Tucson 2018 - Days 4 through 6 - Finishing the Shows and Shopping

Again I started the day doing the hike up Sentinel Peak for the sunrise. There were a few more people out then on the previous day, but mostly quiet. A small cottontail rabbit appeared along the way up. Until it moved it was just a lumpy shadow on the side of the road.

AGTA seminar

I had to keep things moving that morning as I wanted to attend a presentation on “A Brief History of Colored Stone Faceting” at 9am at the AGTA site. As there was not a good chance of a shuttle at that hour, it meant another mile walk from the hotel to the Convention center. That was fairly easy compared to the earlier one since it was all level ground.   The presenter, Justin Prim, was someone I had met briefly at a faceting event a couple years ago. At that time he was planning to go abroad to complete his gemological studies and see the world on a budget that beat out studying in the US. Since then, I had seen him posting on faceting related sites. My curiosity to see how his adventures had progressed made this a not to be missed seminar.

Arizona Mineral and Fossil Show

Then it was on to a shuttle to get to the Hotel Tucson Center City to check out the Arizona Mineral and Fossil Show (https://www.mzexpos.com/) where John Garsow, another rough dealer I had known for many years, was showing. There were a few tents and outside vendors here, but most were in the hotel rooms. Unlike the other hotels with shows, this one still had some lawn space uncovered and scattered around the lawn area were an assortment of dinosaur models.

After I checked on what John had of interest, I headed back to the shuttle stop. Normally one should be by every 20 to 30 minutes or better. It was at least 40 minutes before the right one finally appeared.

JGM and 22nd Street

There was one more show in the area on my list to explore – JG&M Expo (http://jgmexpo.com/) which was basically between the Convention center / AGTA and 22nd Street show.  So that was where I headed when the shuttle returned to the Convention center stop. It was a lot like 22nd Street in being open to the public and a mix of all sorts of related goods. I found some facet rough there and then went back to 22nd street to follow up on a lead from one of the GO meetup people on peridot rough as well as having a late lunch in the food court there.


At that point I was done and headed back to the hotel to make notes on what I would buy the next two days and rest up for the USFG “Hob Nob” social event that night. I had just crossed the street at the corner by the hotel and then it happened. I tripped on the pavement and between too much forward momentum and the weight of the backpack, I went down. As I started to get up, I knew it wasn’t just a few bumps and scrapes. My right wrist was at a not good angle and I had a bad feeling, was broken.

I think I was more upset by how this event was going to impact my plans for the remainder of the trip than I was bothered by any pain from the injury. (It hurt when I tried to use the hand, so short term solution was to avoid its use.) The hotel desk clerk told me that the closest ER was at Saint Mary’s Hospital and then Google maps showed that was two and a half miles away. That was definitely further than I wanted to walk. Just outside the hotel door I found a taxi cab waiting for business and shortly was delivered to the ER entrance of St. Mary’s.

I was shocked to find the waiting room had only a couple people there. It was a matter of minutes before someone called my name and took me inside. A while later X-rays confirmed my initial diagnosis – I had fractured my wrist. I would need to seek care from an orthopedic specialist when I got home to deal with it. Until then, they put it in a splint and then gave me a sling to hold it. I left with a prescription for some meds to help with swelling and pain, a disc with the x-rays and a packet of paperwork from the event.

Hob nob

So we actually made it to the Hob Nob. A bit late, but they hadn’t run out of pizza or soft drinks, so it was okay. The speaker for the evening had just started. I had pretty much forgotten about that. As things turned out, the topic “The Evolution of Diamond Cutting” complimented the seminar I had attended that morning on colored stone faceting.

After the speaker I had a chance to meet and talk with additional folks in the USFG community. I was glad that I had the chance given the circumstances.

Day 5 - Shopping

The broken wrist arm in a sling and not able to grasp anything with my right hand simplified some of my shopping options. I was not going to be examining rough with a loupe. Nor would I be buying anything using checks.   There were a couple of vendors where I might pay cash for goods that were clear enough to see as eye clean. For the other items I would go to my long time rough dealers who I could trust to have really clean material and help evaluate my picks if needed.

I suspect I might have spent more had I not come up lame. I was moving a lot slower and with an excess of caution as I took the shuttle or walked between venues. People for the most part were nice and were willing to help when needed. At one shuttle stop I was approached by a young man whose badge indicated he was from Pakistan. He inquired how I was doing – apparently he was among those who witnessed my fall the previous day.

I wish I could have stayed for New Era’s Super Bowl party at the Pueblo show, but I could feel my energy resources were about to zero. I got back to the hotel and watched the last part of the game from a warm bed. My family back in the Philadelphia area were all very happy that night seeing their Eagles team win.

Day 6 - Packing and Resting

The last full day in Tucson was supposed to be for packing and checking out places that did not fit into the more planned days. By the time I got the preliminary packing done with just one hand, I was pretty much done for the day. Decided to rest up for the trip home the next day.

Tucson 2018 - Day 2 - More Shows and a Meet Up

Sunrise hike up Sentinel Peak

Moon before sunriseFor day two, the alarm was set for 6am and I was able to grab breakfast downstairs before heading out. This time I found my way without any mistakes.   It was much quieter and very few people were out for a normal morning. The moon was still close to full and bright as I started up the road. It was also not as cold as it had been the previous day. I stopped at various spots along the way to take photos of the view.   And as I was on the downhill part of the walk, it finally clicked that the surroundings were not some botanical garden, but that the cactus and other desert plants were local natives.


The plan for the day was to go through two of the wholesale only shows. The first was the AGTA show (http://www.agta.org/tradeshows/gemfair-tucson.html) being held in the convention center. I had pre-registered for these online, so it did not take too long to get my badge and be able to start wandering around. I first went into the tech hall. Cad software for custom jewelry design and 3D printers were a significant proportion of the booths. I watched for a few minutes as one CAD vendor was demonstrating how his product would work and marveled at how far things have come since I started out programming with punch cards in the mainframe days. A few minutes later around the corner I heard someone say “Morro Bay”. The nearby booth for a safe jewelry cleaner product belonged to a local firm. (http://www.lavishjewelrycleaner.com/) We chatted briefly, and then I headed off to the main hall.

local floraThis was yet another large venue with aisle after aisle of vendor displaying mostly high end goods. There were so many different vendors with GIA certificated sapphires I don’t know how someone who was shopping for such an item to get started. Plus there was lots of sapphire not displaying papers in addition to many emerald and pearl booths. And of course there were many dealers with other colored stones ranging from packets of dust size melee to large specimens that would be hard to use in jewelry due to size. I noticed that quite a few of these vendors included something in their booths that I had not expected - large heavy duty safes. I assume that was to provide an extra layer of security for the hours where the show was closed.  

Meanwhile, as I walked the show aisles, I learned to stay a distance from the show cases. When I walked closer to get a better look at all the shiny objects, it was too easy to put my hand on the edge of the cases – and be rewarded was a shock. This was another effect of the dry Arizona air. I had to feel sorry for some of the sales people who did not have the option of staying away from the cases.

At one end of the room, the Spectrum award winners for this year were on display. While there was some impressive design and craftsmanship displayed as well as killer gems, I did not see much in the bunch for regular folks to wear. I had to laugh at a couple of items that were categorized as “business / daywear”. No clue what sort of business would be compatible with that amount of bling. I was somewhat disappointed that there were not more designer booths at AGTA. My recollection from long ago was of getting to see in person work by well-known designers. Perhaps it is just a style thing and what was being shown did not fit my concepts for design.

I made my first purchase of the trip there – two pieces of rough facet grade Oregon Sunstone. The gentleman who assisted me was quite helpful. It turned out that he was president of the mining company (http://www.desertsungems.com/). He also gave me a DVD made by GIA about their mining operations which may work out nicely as a program for our local gem and mineral club.


