The Best Gems in Tucson are the People – Holly Hague Design

The night before I left for the Tucson Gem Show, I lay awake in bed with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Coming off of the rush of the holiday season, I had been scrimping time left and right to pour my heart and soul into a few showpieces that would make their debut at the Shine Show in Tucson, an invitational gallery showcase featuring some of the most talented jewelers and gem cutters in the industry. I was so focused, that it wasn’t until that moment that something started tickling in the back of my mind. I had made my VRBO reservations for Tucson four months prior, and yet, I had heard nothing from my host–no welcome, no check in instructions, nothing. Starting to worry, I shot my host a quick inquiry before doing my best to put it out of my mind so that I could get a good night's sleep.


One of the pieces I created for the shine show, featuring a stunning sapphire cut by Jenna Sloane.  While available, you can find this ring here

Waking with just enough time to get to the airport, a message came through confirming my worst fears. My host wrote back, as if we’d had a conversion about the matter, to inform me that he’d gone ahead and canceled my reservation. “What?” I replied, “I do not wish to cancel my reservation. Please. I need this accommodation,” but all I heard back were crickets. So there I was, barely a moment to spare, leaving for Tucson…with no place to stay. As you can imagine, a very quick internet search confirmed that most places were booked, so I could choose between more affordable but inconveniently far away (I hadn’t planned on renting a car), or right in the middle of the action, but pricey. I went ahead with convenience, and I found myself in a lovely and expensive hotel room.


Sleepy Holly arriving at the Tucson Airport


Exhausted but comfortable, I began the whirlwind of overstimulation that is the Tucson Gem Show. Dozens of shows are scattered all around town, featuring enormous fossils, mineral specimens, and the finest jewelry and cut gemstones from around the world.


My first trip to the show two years ago was pretty solitary since I didn’t know many of my colleagues yet, and omicron was spiking. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to connect with gem cutters and jewelers from all over the world, mostly via social media platforms like Instagram. So when I went this year, I was delighted to finally meet in person with so many folks who love gems and sparkly things, peers who are giving all their creativity and heart to make it in this extremely competitive industry.


The very talented Nadine Marshall  showing me her gems

As more and more connections transitioned from digital to irl, I was hit with a powerful emotion: I’m not alone. Jewelry and gem cutting work tends to be solitary, and most artists have at home studios. This means not leaving the house for long stretches, with pets and family as primary company. You can start to feel like you’re shouting into the void, relying on likes and comments to assure you that someone out there appreciates your work. But at gem shows, you are suddenly connected with dozens, hundreds of people who love the same things you do, and are working with creativity and enthusiasm to make their professional dreams come true.


Connecting with some wonderful gem cutters and jewelers over dinner: Jenna, Maria, Bex, Graham, Steven, Matt 

I recounted my VRBO horror story a few times during the trip, wondering exactly what my host got out of pulling the rug out from under me. Was it a short term interest free loan? Did he know he could make more money off of last minute Gem Show travelers? As I recounted my tale to Steven Tyler Manchini, an extraordinary gem cutter and jeweler (AKA Steven Tyler The Designer, check out his incredible work here), his response meant more to me than he could’ve known. After the punchline about me having to cough up the dough for an expensive place, he said, “Next time you’re in a situation like that, you give us a call. You’ve got people now, you don’t have to do it alone.” I can say from the bottom of my heart that the connections I made and the community I’m becoming a part of are by far the most valuable and enriching aspects of my gem show experience.


Gems sourced at the Tucson Gem Show

Now, that being said, I also picked up (a few too many!) sparkling gemstones this year.  I am beyond excited to create gorgeous, meaningful jewelry with these discoveries, and am thrilled to share my special finds with you.  Have a look at my loose gem selection to see some of these remarkable beauties, and don't hesitate to reach out if any are speaking to you! 

Leave a comment