After 5 years I decided it was time to make the pilgrimage to the Tucson Gem Show again this year. Anyone following along on Instagram or the website might have noticed things were a little pared down for the last couple of years. Personally, life needed a lot of my attention. We moved -- twice -- moved studios, states and houses. It was a lot, and work suffered, true, but more than that I felt a stagnation. I was losing direction with the line and my passion was starting to wane as well. And after some time away, it felt harder and harder to step back into my work with intention. I needed a flash of inspiration, something to push me to lean back in, so I decided to visit the motherland and booked a flight to Tucson.
The scale of the Tucson Gem Show is humbling and overwhelming. On my first visit I voraciously tackled as many tents as possible, eyes wide at the magnitude of it all. For the right price, you can be the proud owner of a dinosaur skeleton or a geode the size of a car or a diamond the price of a home in California and it's all right there for your awe and admiration. Candy-colored gemstones by the bucket sparkle as you walk by row after row of earthly treasures. The crowd that the show attracts can at times be a distraction from all the sparkle; gathered from around the world with a shared obsession for gems and crystals, adornment and accessorization is a favorite pastime for all and the people watching is of the highest caliber.
This time I was less impressed by the magnitude of possibilities and more shocked by the amount of offerings that were disappointing from a sustainability standpoint. It is easy in the world of Instagram and independent jewelry design in the Western United States, to think that the industry is turning towards a place of accountability and moral responsibility, and it is. The fact that it is such a talking point now is a big change from where we were a decade ago. But the truth is the industry is still learning how to integrate newer standards of sustainability in a very old and well established market.
This is a big topic, and one that I cannot pretend I am an expert on, but seeing all of the sustainability fails booth after booth hit me hard. How can we still be purchasing so much Lapis from Afghanistan? Emeralds from Zambia?
There were some hidden gems in the mix (pun intended), vendors of post consumer "pop-out" stones and fair trade certified distributors. Making these connections felt so important and kept me optimistic that the tide is turning and there are really beautiful options out there that we can all feel good about.
The trip reaffirmed my personal commitment to making beautiful pieces that are unique and special while having the smallest negative impact on the supply chain and environment that I can. I am proud to use almost exclusively recycled metals. I am working through my collection of gems and minerals that I cannot trace back to the origins of and committed to purchase only materials I can source ethically from now on.
I came home with a handful of the most beautiful stones that I can't wait to work with, and I can tell you where each one came from, which feels right. When making special pieces that tell a story, the stones should tell a story as well. I have some American-mined sapphires from Montana, purchased directly from the sweet couple that pulled them out of the Earth. There is a beautiful collection of Turquoise from Nevada; mined and cut in the 1970's by a single artisan. But perhaps what I am most excited about is a collection of vintage stones, pulled out of repurposed jewelry, each holding there own history. I can't wait to give them each a new life, and send them off to be loved again.
There is a great article on Fair Trade and Sustainability (specifically for colored stones) on GIA's website for anyone interested. Here is the link:
Here is another piece on the challenges of determining geographic origin: