Snapshots from the Tucson 2000 Gem and Mineral Show
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Roughing It I

Saturday, February 5th was a gorgeous, sunny Tucson day with a high temperature of 78°, a perfect day for browsing the Show and our Old Pueblo Lapidary Club faceting rough field trip. Tucson has been coming through with extremely fine weather for the Tucson 2000 Show, with consistently sunny days and highs in the 60s and 70s. Fellow OPLC member, class coordinator and co-instructor of OPLC's Tuesday evening faceting class Rob Kulakofsky organized this outing for a number of our members and faceting students. We assembled at 10 AM in one of the parking lots at our club facilities. Depicted above left is 'Rocky,' our venerable and beloved mascot and emblem. It is a proud and lucky rockhound who can wear our Rocky patch on his jacket or cap! Above right is the front of our club building which houses a large kitchen and our general meeting facilities.

Above left is our shop building where we make club owned machinery and equipment available to our members during open shop sessions and regular classes, all of which are staffed, instructed and maintained by volunteer members who give selflessly of their time and knowledge so that others in the Tucson and rockhound communities at large may learn and enjoy the lapidary arts. The majority of our members are hobbyists and amateurs, but some OPLC members make their living in the lapidary arts, supply and other related businesses. A good deal of our club owned equipment has also been donated. Among the facilities and services available to OPLC members are a saw room, a faceting lab, a cabbing lab, a casting lab, and a smithing and jewelry fabrication lab. OPLC serves several hundred members and is affiliated with the Rocky Mountain Federation of Mineralogical Societies and the American Federation of Mineralogical Societies.

After a final huddle and quick run down of our expedition's itinerary and game plan, we car pooled to our first planned stop at Congress Street Expo. On the way we pit stopped at a grocery store so several of us could refuel and top off on cash from an automatic teller...

Except for some clothes and comfortable shoes, I'm showing just about everything else in hand above left that you really need to go hunting faceting rough at the Tucson Show. The amount of money is pretty arbitrary. Some spend much less than I have in hand, and some spend much more. Either way you can enjoy the hunt and score some kills and the makings of wonderful faceted stones. The 10x triplet loupe and Mag light definitely earn their keep and are mandatory attire for the properly outfitted faceter in search of rough at the Show, irrespective of their budget. Some faceters also carry and use an inexpensive laser pointer to search for and illuminate flaws in rough stones. Note the chain on my 'field loupe', the other end of which is fastened to a belt loop. My light clips into a pen pocket on a compact, multi-pocketed, belt hung organizer and carrier that also holds business cards, notebook, spare pens, extra battery, floppies and lens caps for my camera, measuring tape and calipers, money, gemstones, candy bars and what not.

A little courage is also required on the part of all but the most experienced (and most affluent) faceters hunting rough at the Show. When I first began faceting I enjoyed looking at gem rough, but not buying it at the Show, in spite of the fact that the variety and selection available during Tucson is mind numbing. Faceting rough can get expensive pretty quickly and I was afraid I wasn't knowledgeable or competent enough at inspecting and judging rough to keep from making expensive mistakes. And I was right about that too... Buying from local dealers that I knew and trusted for several years helped educate me and helped me gain confidence in evaluating rough, and of course I've picked up a few memorable lessons on the lap along the way too.

Shown above right are just a few of the tents at the Congress Street Expo, an already major public show which has expanded dramatically from just last year. This show is located on Congress Street, just west of I-10 and set back on the other side of the Rillito River from the rest of the shows along the strip. You'll also sometimes hear this show referred to as the "tent show", as there are no permanent facilities here, and the Congress Street Expo is made up of the largest assemblage of tents at a single show at Tucson.

Here's the MJ3 tent at the Expo where we made our first stop. Rob made a dry run the day before and did some preliminary scouting to help set up the field trip itinerary and make initial contact with and explain to several of the dealers that we would be visiting and bringing a group through today. MJ3 is an importer of African rough and gem materials from Madagascar. Most of their lapidary material is more suited to carving or cabbing than faceting, but they can be relied on to show some facetable quartz and sometimes other materials.

