International Gem & Jewelry Show: Heathcote Earthings Purchases Reflect New Trends in Agates and Ceramics
I don’t get sucked in anymore. I’m an old hand at this buyer thing and when I attend a trade show for Heathcote Earthings I work from a shopping list, visit only the vendors I plan in advance, stick to a budget and go home.
Yeah, I don’t believe me, either. But I try this every time. The promoter Intergem puts on its International Gem and Jewelry Show all over the country throughout the year. In my region, the really BIG trade show is in Chantilly, Virginia, the next one there being in December, when my festival season is already over. So to get well stocked for my summer (including five county or state fairs) I decided to catch up with my favorite importers at the Timonium, Maryland show.
It is held at the Maryland State Fairgrounds, where I set up for many shows each year, including the Kennedy-Krieger Festival of Trees, Maryland Brewers’ Oktoberfest, and the Maryland State Fair (with my friends at Crystal Cottage). Since I work there so often, it feels funny to visit as a buyer.
I arrived a half an hour early and a dozen people were ahead of me in line. Before the doors opened, the line behind stretched about a city block, and that was for one of two buildings the show occupied.
At each show there are two sales floors, one that’s public and one that’s wholesale only. On the public floor, some vendors price at retail levels but most sell at wholesale prices in both areas. If you’re a lapidary hobbyist, this is the way to go. If you’re willing to buy by the strand rather than by the bead, trade shows will beat the prices of your local bead or craft shop by a mile.
I met two women on the public floor who were there for the first time. They picked up a strand of huge grade-A turquoise that had its ends tied together. They admired the quality of the stone, even at the $250 per strand price tag. “But it would be so heavy around your neck,” one remarked, not realizing that the strings of beads she saw everywhere were strands of workable material, not finished necklaces!
I had two items at the top of my shopping list today–1) Buy thousands of gemstone heart pendants on sterling silver bails 2) Buy many strands of the multicolor “Hello Kitty” style lampwork glass cat head focal bead that sold so well after we tried it last time. You see no pictures of these items in this post because I came home without them. My importer of Chinese lampwork glass might have the “Hello Kitties” back in a couple of weeks. And I placed a large order for the gemstone heart pendants. I love this product because the quality has been consistently high. The sterling silver bails almost never fail. I have a few stones in stock now and will have my new order in by the Cecil County Fair.
While I was not buying those, I did discover an exciting new trend in agate beads. Manufacturers are cutting dyed and natural agate into stunning, unexpected shapes. In the photo to the right, notice the flat squares, circles and twists. These and the huge funky wavy donuts really reveal the marvelous diversity of this stone–its colors. mottling and banding! Click on each picture for a more detailed view and description of the beads and my plans for them!
The first photo in this post showcases several strands of porcelain beads I was pleased to find. The warm colors and mottled finishes cause these to be mistaken for stone.
Being one of the first through the door, I had a great selection and was able to put together several sets this time, pairing large focal beads with matching accent beads for earrings. This combo pictured to the left is a fun one. We’d had fossilized coral beads before. But these have been rinsed in red minerals to bring out the detail of the fossil. I found strands of gold and red tigereye for earrings and I like the compliment of the two-tone tigereye to the red washed coral.
Although we don’t carry coral or pearls or other animal products, we do carry fossils. I was very tempted to pick up several large trilobites I saw…
I also added to our cloisonne collection with dolphins and a strand with a moon and stars motif. And I expanded our selection of painted and marblized glass beads. I just love these painted glass and always pick out a few for my own personal collection!
The sky blue heart bead, in the picture to the right, has stunning marble brown on it, in delicately laid strokes that seem to suggest tumbling human forms falling around each bead! I can’t wait to see how my customers like them.
I’ll have a few of all of these made up for Common Ground on the Hill, a wonderful roots music festival I look forward to every year. It takes place at the Carroll County Farm Museum in Westminster, Maryland, July 12-13. They showcase a variety of traditional forms of music, rotating on several stages around the grassy, treelined grounds. Tom Paxton is one of the headliners this year. This festival is vegetarian and vegan friendly, with lots of satisfying food choices. The event also attracts find artisans and several nice clothing vendors. I usually by some hippie duds there each year.
By the time of the Cecil County Fair, July 18-26, I’ll have made lots of earrings and pendants out of today’s finds. I’ll also have them along for the Howard County Fair. The special feature of that fair is that we set up a huge discount area and focus on closeouts there, making room for new inventory we order for the York Fair and Bloomsburg Fair.
My one regret, as I wrap up writing about this gem show, is that the items I buy there are all in the “free trade” economy. I regularly meet festival vendors who travel the world, trading directly with artisans and importing the goods for their booths themselves. I’m a homebody; I don’t travel. I buy from “fair trade” vendors as much as possible. At Heathcote Earthings, our standard is that a product must be fair trade and/OR be made of natural or recycled material. For this definition we consider glass, metals and ceramics in our jewelry “natural.” Other than dryer balls, which cut clothes drying time by 40%, saving on utilites, we carry no plastic and don’t provide plastic bags. So as I go from table to table, booth to booth, discerning quality from crap in my choices, I have no information about the chain of possession of these crafts, and whether slavery or child labor was involved. I can’t find out the environmental or labor record of the factory.
Once the strands are at home with me, I know I do good settings and make lasting pendants and earrings. I know I’m a fair alternative to “Mall Wart: your source for cheap, plastic crap,” as the bumper sticker goes. And I realize that people are drawn to the natural beauty of polished stones and art glass, as I am, while we all seek to repair our lost connection with the land itself and the energy that many believe flows through those stones we instinctively want to carry around.
I often notice that people gasp and lose their language for a few moments when they walk up to my booth and start to run their hands across a table full of tumbled stones, in every imaginable color. Even though I know these stones are mined like coal, I think it’s important for us, trapped in our bubble of urban civilization, to reconnect with something primordial–the magic of stones and, by extension, the magic of the Earth! For people of all ages and walks of life who start running their fingers through the stones like water, it seems a step in remembering something lost. Maybe, ironically, if we remember the beauty of the earth, even by possessing something torn from it, we’ll remember a humbler, less materialistic path. Maybe my stones of unknown origin help someone learn to be part of the Earth, rather than having dominion over it.