It was mid-afternoon by the time I left AGTA and headed across the street to the GJX show (http://www.gjxusa.com/). Yet another huge venue! Since I had my AGTA badge on, getting the one for GJX was very quick – they just put a sticker on the AGTA badge. I could have skipped the annoyance of pre-registering.

There was one vendor there who had posted on the faceting yahoo group list that he would have all sorts of facet rough. There was a small sign on the booth counter to ask about facet rough. What was pulled out was far from what was advertised. Very little material and even less variety. So with that option scratched off the list, I explored the booths and found several other vendors with quantities of interesting rough and a few that even were affordably priced.

amethyst and prasioliteI found that the floorplan for GJX was hazardous – little ramps covering the electrical distribution were placed frequently across the aisles. Although they were marked with a bright color, in that sort of environment my eyes were held by the glitter in the booths and I tripped on them several times before I changed from walking the aisles along the front of the booths to using the ones that were perpendicular between booths.

I reached the far end of the hall and started heading back to the entry thinking I had seen all there was to see there. Only instead of the exit, I found there was another room. And after that, another one. Fortunately, those were much smaller spaces and eventually I made my way out.  

Gemology online meet up

The evening plans were for a dinner meet up with others who were members of the Gemology Online forum (https://www.gemologyonline.com/Forum/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?f=95). While I have not been particularly active in posting, I follow the colored stones lapidary post and have gotten a lot of good information from that group as I have gotten back into faceting after many years away. I was looking forward to meeting some of the people behind the online posts. In fact, meeting others who are involved with gems and jewelry was the top of my goals for Tucson. Buying facet rough was a vague second. I was not disappointed by the event. Everyone was friendly. Some there had been friends for years. Others like me were newcomers to the group. I only wish I could have gotten around the room more to meet a few more of those attending. A few of those I got to speak with included Barbara Voltaire, Julie Kerlin, Justin Prim, Lisa Elser, Arya Akhaven and Stephen Challener.

Tucson 2018 - Day 3 - Getting Around Town

The day started with another hike up Sentinel Peak. I was starting to know the route and do better with my pace. While I am not a big fan of cactus and succulents, I was finding the local flora’s ability to survive on such a rocky place impressive.


This was the day where the rental car was going to get some use. First stop was the Old Pueblo Lapidary Club for a talk by Diane Eames on “Cutting for Jewelry” as part of the USFG Faceter’s Frolic (https://usfacetersguild.org/).   The material covered in the presentation was much more basic than I had hoped to hear. However afterwards there was some time to get acquainted with a few folks from USFG like Al Balmer who often has replied to my forum posts. While talking with Al, I eventually realized who the other gentleman in the conversation was – Bob Long – one of the authors of the meetpoint faceting technique which is used by many who learn to facet. Bob seemed a truly nice fellow – more than willing to share his insights and not offended the least by those who chose a different approach (as I do.)


Next it was off to the JCK show (http://tucson.jckonline.com/). It wasn’t a very large show and was primarily finished jewelry vendors. There was one vendor who indicated that they had peridot both finished goods and rough material, so I headed for that booth. They did have rough, but it was one of the few negative interactions I had with vendors during the entire trip. It was difficult to get one of the people working the booth to come talk with me. And then I think a bit more confusion to get someone who knew about the rough material. The peridot was Chinese – more yellowish than material from Arizona or Pakistan. And while the pieces in the tray seemed to be a nice size, they exterior was cloudy and the stones were dry. So it was hard to tell at a quick glance how clean the material was. Then came the price - $43 per gram with a minimum of a kilo purchase. I had already seen some retail pricing for nice colored, clean Pakistani peridot that was better and allowed picking. Unless those rough stones were a lot bigger and cleaner than they looked, they would probably be returning to China to be cut. Or was I supposed to have tried haggling for 100 gm and half the price?

