Snapshots from the Tucson 2005 Gem and Mineral Show
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Bead Rough

One of the things you don't see near as much of nowadays as at Tucson Shows long gone by are big piles of rough rock for slabbing and carving. Once ubiquitous here, I suspect the ever diminishing availability of affordable vendor space at Tucson has driven many dealers of rough rock away to less economically taxing venues such as the Quartzsite Show.

One Tucson dealer who still piles it on is MJ3 in the "Bullpen" at the Rapa River Show on the Strip. While MJ3 does traffic in materials from other localities, the specialty and focus of this dealer is rocks and minerals from Madagascar.

Lavender Quartz
Rose Quartz
Massive Opal

Orange Banded Calcite
Lapis Lazuli

Labradorite, also known as spectrolite, is a member of the plagioclase feldspar group, a series of mixtures of sodium and calcium aluminum silicates. Labradorite is named after Labrador, where it was first discovered. Other localities for labradorite include Finland, India, Madagascar, Newfoundland, and Russia.

The characteristic flash of iridescent colors displayed by this material is known as "labradorescence." These flashes of color change may include blue, green, yellow, and pink. Some digging through MJ3's bin of $7.00/lb labradorite was required to find some good color. The piece shown in hand at left had it.

Shown in hand above left is a closer view of some of the $20/lb lapis offered by MJ3. There is some fair blue here but this material also contains moderate to large amounts of calcite, which is generally considered to lower the grade. Pure blue lapis with an almost electric glow about it is what fetches top dollar. However, I personally find larger, focal point type stones cut from top, pure blue lapis to be less than engaging to the eye. Where the stone functions as the focal point for the piece, my eye requires a little calcite and pyrite dispersed through the stone to add to the visual appeal and increase the eye candy factor. Of course the challenge is finding lapis with just right amounts of included calcite and pyrite. The aesthetic involved in satisfying my eye here must be similar to how I see turquoise, where I covet a good spiderweb over the best of the best homogenous blue any day!

In hand above right is a representative chunk from a bin of $12/lb Russian amazonite. Good color here and the material appears to be nice and solid. This rough strikes me as an interesting material for carving.

Depicted above and at left is some orbicular jasper in the rough, commonly known as "ocean jasper". MJ3 offered a relatively small bin of chunks of assorted ocean jasper at $20 per pound. The two rocks displayed here one may well have been the best pieces for color and figuring remaining in this bin.

In addition to their offerings of the more massive materials, MJ3 is showing many trays and bins of smaller, finer and rarer roughs suitable for smaller carvings, cabbing, inlay, intarsia and other lapidary work. Some of the numerous species and varieties of rough available here are moonstones, corundums, aquamarines, rhodolites, apatites, kunzite, blue chalcedony, pink opal, scapolite, sunstone, beryls, chrysopryse, amethyst, rose quartz, rutilated quartz and "fire" quartz. Several of these materials are offered by MJ3 in facet grade.

Now "facet grade" tends to be an overworked and somewhat nebulous term conveying different meanings to different people. One thing I've noticed is the operant definition of "facet grade" often seems to hinge on whether you are the seller or the buyer of the rough... However, to be fair to the sellers, the definition "facet grade" is a never ending source of debate among faceters themselves - some faceters are content with material that others wouldn't soil their fish tanks with. I was apprenticed to be in the picky school and so for the sake of the discussion and my personal working definition, what I mean when I classify material as "facet grade" is that it will cut an "eye clean" stone at the minimum - which is to say that any inclusions or other flaws in the finished stone will be so small that they can not be discerned by the unaided eye. This would be approximately analogous to VS (Very Slightly Imperfect) on the GIA clarity scale for diamond grading.

Most faceters who regularly browse the Tucson Show for faceting rough are acquainted with MJ3's finer grades of rose quartz. MJ3 offers rose in several grades suitable for carving, cabbing and faceting. I noted bins and trays of rose at MJ3 which spanned $1.00 to $2.50 per gram in price. The best of this material approaches facet grade by my working definition and I have several nice pieces of rose in my rough box acquired from MJ3 at prior Tucson Shows. This material cuts nice stones if you keep them modest in size. Unfortunately virtually every piece of rose I have ever inspected is "sleepy" in large pieces due to the presence of "silk" (microscopic inclusions) and the MJ3 rose is not excepted. Still, if you want to facet or carve rose quartz you will be hard pressed to find any at Tucson that is better than the best offered by MJ3.

