It was sunny today with a high of 73 degrees and gusty winds.
Today was my first day out at this year's Show and it is already the last day for one of them, the Gem and Lapidary Wholesaler's Jump Start show! My main goals for today's activities were do a shake out on a brand-new video camera and scout around for some upcoming photo and story opportunities. I don't feel like I had enough time to prepare for the Show this year, but then, I don't guess anybody ever does. I'm sure if I'd called and told them I wasn't ready so please hold off for a couple of more days they would have said, "Oh, it's you Bob..."
My first stop was at the Jump Start show at the Rodeway Inn, where I stopped to visit with Stuart and Annette, proprietors of Crystal Heaven, in rooms 153 and 155. All those tables are loaded with Arkansas quartz points and clusters which they mine in Mt. Ida. Note the big tent west of the motel. It's full of bead and jewelry dealers.
Crystal Heaven also brought some pretty big pieces and Stuart told me they had loaded this table three times before I got to the show. The largest cluster weighed 238 lb. and was offered at $2500. It had some great points. The piece in the middle weighed 87.5 lb. and was priced at $300. The foreground piece had a rare full cluster penetrator visible in the close-up inside a crystal about half an inch past the tip of my finger. This piece was priced at $500.
Yours truly gives a point the evil eye for imperfections rendering the material less than perfect for faceting. A few of these points are "optical" and contain nice sized areas of water clear quartz completely free of veils, bubbles or other inclusions. I like to dig through their cheap stuff that's broken or has damaged terminations or edges.
Here's my high grade flat after a couple of hours at it. There's some great stones inside this Arkansas crystal. And not a piece over $2.50 a pound, either.
I cut this 22 mm stone (about 3/4") in an Old Pueblo Lapidary Club faceting class from a quartz point I bought from Stuart and Annette at the Fall Show last year. I can even brag this gem's been shown at the Tucson Show as Stuart latched onto it as soon as he saw it and stuck it in with the good stuff under glass in their display case. Now I'm looking for some primo quartz rough to cut an even bigger one. Since I've expressed a reluctance to part with this one, Stuart wants me to facet one especially for Crystal Heaven. Good thing he owns a crystal mine... ;)
Next I wandered over into the Event Center, a large annex building full of yet more bead and jewelry dealers at the rear of the Rodeway Inn, across from Crystal Heaven. There in booth 31 was Oro Valley Gems, a local business owned by fellow Old Pueblo Lapidary Club member Edward Newman and Linda Kaplan, email@example.com. Their display of faceting rough was pretty eye-catching and couldn't help but attract my newbie faceter attention.
One case was full of mirrors covered with a nice selection of popular gemstone rough. Among the offerings were blue topaz at $.20/carat., Arizona peridot at $1.50/carat., chrome diopside at $3.50/carat., Madagascar beryl at $2.00/carat, morganite (pink) beryl at 2.00/carat, kunzite at .75/carat, pink tourmaline at 4.00/carat, rhodolite garnet at $7.00/carat, chrome pyrope (anthill garnet) at $2.00/carat, and amethyst from Uruguay, Zambia and Brazil at $.50 to $2.50/carat.
Center are assorted colors of split boules of artificial corundum. These boules averaged about the size of a thumb and looked pretty clean. This material varied in price between $.12 and $.16 per carat. The little dot in a case is actually about a 6 mm stone cut from one of the red boules. It's too small in scale to show in the picture, but it was a nice deep ruby blood red. Just the stuff to whip off a quick practice ruby in before cutting natural gem rough...
Right is an assortment of East African tourmalines. They were priced between $6.00 and $10.00 per carat.
Ed was also offering these tanzanites at $28.00 per carat, and he was pretty proud of them. You'll often overhear inquiries regarding tanzanite at the Show. Tanzanite is an important gemstone variety of zoisite which comes from Tanzania in Africa. A primary reason for tanzanite's popularity with faceters and gem and crystal collectors is the material exhibits trichroism, that is, it exhibits a color change in three orientations. I'm afraid this stuff is still too exotic and advanced for this poor rock grinder's blood. Perhaps some day I will cut a tanzanite.
I was anxious to do some recon at the Congress Street Expo aka the "Tent Show", so I caught a show shuttle and headed down there. Many of the dealers and exhibitors were still setting up, but things were well under way in the tent where Richardson's Recreation Ranch of Madras Oregon had staked a claim.
The "rock ranch" is a popular fee collecting site renowned for their easy to dig thundereggs. Thundereggs are agate filled nodules which vary in size from a quarter of an inch to about five feet in diameter and are the official state rock of Oregon. On the left is one of them in the rough. They're not much to look at, are they? Well, just goes to show 'ya not to judge a rock by it's crust. On the right is a herd of thundereggs after they've been cleaned up a bit. Many lapidary hobbyists like to do thundereggs as polished sections and slabs.
Outside their tent, they were operating a sphere making machine which they manufacture and sell. It takes about 10 hours of continuous operation to produce a single small sphere about 3 inches in diameter. Someone's got to be monitoring the work throughout the process, refreshing the carbide grit, water, and adjusting the machine. It's interesting to watch the machine operate although I'm sure the novelty has worn off for the regular crew. However, Marshall Hopper, show helper for Quartzsite and Tucson, seemed to enjoy showing it off and answering questions.
