes — but they were hardly a distraction from bigger challenge: finding fine goods and paying for them.

“There’s just not a lot of material out there to be bought,” says Malinda Daniel, director of Tim Roark, which sells fine alexandrite, sapphires and other in-demand gems.

A premium for the good stuff

The challenge of finding heat-free rubies and sapphires — and then only at sky-high prices — is every dealer’s bittersweet reality. The cost of these goods has gone up by 20% to 50%.

Ivan Hackman of Intercolor USA has seen prices for no-heat rubies jump as much as 30% in a year, with unheated blue sapphires coming close. For the latter, he’s seeing some price resistance.

“If I sold blue sapphires to someone in Las Vegas last year, and saw them again in Tucson with 20% to 25% price increases…there was some sticker shock,” he says. “Some didn’t buy.”

Sabouri’s biggest gem hurdle is Mozambique rubies. Prices are high, and the quality isn’t as fine as he likes for some.

Plus, there are more people at the source buying. “Demand worldwide has really increased for all [colored gems],” he reports.

Sales of other top-end goods bear that out. In alexandrite, Daniel has seen her costs go up as much as 40%. Dealer Dudley Blauwet scrambles to find any at all, noting that “it’s in short supply.”

Meanwhile, prices for Australian black opals have shot up 30% to 100% in the past three to five years, according to Robyn Dufty, president of DuftyWeis Opals.

Why? Because it’s harder to locate the good stuff. “What I used to sell at $14,000 a carat…is now $20,000 a carat,” she says.

The emerald rush

Emeralds are a fixture in any jewelry store, but some Tucson exhibitors were seeing greater interest than usual. Daniel was among them. “All of a sudden people want emeralds!” she exclaims.

Dealer Brian Cook of Nature’s Geometry has been hearing the same call, as well as peers grumbling about their rising prices. But cost isn’t deterring him from selling emeralds from Brazil’s Bahia region.

Meanwhile, limited Colombian mining means fewer emeralds for sale — and much of what’s going to auction in Colombia stays there.

“Colombians have the wealth to buy the gems themselves,” comments Jonathan Gad of colored-stone dealer Gad Enterprises.

There isn’t much large-scale mining taking place in the country, he reports, and prices for fine material are up 50%.

Hackman now offers emeralds from Afghanistan. In general, these cost more than Zambian and Brazilian, but less than Colombian. “They are an in-between product,” he says.

Everything Plus the Kitchen Sink

British jeweler Stephen Webster reflects
on his 40th trip to the Tucson fairs

This year marked the 40th anniversary of the first time I visited the Tucson Gem & Mineral Society show in 1983. At the time, I was working for a Canadian geologist who traded mineral specimens. He opened an “upmarket” mineral and jewelry store in Banff, Alberta, and recruited me to be the jeweler. 

We went to the Tucson show to see what that side of the gem trade looked like, and I was blown away and hooked.

Tucson was shabby back then — a town literally faded by the desert sun — and the shows, with their rambling lack of formality, suited it. I had never seen shows like it, before or since.

Today, AGTA GemFair and the Gem & Jewelry Exchange (GJX) are two of the more formalized fairs, and to a certain extent, so is the Pueblo Gem & Mineral show; these are where serious gems can be found.

As one ventures out to other venues (there are 42 citywide), sojourning through aircraft hangar-size tents, the offerings become more random: rugs, Buddhist paraphernalia, dinosaurs, beads, beads, and more beads. And then there are kitchen sinks — literally, sinks carved out of gemstone.

My main mission every year, in addition to buying cut gemstones, is to buy rough material that we cut to fit our designs. I have been buying that way ever since I developed my Crystal Haze signature technique 28 years ago. I tend to find most of what I’m looking for at the Kino Gem & Mineral Show, about 5 miles up the I-10 and away from the more central fairs.

Here, I deal with the actual miners. This is a community far removed from the more brilliantine finished-gem dealers of the more structured shows. I usually end up taking a few industry people with me who have never shopped gems by the kilo.

And I always hire a truck, for added theater. This year, I bought 46 kilos of Falcon’s Eye and 25 kilos of silver sheen obsidian from Mexico. However, by far my best star find was chrysolemon. This opaque, minty-green material in such clean form is exceptionally rare and a perfect color for our latest Crystal Haze collection. 

Read the full version of this article at

Image: Australian boulder opal from DuftyWeis Opals; jewelry designer Erica Courtney (left) and journalist Jennifer Heebner. (DuftyWeis Opals; Jennifer Heebner)


Arizona Shows See Scarcities, High Prices

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