Of course 'facetable' is a somewhat vague adjective and taken at the most literal that means just about anything you can cut, grind and polish with diamond abrasives and other agents, which pretty much takes in everything, including the gravel in your driveway or fish bowl. I was taught to facet by an instructor and faceter who is of the general persuasion that perfectly transparent, flawless material, or at least eye-clean (flawless to the naked eye) at the minimum, is the only stuff desirable or worthwhile to facet. And that's pretty much become my story too. I've found that I'd rather work on a flawless quartz or a synthetic than an included and fractured but genuine Colombian emerald, but of course faceters are a diverse bunch and not all are of the same school.

Shown above left are three trays of rose quartz shown by MJ3 which were priced from left to right at $3, $2 and $1 per gram. The price was determined by the intensity and saturation of the color. All the material in the $3 bin was way too sleepy to facet in my book, but I did find several pieces in the $2 and $1 bins which had some promise, especially if you were willing to take a pretty big hit on the yield and settle for 10 percent or less, such as the $1 per gram piece I'm displaying in hand above right. Of course at a buck per gram (20 cents per carat) you could afford to cut away a good deal of the rock to liberate the gem.

However, I didn't seriously consider any of this rose as I still have several nicer pieces in my rough box that I purchased from MJ3 last year, earlier during that Show when their selection was better. The Congress Street Expo has been going on for a week and MJ3's tent is located just inside the first entrance. I'm sure the cleanest and most exceptional pieces of rose quartz available in these bins at the beginning of the Show are long gone by now.

MJ3 displayed a tub full of quartz points from Madagascar. The orangish color is due to iron stains and is on the exterior only - inside they are clear. There were many facetable crystals in this tub and they were priced at a dollar each. Nearly all of the these points had water clear, facetable tips and terminations, and if you were willing to do some digging and selecting for the choicest ones, there were flawless 25 mm and even larger stones inside these. The larger of these points would have easily exceeded a 100 grams each, which puts the cost for the rough at less than a penny per gram, or two tenths of a penny per carat.

A 25x15 mm rectangular stone cut from clear quartz will weigh somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 carats, so you'd be looking at a yield in the neighborhood of 5 percent and a net cost of about 4 cents per carat to tip one of these points for a stone like that. Now that's pretty cheap entertainment when you figure the time it takes to cut and polish a 25 carat stone (and don't factor in the cost of the machine and laps...).

Rob was eyeing some of these points as a club purchase, as we provide clear quartz for gratis for our beginning faceting students. But I assured Rob I still have a pretty good stash of some of Mount Ida's finest and since what we really need for class are budget busters like some new laps (and more faceting machines) we didn't take any of these back with us. However, I was disappointed that my Mount Ida connection, the Crystal Heaven mine, didn't bring their customary flat of termination damaged and dinged but water clear crystals for me to paw through this year. Apparently some rough dealer has muscled in and is taking all of Crystal Heaven's cutters, so I'll eventually be looking for a replacement source of clear quartz for class and my own use.

MJ3 also showed this tub of facetable, lightly rutilated clear quartz points from Madagascar, shown at left above. At 30 cents per gram, these were considerably more expensive than the plain clear, putting the damage for a 100 gram point at $30. However, these rutilated points would have produced a much higher yield and much larger stones than the plain clears. Generally speaking, I think rutilated material works better in cabs than faceted stones. But if you're going to facet rutilated quartz I think it's best to use material that's on the lighter rather than heavy side regarding the rutile inclusions. This material looked about right for faceting to me.

Also shown by MJ3 was the 5 inch crystal ball (clear quartz sphere) above right. This was one of the cleanest and clearest I've seen so far at the 2000 Show. I was able to spot only a single, small veil in it. These are in demand and it is pretty amazing what the cleanest and highest quality clear quartz spheres this size and up fetch. This one wanted $3,700. While there is a lot of work between the rough and a sphere, these are starting to become interesting to me. I've seen chunks of clean clear quartz at past Shows which could yield a sphere this size priced at several hundred dollars. It would be interesting to see if I were willing to part with one like MJ3's for $3,700 after going though all the work of cutting, shaping and polishing it. I'd acquire and use a sphere machine of course, but besides being almost flawless, what made this one even more remarkable was MJ3 said it was hand made, ground and polished on a lap by a skilled artisan without the benefit or use of a sphere making machine. It looked pretty round to me...