Inside the tent Richardson's displayed and sold a large quantity and assortment of rock spheres made from various materials from all over the world. To be honest about it I've never been especially keen on rock spheres myself, but there seems to be a whole subculture among rockhounds who are. Among the materials were spheres of Madagascar labradorite, script jasper (pyritized clam shells) from India, African sodalite, Russian charoite, Chilean lapis, Dalmatian jasper from Mexico, Chinese quartz and others, including thundereggs, of course. Most of the material ran $16 per diameter inch up to five inches and then $11 per pound for sizes over that. Some of the spheres made of some of the more costly or difficult to work materials cost more, with the charoite going at $200 per pound.
A group of Japanese rockhounds came in while I was taking these shots and one of them whipped out a calculator, and made John Richardson an offer on a quantity of them. He used another member of their party as a translator, and held out the calculator for John to inspect. A popular technique, but one that's typically employed by the seller. A deal was done.
Here's John Richardson, showing off a pretty good sized sphere they cut from a log of Arizona petrified wood. John related that it took about a month just to do the 60 or so rough cuts required to preform the sphere out of the log. Then it took another three months in a machine to shape and polish it. 600 pounds of grit were consumed in the process. It's an 18.5" beauty and John wants $6500 for it.
I poked around at the Expo a bit more, looking for interesting specimens and rough. I hadn't found that perfect, humongous piece of clear quartz rough for cheap I wanted for myself, and I was also looking for a piece for Ron Lupo, a fellow online faceter I meet through the faceter's mailing list. That's a pile of rose quartz in the foreground in front of a tent occupied by MJ3, Inc., a dealer specializing in African rough and gem materials.
While I was digging around through several boxes of $1.50 per gram fire quartz rough from Madagascar, I got lucky and turned up this lovely miniature sized cluster amongst the smaller debris distributed throughout the carving size rough. It went with me for $2.00. The "fire" comes from included lepidochrosite and hematite. In some of the rough the inclusions seemed to occur in a layer through the surrounding quartz, and looked like a layer of brilliant red metalflake floating in quartz. This material is mined about 200 kilometers from Tamatave.
I crossed the Rillito River (those are footprints in the sand, not ripples in the water), and ventured into an area known as the Strip, which consists of major shows at the Days Inn, Pueblo Inn, Howard Johnson's (formerly the Discovery Inn), the Holiday Inn Express and Tucson Showplace. In case you're a Show veteran and wondering why I failed to mention the Desert Inn, that venerable location was appropriated for freeway access and was actually condemned by city inspectors while last year's Show was in progress, displacing a number of dealers who had rented rooms there. It's been demolished and scraped clean, leaving this large vacant lot. Situated between the motel shows just south of here are seemingly endless numbers of large and small tents housing extensions of the motel shows and independent dealers.
I walked down the strip to Boatner's, which is a location in a normally mostly vacant lot, now filled with tents and stalls and rocks. One of the dealers I visited there was Ray McGrew of Mountain Gems, another Mt. Ida Arkansas miner. An inspection of his flats of points turned up this single great piece of faceting rough, still not as large as I wanted, but way too nice to ignore for a buck! There's a great stone inside this piece. Ray also had some specimen class water clear points and clusters of points, but of course, you wouldn't cut them and they all wanted a lot more than a buck.
While at Boatner's I noticed this interesting Brazilian amethyst sitting on a crate behind the Aurora West tent. It was about five feet long, with two faces cut away revealing a two connected cavities lined with amethyst and calcite crystals. They hadn't set a price on it but I overheard someone say it would be offered at about $11,000 dollars. More Aurora West amethysts are shown on the Boatner's page.
I made my way down the Strip a little farther, and dropped in to visit with Bob and Mary Lewis of Gems Galore in Room 114 at the Pueblo Inn. They recover and market scrap materials from the semiconductor and electronics industries, and due to my work in electronics, I've always enjoyed browsing their unique offerings of etched semiconductor wafers, silicon nodules, microprocessor jewelry and "rough" for lapidary work. Bob says silicon works just like obsidian. When you polish it, it takes on a mirrory, chrome-like sheen.
Fractured silicon is also very sharp like obsidian. Check out the silicon arrowhead! If the Indians had possessed this technology when the white men invaded, it might have been a whole different ball game...
They've got something new each year and this year in their room I found an unexpected source for inexpensive, perfect quartz faceting rough - semiconductor industrial scrap. The piece of material I'm holding in my hand is the sawed off end of huge quartz crystal that was artificially cultured from smashed up and refined Mt. Ida crystal under tremendous heat and pressure.
These industrial crystals are sliced into semiconductor materials which serve as the foundation for processes which are used to manufacture electronic oscillators and other components used in applications from wrist watches to clocking the microprocessor in your computer. The purity of the homogenized materials used is critical to the processes, and this piece is perfect through and through. And already preformed to boot! ;) I purchased two of these for $20, and now I have my immediate desire for some larger flawless clear quartz rough sated. What's that? But it's not a natural stone you say? Think you'll be able to tell the difference after I've cut it?
Bob and Mary also sideline a few more conventional materials. This pink soapstone at $6.00 a pound would carve a pretty mean flamingo...