Mecca – a holy city – a city of pilgrimage for every able-bodied Muslim…the ultimate destination.
So too is the city of Tucson, Arizona for the month of February. Mecca for anyone in the jewelry world!
I woke up on a Wednesday morning and felt the pull. By Thursday afternoon I was unpacking my bags at the less than salubrious Super 8 motel on Highway 10. “Beggars can’t be choosers” the saying goes but the Super 8 was a pleasant surprise – great location, sweet people, comfortable bed (I took my own down pillow) and Super clean.
I had heard about the Tucson Rock and Gem show ever since I had been in the Jewelry business (about a year haha). I had no idea what to expect. I am happy to report that the past few days have been AN ABSOLUTE BLAST!
I hit the deck running and was happy to find a significant portion (or what I thought to be at the time) of the Show was located within walking distance of my hotel. I spent a dreamy afternoon wandering along the stretch of swank hotels along Hwy 10 – Motel 6, Days Inn, Howard Johnson – you get the picture. Every inch of the highway, as well as the hotels had been taken over by the show.
I very soon met the delightfully eccentric Valko Sichel and was enchanted by his hand carved bugs – dragon flies, cicadas and little honey bees. Carving is a hobby and he earns his living as a bee-keeper. He gave me incense and 2 gift bags made out of Balinese newspapers. In a few short hours I had found some exciting new material, met wonderful, friendly people from the four corners of the world AND – spent the budget I had set aside in my mind before arrival!!!!!!
Later in the afternoon, I met a woman who was interested in the same sort of things as me…we started chatting. Turns out she was a designer from the Bay Area of San Francisco. She too had just arrived and was also a “newbie” so we decided to trip around together – a lucky break for me as she had – A CAR! We consulted the show guidebook and maps and discovered a vast, spread out network of locations – seems every part of town had been taken over by this event – sports complexes, parking lots and fields covered with tents and virtually every hotel, including, I am told, every room. We got along like an Opal on fire. I was there for 3 and ½ days and every day I discovered more and more treasures and the budget crept up…and up!
On the very last day I discovered the African Village – a stunning array of exotic beads, glass, bone, re-cycled vinyl records cut into sequins and strung in glorious, colorful strands.
I think the most UNUSUAL material I saw transformed into jewelry was definitely the OSTRICH EGGS.
Then I met Abdouli from West Africa, currently living in L.A. I was dazzled by the brightness of his smile and his charming personality. I told him I liked BIG BEADS!
Not only did I purchase but I learnt so much, had my eyes opened to gorgeous new material and possibilities. I fell in love with Opals from the land of my birth as well as Ethiopia – I have never been drawn to them, but as my new best friend “Opal Dundee” showed me there has been a resurgence of interest in Opals left embedded in their original rock as well as cut into exquisite, gleaming little beads. Gorgeous.
The cornerstone event is the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show produced by the Tucson Gem and Mineral Society which began in 1955 and grew into this gargantuan event. There is something for everyone – jewelry designers, academics and serious ROCK NERDS. Much of the event is open to the public and I can’t imagine anyone not being “tingly with happiness” as I was for the time I was there.