I wandered through the rest of the displays. It was not very crowded. Actually it would be better stated that there were not many people there. Most of the jewelry seemed to be on the lines of big, bulky rings or else the other extreme like a small dangle on a chain necklace. In that respect, it was in keeping with what I had been seeing at AGTA and GJX.


Since it was still early, I headed off to the G&LW shows (https://www.glwshows.com/). When I had last been to Tucson, G&LW had two separate locations. Now it was all in one place. And the place was humongous. I think the spot in the parking area I found was a quarter mile from the entrance to the show. They were running golf carts to get people back and forth, but my timing was bad. Normally the walk would not bother me. However in this case, the parking area appeared to have been recently refreshed with gravel. Or maybe it was baby boulders. Most seemed too big to have passed through a one inch screen. It was a difficult surface and required attention in some spots to keep from turning an ankle.

Unlike the JCK, the G&LW show was very busy. The vendors there were closer to those who participate in the InterGem or Gem Faire shows that are scheduled in various cities around the country. There were lots and lots of beads for sale. Also there was a lot of lower end findings, inexpensive finished jewelry and similar goods. A couple of large vendors had special areas at the end of buildings for essentially their own “store” within the show. One thing I noted in the G&LW spaces that I had not seen elsewhere was a fair amount of turquoise and Native American jewelry. It was not a good hunting ground for facet rough.


Next stop was JOGS (https://jogsshow.com).  Parking was a bit harder to find at this site, but it was a lot easier trip to the show entrance. Based on the description of the show I was hoping to see higher quality goods than at G&LW and hopefully vendors with facet rough. First impression on entering was “where am I”. The floorplan at JOGS deviates from the typical grid used by most shows. It seemed to have more in common with a casino where the object is to keep you from leaving. At some point I found one of the other entrances and located a stack of show guides near the door and used that as a guide to navigating the place. Even then I got turned around several times.

I did see a little rough material, but nothing that was close to what I would want to buy. Most of the goods were about the same quality as at G&LW.


Since I was making better time through the shows than I had expected, I decided to head to the Kino site (http://www.as-shows.com/) in hopes of getting additional dops from the Graves vendor who was supposed to be there. From the freeway I had seen the complex had multiple tents and was not clear how it was organized. After arriving, it was even more of a puzzle. “Random” is probably the best description of the layout.

Kino was a totally different sort of show. Much of the material being offered there was like that in the GIGM show at our hotel – only in much bigger sizes and much larger quantities. This was the place to go if you wanted a slab of something for a table or countertop or if you wanted a chunk of rock for making a sculpture. There were several equipment vendors there who were providing the tools scaled for the bigger tasks. These were much more industrial strength sized than those typically used by rockhounds, crafters and jewelry artists.

I wandered well into the tent city before I found their stack of show guides and was able to locate Graves. No joy when I got there. The only dops they had for sale were a complete assortment set. It was just as well as I discovered that I had left my phone containing my shopping list back in the car. Obviously that was a signal to call it a day and head back to the hotel.

Tucson 2018 - Day 1 Lunar Eclipse and First Shows

For over two weeks every year starting in late January, Tucson, Arizona becomes the site for gem, mineral and fossil shows. People from all over the world flock there to buy and sell, get updated on the latest trends, attend trade group conferences, meet up with old friends and make new ones. I had been to Tucson three times previously, but the most recent time was twenty six years ago. In that time the number of vendors has increased significantly and the count of venues is now somewhere around four dozen. So I was quite excited to be going again in 2018.

We arrived late the previous evening after a fairly uneventful trip. Well, it was unusual in that both flights actually landed not just on time, but early. The rental car was ready and we found the hotel without a single wrong turn. It turned out that the hotel was one of the show sites, so there was only a narrow path through to the lobby desk. Despite the apparent chaos from the show, the accommodations were okay. I was concerned that it might be noisy, but as we discovered, around 9 pm quiet seemed to settle in for the night.

