Tuscon Gem Show

Adventures in Tucson: NIXIN Jewelry Attends the Tucson Gem Show

The jewelry industry offers an ongoing circuit of events to attend. For those who enjoy travel, it’s possible to be on the road continuously. From shows like Couture and JCK in Las Vegas to conventions in Geneva and Singapore, there is always something to attend somewhere in the world — should you want to. But here at NIXIN Jewelry, we have a clear fan-favorite…and that is the Tucson Gem Show. Because we design our own opal jewelry, we aren’t seeking finished pieces of jewelry at these shows — something many industry conventions center on. Instead, we are looking for raw materials — predominantly Australian Opals. And if we’re going to travel to source opal stones - shy of heading to Australia - the Gem Show in Tucson, Arizona is the best place to go in search of them.


Do you need to go to Tucson to buy gemstones?

This day and age, there is no need to travel in order to buy gemstones. In fact, if Alexa hears you just thinking about gems or if you inadvertently tap a bejeweled ad within your social, there’s a good chance you’ll be inundated with gems to purchase the next time you open up your feed.

That said, if you’re up for investing in an airline ticket and lodging to voyage and buy rocks, then why not? It could be the adventure of a lifetime.


Why do you go to Tucson for your opals?

Handling my Opals in Person:

One reason I (Nicki here - Owner of and Designer for NIXIN) go to Tucson for my opals is that I prefer to see the stones in person whenever possible, prior to purchase. Over the years, I’ve gotten pretty good at interpreting what I see on screen, when buying online, however, you simply cannot replace seeing a stone IRL with a static image. So when I have the opportunity to buy Australian Opals in person, I like to do so.

Relationship Building:

Another reason I travel to Tucson - perhaps the most important reason - is to meet the people I buy from in person. It’s very important to me to have good working relationships with my vendors. I want to feel good about the people I am buying from, and I’d like for them to feel good about working with me too. Although you can get a sense of one another while distance-collaborating, it’s not the same as meeting in person.

Last year, I didn’t need any new opals - I had ample material in stock. I planned my Tucson trip solely to meet two of my opal suppliers in person. It was their first time attending Tucson, and it was wonderful to finally meet them. I already had a good feeling about each of them, and the encounter just confirmed my existing hunch.

Being at the show in person also allows me to explore and discover new suppliers, I may never have otherwise found, so that I build new working relationships. And since so many opal mining and cutting businesses are small operations, they are often kept in the family — which means I get to meet the family while I am there. It doesn’t get much more personal than meeting the mother, son, husband, wife, father, daughter, etc… that extracted and cut your opal. Those of you who have worked with me as Clients before know how personal an experience it is, and I love keeping that same personal connection on the back end of my work as well.

Love for the gem show:

An additional reason I head to Tucson each winter is simply because I love the show. Not only the opals, but all of the gems, fossils and rockhounds it attracts. It’s just a fun place to be and to learn from. If you’re willing to ask questions, exhibitors are eager to impart their knowledge. Those of you who are already NIXIN Insiders, you know how important this component of learning is to me.


This year in Tucson:

Desert Intentions:

Much like last year, I went to Arizona this year, without any great need to add to my opal collection (but always open to the possibility). With the demands of a family at home, my time in the desert would be cut shorter than in previous years, so I planned to make the most of the time I had!

Day 1:

Did not go as expected. The plan was to arrive in AZ at noon and spend a half day at the show. Our itinerary was derailed when, upon entering the runway for take-off, our pilot got on the loudspeaker and announced we would be delayed because Air Force Two had just landed at LAX. I mean, some things you just can’t plan for.

Remaining 2.5 Days:

If you read our last blog on the format of the Tucson Shows, you know that we recommend planning your trip around the particular showcases that cater to your gem and jewelry interests. In the past, when I’ve planned a longer stay, I’ve been able to bridge the end of some shows through the start dates of others. This year was the first year (ever) that I’ve gone to Tucson without visiting headline shows like AGTA and GJX, and instead focussed on smaller venues. And I have to say, while I missed some of the people I usually see at the larger shows, my haul did not suffer in the slightest. The smaller desert showcases have more than enough goods to supplement the shows I bypassed.

While perusing the show floors, I find I am constantly learning new things and appreciating what I see around me.

This year I learned:

About Moldavite:
Moldavite is a glassy green substance. It almost looks like green seaglass. I’d normally walk right past it, disinterested in its appearance, but learning about its formation was what intrigued me. Much like glass is formed when lightning strikes sand, moldavite is the result of a meteorite striking soil, the fragments flying up into the atmosphere, and then cooling down as they return to earth, solidifying in the form you see below. At the show, you can find Moldavite transformed into all types of jewelry.


About Woolly Mammoths:
Dubious as to how Woolly Mammoth hair can be authenticated, I learned that their hair (often found near - not on - the skin) is hollow.

Wolly Mammoth Hair

Little did I know that Woolly Mammoth skin has also been found, preserved in the frigid temperatures of Siberia…and that it’s too tough to cut with a kitchen knife*. (*reference for my IG story followers)

Mummified Wolly Mammoth Skin

About Opalized Clam Fossils:
Okay, I already knew about these, but I’m always open to re-learning and love sharing what I learn. Here’s how these majestic rainbow fossils form: basically, the original clam tissue deteriorates and is replaced with opal, thus creating an opal fossil of a clam. Pretty amazing, right? It’s gorgeous, and it’s for sale. If you’ve been looking for a stunning opalized bivalve mollusc, just reach out to OpalsbySteed and ask for Steed or Danny (they are the sweetest). Feel free to tell them I sent you.

Opalized Clam Fossils

Beyond the direct scientific lessons learned, there is always such a wide array of unique magnificence to appreciate at the show.