MJ3 Inc. Email: Tel 212.302.7600 Fax: 212.246.1951 570 5th Avenue, 4th Floor, New York, NY 10033

Our next stop at the Congress Street Expo was the Graves Company tent. Most faceters are acquainted with the Graves Company and their Mark IV faceting machine, which is one of the least expensive 8 inch machines available, at a regular price of $985 for the machine only or $1095 for the machine and a starter accessory kit including several cutting and polishing laps and other incidentals. Graves runs a Tucson Show special on their Mark IVs every year and this year you could carry home a new Mark IV with accessory package and a how-to video for $917.

Many faceters get started with a second hand Mark IV. If you are patient and willing to wait while you are looking for a deal, used Mark IVs can sometimes be acquired with used laps, other accessories and even some rough for well under $500 when a faceter moves up to another machine, or up to heaven...

Most faceters seem to eventually acquire a precision scale of some sort, even if they are not trafficking in rough. You can purchase relatively inexpensive balance pan type scales which will do the job just fine, but slower and less ergonomically than these more upscale Ohaus digitals, on which which Graves was also offering show special pricing. The HS-120 on the left was on special for $89 and had two ranges: 0-60 grams with a .1 gram (.5 carat) resolution and 60-120 grams with a .2 gram (1 carat) resolution.

The HP-320 shown in the center was on special for $129 and it would weigh 0-360 grams with a .1 gram resolution. The HP-120 shown on the right was on special for $119 and it would weigh 0-120 grams with a .1 gram resolution. Of course these aren't resolute enough if your needs entail weighing out precious rough or cut stones to a hundredth of a carat. Such digital scales are available of course, but they cost significantly more. These Ohaus models and prices are well matched to the needs of many hobbyists as well as dealers and other pros who work with materials where knowing the weight to within half a carat or so is close enough.

Of course Graves sources faceting rough too. Above right is a tray of large pieces of Oro Verde quartz, treated to turn it green, which is not a naturally occurring color for quartz. These pieces were priced at $1.20 per gram. The piece I'm showing in hand was one of the larger chunks and it was clean, clean. It's maximum dimension was about 40 mm and it weighed in 71 grams, making this one an $84 dollar rock.

This piece was very well shaped for a large rectangle of some sort, and looked to me like it could have easily yielded in the neighborhood of 25 percent if it was cut to maximize the weight of the stone. At 25 percent, this piece would yield a 90 carat or so size stone for a net cost in the neighborhood of a dollar per carat. The color is a little too on the yellow side of green to my own tastes, but there's no accounting for that, and other faceters see materials and stones through different eyes.

Graves offers their product catalog for free for the asking. If you don't already have a Graves catalog you can order one online from their web site.

Lapidary Jewelers Catalog

Our FREE equipment and supplies catalog is a must have reference and source book for every lapidary hobbyist and rockhound's library. It features hand tools, saws, grinders, rock tumblers, metal polishers, cabochon machines and cabbing supplies, faceting machines and accessories, faceting rough, diamond blades and carving tools, abrasives, polishing compounds, adhesives, findings, gemological instruments, prospecting supplies, books, videos and more!

Visit the GRAVES Home Page and order your copy today. We're sure you'll enjoy it!

Graves Company Tel 800.327.9103 Fax: 954.960.0301 1800 Andrews Avenue Ext.-North, Pompano Beach, FL 33069

Above right, 14 x 14 mm, 7 carat shield shaped stone faceted from some top color sunstone. It wanted $350.

Shown above right is a bag of sunstone that Rainbow Mining Company pulled out and dumped in a tray for each of our members to select one complimentary piece of free sunstone. A number of faceted examples cut from this gratis material is are shown in the case. It produces attractive stones of with a light yellow to pinkish complexion. Of course I took a piece for my own rough box, as did all of the other members of our expedition. Thank you Rainbow Mining Company!

Rainbow Mining Company Tel 503.463.9052 4183 Wyant Avenue NE, Salem, Oregon 97305

The blocky topaz crystal at left weighed 20 grams and it was clean. It went home with one of our members for $30.

Gems International Tel and Fax: 510.293.9124 27779 Vasona Ct #25, Hayward, CA 94544

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