Lunar Eclipse

The alarm went off at 5am. Steve Ulatowski, New Era Gems, had posted about the lunar eclipse, super blue moon and had challenged friends to meet at the base of Sentinel Peak to walk up to the top for the eclipse followed by the sunrise shortly thereafter. After what seemed like several minutes as the alarm sounds from the phone grew increasingly louder, I finally managed to silence the beast and crawl out of bed. It was definitely on the cooler side of things as I exited the back door of the hotel and headed for the neighboring dirt lot where the car was parked. (Normal hotel parking was filled with outdoor show booths.) Sentinel Peak was basically behind our hotel, so getting there was just a matter of following the streets heading that way. Well, sort of. Took a few tries to get on the right road and then one stop along the way to check google to be sure I wasn’t on another dead end.

I was surprised to see how many other people were crazy enough to be up and about at that hour. There were a few dozen people in and around the parking lot at the base of the peak watching the show. The moon actually was taking on a reddish cast as advertised. About the time there was only a tiny portion left not impacted by the eclipse and Sentinel Peak started to obscure the view, the New Era contingent arrived on the scene and we started the walk up the peak. After only a very short distance we gained enough elevation to have a good view of the moon again. It was pretty dark so I could not identify most of my companions for the hike. One gentleman introduced himself as “Arnold”. (Later that night when some posts of the event appeared on Facebook, I discovered that he was Arnold Duke, President of International Gem & Jewelry.) We went to a lookout spot at the top to watch the full eclipse. It was quite breezy and cold as might be expected but the view was fantastic. As the event passed we headed down and around to the other side of the peak to watch the sunrise from a spot just below the “A” on the hillside.

Off to the Shows

After getting back to the hotel and thawing out in a hot shower and a bit of breakfast downstairs it was time to set off exploring the shows. Our hotel and the one adjacent were both sites for the GIGM shows (http://www.gigmshow.com/). The vendors were just uncovering their outside booths as we set out. The amount of material to see was mind boggling. Some booths had mineral specimens including amethyst geodes up to six feet tall. Others had equally impressive fossils. There were some larger tents where one could find cabochons of just about any material you could imagine. Most of the ground floor rooms were being used by vendors and just about every possible square foot of outside space around the hotels was covered with booths.


Bird carvings at PuebloEventually we decided to head up the street a bit to the next site where the Pueblo show (http://www.pueblogemshow.com/) was hosted. Years ago that hotel was named the Pueblo Inn. It is now called the Arizona Riverpark Inn, but the original name for the gem show located there has stuck. I had some recollection of that show from my past visits since Room 110 has been home to New Era Gems (https://neweragems.com/), one of rough dealers with whom I have done business since I started faceting. It was quite apparent that the size of the show had increased dramatically. We entered via a huge tent containing a huge selection of fossils, minerals, carvings and many other related objects. Again, some of these items were quite big. As we exited and headed towards the front door of the hotel, we encountered a couple additional specimens of quartz crystals that dwarfed all the others. Getting those out of the ground intact must have been on the order of dealing with a T. rex skull.

In addition to New Era, there were several other vendors on my list for the Pueblo show. I found the Arizona Case room not too far from New Era. Many years ago I had purchased one of their display cases and was interested in finding out if at this point a second one of the same design was possible. The salesman was very helpful and provided lots of details that will help my decision on that as well as on some of their other products.

22nd street tentWhen I had been to the Pueblo years ago, I am sure that some the grounds were showing. Like the others, now there wasn’t any open space left. I have no idea where the hid the swimming pool. A large tent housed dozens of additional vendors. One of the highlights was not too far inside the door – John Dyer’s booth which had a nice assortment of faceted / fantasy cut gem eye candy.

