Jewelry Navigator’s Adventures at The Tucson Gem Show 2019

When I started Jewelry Navigator Podcast last March, I had no idea where it would lead.

Fast forward nine months to December, when I finished out my 2018 podcast recordings with Roger and Rachel Dery of Gem Legacy.

Holiday craziness set in, and I felt it would be better to publish the episode when everyone was refreshed.

(By the way, it is one of my favorite episodes, and you can hear it on iTunes, Spotify, Podbean, and Google Play Music.)

A Cinderella Invitation!

Shortly after the episode was published, I received an invitation to the Launch Party for Gem Legacy, which was scheduled during the JCK Show in Tucson, at the JW Marriott Starr Pass.

-Graphic by Gem Legacy

I NEVER thought I’d be able to find a hotel, much less, an available flight into Tucson during the height of the AGTA and JCK Gem Shows.

Feeling like Cinderella left behind for the ball, I was encouraged by a dear friend to at least look into getting a hotel, and try to make it happen.

I followed her advice, and was able to find a reasonably priced hotel and airline flights a few weeks out from the show!

From Richmond, VA to Tucson

In the early morning of February 6, I left a cold DC metro area.
Later the same afternoon, I walked off an airplane, and welcomed by the bright blue skies and sunshine of Tucson!

Aerial view of our approach into Tucson. -photo taken by Brenna Pakes

Luckily, the area in which I traveled to and from the hotel and airport to scheduled events and shows was rather compact, and I found the Uber drivers to be kind, friendly, and helpful.

From the airport, I went straight to the Tucson Convention Center to register, and receive my badge.
The timing was perfect for a pre-arranged meeting with Travis of William Travis Jewelry.

-Photos by Brenna Pakes

He and I have been shuffling dates for a podcast interview, and I was delighted to have to opportunity to meet him in Tucson.

We visited in the sitting area of the Grand Ballroom of the AGTA GemFair™, then Travis introduced me to a few of his favorite contacts, who shared their insight on how best to view and visit at the show.

Afterward, I tagged along with Travis as he perused a premium selection of gemstones at one of the booths for specific clients and projects. (see photos above)

Star Struck with Bella Campbell of Campbellian Collection

I was so thrilled that Bella Campbell was the first jewelry I spotted – it's hard not to!
Bella has special powers when it comes to combining gemstone colors for fabulous and unique designs.

She's also won several AGTA Spectrum Awards for use of color in her designs.

Keep watching and listening for an upcoming podcast with Bella on the Jewelry Navigator Podcast!

Later that afternoon, I was scheduled to meet Roger, Ginger, and Rachel Dery, founders of Gem Legacy, for coffee, and funny enough, we ran into them while touring the show with Travis.

This was taken the day of the Launch Party for Gem Legacy, with Ginger and Rachel Dery. (Sorry, Roger! We need you in the picture next time!)

It was a pleasure to meet the Derys after hearing and sharing their Gem Legacy Story on the Podcast. 

We shared more about our common interests of college sports, and aviation, and touched on other ways to partner together for Gem Legacy.

Wednesday, after the closing of AGTA’s GemFair for the day, I walked to a local taco and beer bar.
I forgot how cold the desert nights get, and wish I had worn my red pea coat, rather than the space-saving blazer.

Thursday's Excursions to a Seminar and the GJX Show

Thursday morning, I attended one of AGTA’s free seminars, presented by Kate Peterson, CEO of Performance Concepts, entitled “Color – The Key to Winning the Millenial Customer”.

Kate shared rising market trends and how to best apply them for shopping attention, and how to adjust the aim to a moving target of changing demographics.

After the seminar, I enjoyed an early lunch in the warm Tucson sun.
The clear blue skies enticing menus of local cuisine was a welcomed rest.

The food truck cusine was delicious!

Every day was a race against the sun, as most shows close at 6:00 pm for the day.

After enjoying a delicious burrito lunch, I briskly walked to the JGX tent.

I was promised the exhibits would be many and magnificent, and the description didn’t fail!

I found that if I didn’t follow an itinerary of gem cutters and designers I wanted to meet that I became overwhelmed easily. 
I regrouped, and focused on finding one gem cutter I follow and admire on Instagram, John Dyer Gems.

Once I got my bearings in the maze of tents, and the flow of the booth addresses, I found John Dyer’s triple sized booth.

John shared his background, and how his interest in gems grew from early entrepreneurial endeavors as a homeschooled child.

(Can’t wait to visit with John to share his story on the podcast!)

After finishing my tour through GJX, I was lucky to catch the show shuttle just in time, and finished the day at the Pueblo Gem show, just a five minute walk from my hotel!

The Pueblo Show Was a Rabbit Hole of Gem Discoveries!

I’d been told of exhibitors transforming hotel guest rooms into their showrooms, but was unaware of how many exhibitors were concealed beyond the courtyard of giant six foot crystals and geode furniture.

I watched as show guests disappeared beyond the courtyard exhibits, and found flyers posted in the hotel breezeways of exhibitors and their designated rooms.

