Jewelry designers just love the Tucson Gem Show. Next to gemstones, it has the world’s greatest selection of bowls. Next to gemstones, bowls are my passion. I’ve already mentioned the fantastic mookaite bowls from the Show. This year, I gave in to my bowl passion yet again with the Pakistanis and their onyx bowls.
The Pakistanis set up at the same location and the same gorgeous onyx products at the Gem Show every year. For several years running, I would buy the less expensive onyx items and an occasional small nut bowl. This year, I bent to buying four onyx salad bowls, two bigger bowls for serving, and onyx dice as gifts for my mah jongg friends.
Not black onyx
Pakistani onyx is no ordinary onyx. It comes from an area in the eastern region, near the border with Iran. The onyx isn’t black but a multicolored stone that looks a lot like jasper. Onyx is a chalcedony and comes out of the ground—at least in the Pakistani variety—in a vast variety of colors. All of them with stunningly beautiful natural designs.
Bowl business boss
Doing bowl business with the Pakistani vendors was an experience in itself. The prominent figure at their booth was a small wirey man, who appeared to be the senior guy there. He was the boss. You could tell by his firm ranting, raving, perhaps swearing in his native tongue. I don’t know. I couldn’t tell. But the other fellows seemed to be fairly terrorized by the man.
He didn’t bother me. I was a customer. He appeared to like customers, if only by his ignoring them.
Art follows function
I picked out the bowls that I wanted and several pairs of onyx dice. I steered away from the non-functional items like statues. I consider the onyx pieces art, but they must be useful as well, holding cereal or salad while looking beautiful at the same time.
Let the negotiations begin
So, I placed my selections on a table near where a gang of the Pakistani vendors were standing. Now I needed to pay. There were price tags on the items but only silly American women ask “how much?” as if the vendors don’t understand, then pay the sticker.
Price negotiation at the Gem Show is standard practice among those in the know. Foreign vendors always haggle on price. American vendors never do. Bargaining with the Pakistanis was called for. So, with all the moxie and fortitude I could muster up…
“I bought this bowl last year for twenty-five dollars. I’d like to have that same price for this one this year,” I said. The young Pakistani man looked at me oddly and said in perfect English, “Well, let’s see.”
A vertically integrated onyx business
At the beginning of the price negotiation, I asked the young fellow about the onyx bowls and the company. “Yeah, we own the mine in Pakistan, make the bowls over there, ship them here, and sell them online and at tradeshows. Our company is Usman Imports. We have a guy working the mine in Pakistan; my dad runs the business here and, yes, he’s my father,” pointing to the old man.
“I got the idea he was the boss,” I said. “Now I know he’s your father.” “He’s our father” pointing to his brothers working the booth. “And you’re right. He IS the boss.” As a customer, I was glad I had status with the old man and wasn’t one of his sons.
“You speak English very well,” I said, getting on with the young man quite well. “Yeah, I was born here. But Dad doesn’t speak it. He runs the business here, but we talk to the customers.”
But, back to the negotiations…
In the end, I told the young man what I was willing to pay for my lot of selected onyx items. Before responding to my willing negotiations, he mumbled something to the old man, who nodded in violent agreement and shoved the young Pakistani back in my direction.
A satisfied customer always comes back
I left the booth with my bowls and a new regard for Pakistanis. I developed a relationship from learning about their business and negotiating on price, one that we both agreed to and was blessed by the old man.
The young man admitted that he remembered me from last year but lost respect because I paid the sticker price back then. He looked forward to talking with me again next year.
I look forward to more onyx bowls next year.