22nd Street

After making a quick pass through the Pueblo vendors, the next stop was the 22nd Street show across the freeway from our hotel. This was another ridiculously huge tent followed by a much smaller, nicer structure on the other side of the food court. That building housed a nice dinosaur exhibit at one end. And at the other end, one of our SLO businesses, I Love Rocks, had a nice sized booth and seemed to be busy with customers.

dinosaurs in 22nd street showcaseWhen I finally got back to the hotel room, I discovered that I had failed when it came to note taking with respect to materials of interest back at New Era. So I headed out again to Pueblo for the last hour or so of that day’s show. On this pass, I found more vendors I had missed on my first pass. One Brazilian booth had some nice reasonably priced facet grade amethyst, citrine and aqua which might work for the sort of cutting I was planning. I ended up at the New Era rooms making some notes. I still had no idea what I would actually purchase, but the “Ultraviolet” Amethyst was screaming “take me home”. It has a vibrant color and ultraviolet just happened to be Pantone color of the year for 2018.

By the time I got back to the hotel I was tired and hungry. We settled for dinner at “the Kettle” which was just steps away from the lobby door. It had been a long, fun first day.


Before and After - Rough and Finished

Rhodolite garnet rough and resulting faceted gemsI usually don't take photos of the rough gem material. However, because I had a few questions about what it looks like before it is faceted, I did remember one day to get some pictures of parcels I had recently acquired. Now that I have cut some of those pieces, I have a group of "before" and "after" pictures of few garnets.

Obviously in these photos, the scale is not consistent. However, you can see some typical rough garnet and what was done with it. Most of the garnet rough I have encountered is similar to water worn pebbles rather than a nice geometric crystal.

Malawi garnet rough and resulting faceted gemsIn some cases, a very fine saw may be used to split the material or remove excess material. However, the bulk of the faceting work is done by grinding off the excess to create each facet of the gem. The faceting process involves first removing flaws in the material and shaping the stone with a coarse grit. Then with a finer grit, each of the facets is cut. Often a very fine grit is used to produce a "prepolish" on the facets. Then each facet is polished with an extremely fine grit or an oxide to produce essentially a mirror finish. It is not unusual for two thirds or more of the original rough material to end up as sludge in the bottom of the splash pan of the faceting machine. 

Malawi garnet rough and resulting faceted gemsMost faceters in the US try to do precision cutting -- angles chosen are to maximize the light return and all facets properly shaped meeting its neighbors exactly according to a predetermined pattern. Another approach to faceting is what is often labeled "native cut". In that case, the material is cut to maximize the weight of the finished stone, often at the expense of the brilliance. The facets on native cut stones also tend not to meet nicely, they are misshaped and do not line up with each other. One other major difference between "native cut" and precision cut, is the polish.




Malawi Garnets for Girls' Scholarships

Malawi GarnetThe short version: Like a number of others who enjoy turning rough into sparkling gemstones, I have found a way to give something back to one of the areas where the gem rough originates. All the money from the sale of the Malawi garnets I have cut will go to the K.I.N.D. fund to provide scholarships for Malawian girls' high school education. See http://www.msnbc.com/the-last-word/introducing-the-kind for the background on the fund.

The longer story...

I have had a soft spot for garnets since I started faceting. Perhaps it is because they cooperated in the polishing stage better than many other types of material. Or maybe it is because the material I had was the common red variety of garnet and red goes well with my favorite color, green, to make the traditional Christmas colors. Probably it is because when I was very young my mother told me that garnet was her birthstone -- and she never had a real garnet.

The second factor in picking this project has been that education has been a huge part of my life. My dad found his vocation as an educator. For a number of years my mother worked as a secretary in an elementary school. And when circumstances allowed her to obtain her college degree, she became a special education teacher. A great many of our family friends were folks they knew from the schools where they worked. Furthermore, the importance of education for girls is something with which I had much personal experience. As a female baby boom child, the world I found had many doors closed for girls. It was just assumed that after high school girls would get some clerical job, or perhaps enter nursing or teach elementary school children or work in a retail store. And generally that career was going to be just long enough to land a husband. Even recreation focused on the boys. Our neighborhood had little league baseball games for the boys all summer long.  There was no sports in the community for girls. Because my parents cared so much for the value of education and were willing and able to make the  sacrifice needed for the tuition, I went to a private school. There I was exposed to much more than what would have been the case for the girls who went to the local schools. That led to the high school experience and eventual college degree -- an opportunity that many of the girls of my generation never had. I cannot imagine how different my life would have been without the education I was lucky to have received. 