Here are some of the things that I appreciated most of all:

Take for example this stunning Montana Sapphire. Neal and Debbie always have the best array of blues they extract from their mine. Take a look at this hexagonal cut.

Hexagonal Cut Montana Sapphire

Neal also mines gold and is working on a fascinating project trying to identify beneficial properties of certain alloys.

If you’re lucky, you may have the great fortune of spotting things in Tucson you may never see anywhere else in the world. Giant specimens, ancient remnants, and otherworldly finds.

This year, I saw a phenomenal double sided Black Opal. And while double sided opals do occur in nature, most often, when they do, they are the same color on both sides. Rarely will you find them with two entirely different color sets, back to back. The Lightning Ridge Black Opal was blue green on one side and red on the other.
Lightning Ridge Black Opal
Lightning Ridge Black Opal
I inspected the stone carefully to be sure it was authentic, and it was. The seam between the sides was completely natural. You can tell by the irregularity (jagged edge) between the two sides where the colors meet.
Lightning Ridge Black Opal
Constructed opals, like opal doublets or triplets, have a clean linear seam where separate layers of material convene. This Black Opal was absolutely incredible.

Sprinkled throughout show venues you may find vendors who insert a sense of humor into their work. While exploring a booth with *animal skeletons for sale, we came upon these Raccoon bones.

Racoon Bones

Whether you find humor in this presentation or not, I appreciate that the vendor injected some fun into their days and doesn’t themselves too seriously.

(*This vendor disclosed that all animals are either found already deceased or donated once deceased - none are slain for the purposes of their work.)

The sheer size of some of the specimens at the show is just breathtaking. From giant geodes, taller than humans, to these huge megalodon jaws (my friend Lisa of Lisa Kim Fine Jewelry is in the shot for scale). It’s a healthy reminder that we are but a tiny spec in the world, relative to the forces of nature.
Megalodon Jaws with Lisa Kim

In the evenings:


When the show doors close, and the temperature drops, activity in the desert starts to rise. With so many people in town from all over the world, there are events taking place almost every night.

On one of our free evenings we opted to attend a Mineral and Specimen party, hosted by a friend of a friend. It was a beautiful series of industrial-type warehouses, all open and semi-adjoined, connected to an open lot filled with food, seating and fire pits. We made our way from one gallery space to the next, admiring the stunning specimens for sale.

Perhaps my favorite sighting of the night was a large amethyst geode split, butterfly-esque in shape, that had already been claimed. It had a small post-it on it that said “SOLD LA County Museum.” It felt really intimate to see the connection between a noteworthy museum we frequent at home, and to have briefly met the person who had supplied its new specimen.
Large amethyst geode
In addition to (or in lieu of) event hopping, dining in Tucson is always a great experience - and we adore restaurants like Cup Cafe at Congress, Maynards and El Minuto. This year, as we walked into the Coronet Restaurant, we had a fortuitous run-in. Monica Stephenson (of @idazzle Founder of @anzagems and Co-founding collaborator of @moyogems) was also there enjoying a meal with friends. A few years back, Monica, along with a collective of other dedicated vendors - the Ethical Gem Suppliers - started a new Tucson venue called the Ethical Gem Fair Tucson. As you might expect from the name, it’s a collective of vendors focussed on ethical sourcing and practices around their gems. We’ve attended the show in years past, but thought we had missed it this year, given our abridged travels.

As it so happened, we were able to plan a quick trip to the Ethical Show the following morning, before leaving town, where we sat down with Monica to discuss the stages of her work supporting female mining communities in Africa, and how we may be able to collaborate together on a future project. It’s something we’ve been discussing for a few years now, and if the stars align, you may just see some NIXIN Jewelry pieces paired with Anza Moyo Gems in the future.
Nicki Gluckman
Night “in”:
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the one night we stayed “in.” Not in our own hotel room, but in the room of one of my vendors. You may recall, I mentioned previously not “needing” any opals when I left for Tucson; that I went primarily to visit with my vendors. Well, our night in was one of the driving reasons to head to the show. Prior to attending Tucson, I had asked one of my Opal Cutters, Steve Smart, if he would be open to my interviewing him; and he kindly obliged.

Although he and his wife, Evelyn, weren’t planning to exhibit until after I would depart from Tucson, they generously made themselves available early, while we were still in town, and we met them at their hotel the evening they arrived. It was wonderful to see them again, and Steve was a great sport as we worked through the interview.
When we finally finished the on-camera conversation, the off-camera conversation kept rolling. Steve and Evelyn couldn’t have been more gracious hosts; together we enjoyed champagne and in-room dining, and we spent most of the evening together, learning more about each other.
And yes, we of course sifted through the opal stock — all of it — and left with more opals than we needed (did I mention we drank champagne?)… and the next day returned for what we didn’t take the evening prior — because we have a soft spot for beautiful opals from wonderful people.


What I’ve come to realize is that I don’t need to travel to do what I do. In fact, I believe I do it better when I don’t — when I am here to focus my time on my work and my Clients.

However, there is an intangible value that I place on interpersonal relationships. It’s important to me to work with people I like, who are honest and kind; people who are their word — because integrity matters to me and I want to have good experiences - that begin on the back end of what I do and transfer down to my Client experiences.

By personally knowing the suppliers that I work with - as many as is realistic - I bring myself, and my Clients, closer to this reality. It allows me to provide a sense of trust around my work; and that is invaluable - especially in an online era. Without trust, you have nothing.

That’s why, every winter, when my kids beg me to stay home, and my opal vault is already full, I still trek to the desert…and I love every moment of it.

Come explore our creations in shop and see the results of these magical desert forays.🌵✨

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