One in particular caught my eye – Tucson Todd Gems. It’s a catchy name, and the font and styling of their poster was reminiscent of a merchant you might find in an Old Western town.

As random luck would have it, I realized I had featured a pendant created by the designer, Mary van der Aa, who teams up with Tucson Todd (Todd Wacks) on my Instagram feed a few weeks ago. Her name is .
She's a Graduate Jeweler Gemologist, GP, and AJA.

Above are two of Mary van der Aa's pieces from her Aria collection.

-photo Sara Rey Jewelry Photography.

@maryvanderaa_official New for 2019! Introducing “Aria”. Featured in January 2019 Rapaport magazine, this exclusive design brings sparkle and brilliance to any ensemble or event. “Aria” features bold and colorful, hand-faceted and selected gemstones set amidst a sparkling sea of hand pave-set, ethically-sourced diamonds. Each of these bespoke pieces is handcrafted using the utmost in quality, and is surely a prize to be cherished by any discerning collector.

Contact mary@maryvanderaa.com to create your own “Aria”, or to check current availability. .

Life is a song we sing, sing it in luxurious style with “Aria” by Mary van der Aa.

.For more behind the scenes action follow @maryvanderaa on Instagram



Mary and Todd are both Graduate Gemologists with a hands-on approach to their gems and jewelry.
Todd acquires and cuts stones, then Mary designs around the stones he factets.

Todd is responsible for uncovering a previously unknown variety of color change garnet referred to as “Pastel Pyrope” garnet, with color change from pink to purple.

The garnet had been discovered in the late 1980's in Tanzania until Todd brought it to GIA's attention for further research.

Click here to read more about these color change Pastel Pyrope garnets, in GIA's Gems & Gemology, Spring 2015, Volume 51, No. 1, “Color Change Garnets From Tanzania”, by Duncan Pay.

At their Riverpark Inn exhibit room, Mary entertained me with the many gemstones faceted by Todd, along with her jewelry designs featuring the unique gemstones.

You can see by the gems and jewelry I discovered at Tucson Todd's exhibit why I was so excited!
To shop from Mary van der Aa's collections, visit her site at maryvanderaa.com
She works from a commission basis, and is also featured Park Avenue Jewelers in Tucson.

Even Mary's hair is as beautiful as the gems she uses in her jewelry!
I really enjoyed meeting her, and look forward to sharing her story, and more of her jewelry!

After Dark at Starr Pass

Thursday night, I met up with the Derys at JCK’s annual Gems After Dark celebration on the Ania Terrace at the JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort.

Ginger Dery was like a gracious host, and introduced me to other industry members between my visits Thursday night, and Friday morning for the Launch Party.

Debra Navarro is a jewelry designer, and Graduate Gemologist, who has accompanied the Derys to East Africa on four trips.

Shortly after meeting Rachel and Ginger, I was introduced to Debra, who is as kind and warm as she is talented!


Debra Navarro and I at her JCK Show booth -photo Brenna Pakes

She, Roger, her assistant, Marguereite, and I enjoyed cocktails inside as they shared their gem excursion and African safari adventures with me.
That evening, she wore her Vincent Cocktail ring, for which she had earned the Industry Choice Award.


Debra Navarro's Vincent Cocktail ring featuring a 10.50 ct raw green beryl, accented with 0.26ct diamonds, set in recycled 18kt gold.
-Photo Debra Navarro

After the Launch Party on Friday morning, I made sure to stop by her booth in the JCK Show to see more of her jewelry.

Above photos both by Debra Navarro, and are pieces from her Watu Collection.

Debra's been instrumental in sharing how Gem Legacy's mission works from mine to jewelry in her own collections.

Besides using raw gems sourced from the East African mining communities Gem Legacy works with, Debra names many of the pieces within her Watu Collection after people with whom she's come to know from her trips to Africa, whether a miner, driver, or a member of the Gem Legacy team.

Pictured above is the “Ginger Drop Necklace”, and described on Debra's website as

“The Ginger Drop Necklace connects us with the people and the place that it came from. The Tenda Cut Malaya Garnet carries 3.12 CTW and the Spessartine Garnet carries 3.26 CTW. The necklace is made of 18K recycled yellow gold and sand pave. Additional natural colored diamonds account for 0.85 CTW.” – photo Debra Navarro

Brenda Smith Jewelry

I also met Brenda Smith who's won several awards for her jewelry designs, including one for her Firework Earrings.

Brenda's story is an amazing one that I look forward to sharing!

Even though my time in Tucson was somewhat of a whirlwind, it was a great first visit, and I look forward to returning next year!

There are over thrity Jewelry Navigator Podcast episodes, including the one that shares more stories about my adventures in Tucson.

Subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, or Podbean for tips on jewelry, and to hear stories of the designers I feature.

After listening, I'd love to hear what you think! Leave a reaview in the platform you use to listen to podcasts, or reach out by email brenna@jewelrynavigator.com.