rough Malawi garnetThe third piece in this project was the Lawrence O’Donnell show on MSNBC. Around the holidays he talked about his experiences in Malawi and the K.I.N.D. fund. The lack of opportunity for girls to get even a high school education is something that would likely keep them and their future families in poverty. Those stories and the images of the young girls stuck with me.

Thus when I came upon a rough dealer's page of garnets with many from Malawi, the pieces came together. All money from the sales of gems I facet from Malawi garnet rough will go to the K.I.N.D. scholarships for the Malawi girls.

A Gem of a Book

coverIt was right at the beginning of a mid-November trip to Costco. We went by the tables that were stacked with books - the kind that made nice holiday gifts. Of course, I had to check out what they had. Perhaps there would be one my daughter would like in her library - the kind with lots of pictures she uses for reference in her illustration work. Perhaps there were some of those, but I never saw them. Instead "Gem: The Definitive Visual Guide" by published by DK had my full attention. It was heading into my cart almost before I could flip through the pages. DK books tend to be exceptional visual treats loaded with terrific images. And the price was not going to break the budget. (It is currently listed on Amazon for $25.)

Gem is the typical large coffee table book size. At 440 pages and over 5 1/2 pounds, it is not a lightweight. Typically, gem books tend to go alphabetically or if they are jewelry focused, they tend to follow historical and geographical lines. I have no clue yet how the ordering of Gem was determined. (Perhaps when I stop just looking at the pretty pictures and read some of the text sections, I will eventually figure that part out.) The good thing about that so far seems to be that you can open just about anywhere and not feel like you have missed something. Perfect for the coffee table book which isn't usually given a front to back read.

Once nice characteristic is that it includes images and information of the rough gems along with cut gems and those in jewelry plus a bit of romancing the stone stories related to the gems. My impression of the contents is: imagine you have the best museum of gems, minerals and jewels and then a tour guide who knows it all - the technical data and the historical details and maybe some gossipy trivia to go along with it all. That is what you will find in Gem.

If you like books on gems, minerals and jewelry, or need a gift for someone who does, this is a must.

Demonstrating at the SLO Gem & Mineral Show

I spent the past weekend at the San Luis Obispo Gem and Mineral Show demonstrating faceting. The club had acquired a faceting machine this year and it seemed appropriate to put it to use at the show.  In preparation I had dopped up a number of decent sized garnets to use for the exercise. In addition, I brought along some finished stones to show off as well as the Vargas and Herbst books on faceting.

As expected, almost no one had any idea how faceted stones were done. There were a few folks who had some experience with cabochons, had a friend who did faceting, or did metalwork, but only one person indicated they had done any faceting themselves. One of the most frequent questions was how the stones were attached to the dops. I use superglue, so it is easy to understand why that kept popping up.  Wax or epoxy dopping would have been a lot more obvious.

It was fun explaining faceting and the machine to the show attendees.  Some of the kids were great.  For a while I had a four year old helper working the water spray bottle for the polishing process. He definitely got into it and stayed focused until his mother finished a purchase across the aisle and came to get him. Perhaps a future faceter?



Garnets Galore

I have always had a weak spot when it comes to garnets. It probably started when I was very young and my mother told me that her birthstone was garnet. Back then, what came to mind as a garnet was a dark red gem.  Years later when I started collecting gemstones and learning more about them, I found out about the wonderfully green variety that was called "tsavorite".  Tsavorite garnets put most of the emeralds I had seen to shame. They were such a wonderful sparkling green! So being biased to Christmas colors by virtue of my birth, how could I not fall in love with a gem that was outstanding in those shades? As I furthered my gemstone studies with the GIA Colored Stones course, I learned that garnets came in other shades ranging from a purple red to orange to yellow to green and some were even colorless. 

Then I started faceting and discovered that garnets proved to be cooperative in developing a nice polish. Plus many of the reddish types in modest sizes were quite affordable for a beginner faceter's budget.  Occasionally a flaw or "feature" of the crystal would become a problem by ending up where it would cause mischief. More often, I could see included crystals and needles when inspecting under magnification while I was polishing the stone, but these inclusions would not be visible to the unaided eye in the finished gem.

There were basically two problems with garnets. The first was that the larger red garnets often were too dark to sparkle. They just sat there looking red. Not awful, but not as exciting as one might hope.  The other was a budgetary one. Rough for tsavorite and other types which would sparkle even when large was quite expensive. Thus my accumulation of garnet rough has tended towards smaller sizes in the darker reddish shades and fewer, even smaller pieces of the lighter colors.

A few months ago a parcel of Mahenge garnet rough followed me home. These garnets tend to be nicely shaped, fairly clean pieces that run from a light peach to a nice medium raspberry shade. When cut and polished, these stones are wonderfully bright. Most of the parcel is smaller sizes -- .5 to 1 carat finished. This launched me into an effort to work through a lot of the smaller garnet rough I still had from many years ago as well as working on the Mahenge parcel. Once the small rough is properly dopped the process of cutting it is usually low stress. The smaller the facets, the quicker it is to cut and polish them. (The flip side of that is a slight loss of attention can yield a significant error given the scale of things.) The bottom line is that the majority of the stones I have cut recently have been garnets.  And lots more to come.







Quartz Trio

Years ago I purchased a parcel of green beryl which included a couple of very long and narrow crystals.  Short of using the trim saw to turn these into multiple pieces with more typical proportions, there wasn't much else that could be done with these other than cutting them into elongated emerald cut shapes.  Of course, that results in a boring stone.  The solution to that problem was the addition of concave facets which created much more interesting optics and a gem that has gotten a lot of positive comments. (Figure 1.)

Figure 1. Green Beryl
Green Beryl

So why not try the approach on some slightly larger stones?  The original green beryl was under 5 mm. wide.  I wanted to see the result in a stone that was in the range of 8 to 10 mm. wide. In searching through the rough I had on hand, I found a few pieces that met the desired width, but would end up with the length more like two times the width rather than the four times of the green beryl.  At least for the initial experiments, that would have to do.

The idea was to test some variations on a theme.  Take a basic long emerald cut and add concave facets to the pavilion only.  The crown would be a standard step cut so the only thing being considered was the impact of the concave facets on the pavilion.

Figure 2. Rose Quartz

The first piece was a scrap of rose quartz that many years ago had been trimmed off a much larger chunk. It had been ignored as useless for a long time and I was surprised to find how well it suited the situation. For this one there would be three concave facets on one side of the pavilion -- center and close to each end -- and two on the other side aligned between the facets on the other side. The concave facets were created so that they closely approached the keel without actually touching it. The width of the facets was about the same as the space between them.  The goal / expectation were for the actual facets reflected in other side of the pavilion. (Figure 2.)

Figure 3. Amethyst

For the second stone a piece of amethyst was selected.  This one was done similarly to the rose quartz, except that in this case there were three concave facets on each side of the pavilion arranged opposite each other.  (Figure 3.)


Figure 4. Citrine

Of course, for the third stone in the series, yet another piece of quartz was needed.  In this case, it was a citrine.  For the final stone, each side of the pavilion had five concave facets that touched each other. (Figure 4.)

I expected that one of the combinations above would clearly be better than the others.  But so far, I have not been able to pick a favorite.  Meanwhile, I have acquired a few pieces of rough which have a length to width ratio of 3.  So some rainy day, I will get around to the next step in this series.  Stay tuned.