Monday, February 13, 2012

The Tucson Gem Show

Rare Vaseline Beads made in Czechoslovakia
A couple of weeks ago I was in Tucson, Arizona for the annual bead and gem show.  This was only my second time.  It is a huge event for Tucson--in fact the biggest event of the year.  Actually, there are 42 different shows going on during the two week period.  Obviously a person can't attend them all.  I went to five, and it was too much to see and process.  Vendors come from all over the world, and it is safe to say that it is not just the biggest event in Tucson, but it is the biggest bead/gem show anywhere.  The convention center is filled with hundreds and hundreds of vendors.  Huge tents are set up all over the city; hotel ballrooms are flooded with stalls.  The entire city's hotels are completely booked just with the vendors.  I don't know where the buyers stay!

I try to keep myself under control.  There are only a few things I wanted to look for:  old African trade beads,  Hebron beads, tomato beads, wedding beads, pearls for the cat collars, interesting brass, check out the amber (just look!), check out the lapis and turquoise...

First of all, there were literally tons of pearls. The tents with the fine gems included pearls where a single pearl was valued at thousands of dollars. Strands of large baroque pearls were thousands of dollars.  I eventually found my way to very inexpensive pearl strands that would work fine for my needs.  I love lapis, but all the strands I saw were obviously dyed.  Beware:  most lapis and coral these days is dyed.  I won't use a dyed material, so, no purchases there.  My weakness is, was and ever shall be, African antique beads.

There is a place at the Tucson Gem and Bead show called African Village, and that is a must stop for me.  It is outside, and reminded me of Kofuridua in Ghana.  African traders had piles and piles of  beads for sale--  some cheap, some valuable.  The best way to do it is to walk around for a long time, looking at all the stalls, locating the beads, and prices you want.  In order to get the best prices, you have to choose one vendor, one stall, for your business.  So, the walking around, asking questions, sorting and looking takes a long time; the actual purchasing goes pretty fast (I would say too fast).  And that is what I did.  I found one place that had almost everything I wanted, and chose my beads.

I fashion valuable beads into wearable jewelry.  It is not really a profitable business because jewelry buyers are not necessarily bead collectors.  So while bead collectors (including myself) will spend real money on beads, jewelry buyers don't know or really care about that value.  Knowing this full well, I try not to buy really valuable beads.  However, my eyes strayed and stopped at the aquamarine vaseline beads, the large,antique white and blue Venetian beads, more amber, and old amazonite.  As we sat in the back of the shop and counted up my bill, with discounts on everything, I impulsively added the very expensive strand of vaseline beads.

Vaseline beads are glass beads which were made in Czechoslovaki over a hundred years ago for the African trade.  They came in many colors; red, yellow, green are common. Then there are the opaque vaseline beads.  The aquamarine  opaque strands are collector items, and, I was simply unwilling to leave it behind.

And I still don't regret it.

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