And speaking of the best of the best, while browsing the offerings at MJ3 who should I happen upon picking off the creme de la creme but Tucson's own Jeff Graham, pictured at left while giving rose roughs the eagle eye. Jeff is the most productive commercial faceter known to me - his output of high end, custom cut colored stones is nothing short of phenomenal and utterly vexing to a slow poke hobby cutter like me. Jeff is also an extremely prolific and talented gemstone designer known to faceters the world over through his designs for faceted gemstones. Jeff has just released "Mirage Money Cuts", which is the 9th addition of 42 designs to his original "Gram 1" design collection to be published by Jeff. If you are interested in faceting but haven't checked out Jeff's web site yet, delay no further as you're in for a real treat.

I queried Jeff if he was finding some good rose this year which of course lead into a discussion of the material. I like to cut big stones and I related to Jeff that I wasn't satisfied with rose in general as a material suitable for larger faceted stones due to that ever-present silk, which has the inevitable effect of making stones ever sleepier as their size increases. That's when Jeff informed me I should try cutting beads from it.

At first I did a double take at this remark, thinking I could not possibly have heard Jeff say what I thought he said. Then I laughed thinking that Jeff was making a joke and being sarcastic. However, it turned out Jeff was dead serious and was on the hunt for more of the best rose he could get for a special project he has been working on which involves cutting something like 15 custom faceted beads from rose. Now I never suspected Jeff of being a closet case Beader, but if Jeff is into cutting beads nowadays, you can safely bet that these are going to be some real upscale beads. ;)

Now I will have to admit that I have considered faceting a bead or two myself and have played with some potential bead designs which are geometrical deformations of several of my "Rose Sphere" cuts. You might appreciate Rose Bead 600a-80. However, I am reasonably confident there will never be 15 of these...

While chatting with Jeff this small tray of green moonstone caught my eye. I have never seen green moonstone with chrome tones like this before and learned that this particular material was from a find in India of extremely limited extent. The material shown in the box represents about 1/3 of the total amount MJ3 was able to acquire.

These pieces were pretty small, running between about one to two grams in size and they wanted $8 per gram. Several of them exhibited wonderful color and as I review my photo of them I realize that I made a mistake in not purchasing at least one of these unique stones while the best of them were right in front of me and ready to go home.

I haven't quite figured out what to do with them yet, but these blue turbos at MJ3 look promising to me as a lapidary material. The color here is natural not dyed. Now cutting shell tends to be a somewhat nasty, stinky business, but for the right project I think this shell would be worth it. These wanted $25.00 for one, two for $40.00 or three for $55.00.

MJ3 Inc., "The Bullpen" at the Rapa River Show - 570 5th Avenue, 4th Floor, New York, NY 10036 Phone: 212-730-6826 Fax: 212-302-7046 Email

While making my way back from MJ3 towards the new shuttle hub on Congress Street just west of the freeway (very close to the site of the now defunct Congress Street Expo Show) and through the maze of tents filling the courtyard at the Day's Inn Globe-X Show, I came across several bins of lapis lazuli outside Room 151 that caught my eye.

Lapis lazuli has a venerable history as a lapidary material. Lapis is not a mineral but a rock composed of a mixture of several different minerals typically including calcite, huaynite, lazurite, pyrite and sodalite. Augite, diopside, hornblende and mica may also be present in small amounts. Due no doubt to its unique and intense color as well as its rarity, lapis has been highly valued and employed as a gemstone for thousands of years. Lapis was one of the stones in the 'Breastplate of Judgement' of Aaron, as described in the Bible. The most famous locality for fine lapis is a remote deposit high in the mountains of Afghanistan, where it has been mined for at least 6000 years.

Lapis has been the historic source of the deep blue pigment known as ultramarine. Since the nineteenth century, ultramarine has been synthetically produced and manufactured by roasting a mixture of kaolin clay, sodium sulfate and charcoal.

Now the piece in hand above left is running towards the right vein for lapis that appeals to my eye for use in larger cabochons. Still a tad heavy on the calcite on the face of this one, but a slice or two down... This lapis wants $75 per pound.

Inside the room was this tub containing the best of the best lapis lazuli offered by Arizona Color Stone and Minerals. This material wants 60 cents per gram, which works out to about $272 per pound. This is some top blue.

Arizona Color Stone and Minerals, Room 151 at the Day's Inn Globe-X Show - Rahim Sekandari, PO Box 820, Payson, Arizona Phone: (928) 978-7230

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Lawrence H. Conklin, Mineralogist
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Silver Supplies
The Sunnywood Collection
Tysons' Fine Minerals
UC Minerals
Dan Weinrich Fine Minerals
Wilensky Mineral Video
Williams Minerals Company
Wright's Rock Shop

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