Tucson hosts the mother of all gem shows and, if you’re in town, it’s not to be missed!
Every type of polished or rough rock, mineral, gem, and fossil specimen can be found here. And, every type of shiny faceted jewel, in every type of imaginable setting, is being peddled all over town. You will find these treasures laid on blankets on the sidewalks and displayed in sophisticated, decadent exhibits. Some are in tiny hotels rooms and others in giant convention halls. But if you’re into this type of thing, I guarantee you, you won’t be disappointed. The Tucson Gem Show is one of a kind and the largest in the country.
A couple of days after we arrived in town, the 2017 Tucson Gem Show began, or I should say “Gem Shows”, with an ‘s’? That’s right, the gem show is actually made up of about 45 individual shows with different themes. Its official name is the Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase. It is, also, home to the biggest and oldest gem show in the world, Tucson Gem & Mineral Show®, and attracts an estimated 50,000 of visitors every year.
So, naturally, we had to go check it out. The shows go on for about two weeks in late January and early February. This year it ran Jan 17 – Feb 12 and it was an experience we will not forget.
As you can imagine, the city got a little bit busier when all the vendors and the visitors descended on Tucson. But, the experience was really cool, none the less.
So, how does the Tucson Gem Show work?
Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase, and its shows all over town, essentially take over the city for two weeks. It is a time in Tucson when the gem, rock, mineral, and jewelry world align and gemologists, authors, researchers, miners, and artists, along with about 4,000 trade companies gather here to share their treasures. And, treasures they do have! Not just in the form of rocks and gems but also beads, jewelry, knowledge, and expertise.
They display their glorious stuff in huge circus tents, expo halls, old movie theaters, warehouses, hotels, and in the city’s Convention Center. Nearly every hotel and every venue houses a “satellite” show. And I don’t mean just the giant conference rooms and convention centers, although those are full of shows too. What I mean is hotel “ROOMS”. Yes folks, you can walk down a hotel hallway, and the guest rooms will have a sign on them with the door open. You, literally, walk into a hotel room and you see that the sellers stuffed their personal belongs off to the side or the bathroom, covered them, and set up the rocks, gems, and minerals everywhere. Their beds, nightstands, dressers, are covered with gems. No joke!
It is just a little bit creepy but also fascinating. There are rooms that have a $10K minimum and there are rooms that sell tiny rare rocks. You name it and you can probably find it at the Tucson Gem Show.
Find Very Rare And Unusual Stuff
You will find vendors, gems, and minerals from all around the world at the Tuscon Gem Show. There is someone selling something from every continent. I found a Moldavite stone for a friend that asked me to look for it, on the first day I looked. Moldavite is a olive-green rock/gem found only in Czech Republic, formed by a meteorite impact. It is quite literally “out-of-this-world”, and I found it pretty easily in one of those hotel room shows, I mentioned.
Some sellers are nice but some are jerks – honestly, though, most of them are nice but you will occasionally run into an ass. I encountered one in a hotel as we were looking for the Moldavite. The guy was from Germany. I walked into this “shop”, aka hotel room, and asked if he had Moldavite and he was like: “Not me, you need a Czech seller”. So, I said, “Would you know where I can find one?” and his answer was…. wait for it .. “In the Gem Show Guide”. Really?! He was curt and unfriendly. I left his room and went directly across the hall to a Russian seller’s room. And, guess what? He had Moldavite! Yeah, the German guy was just being a jerk.
How To Find Out What’s Going On
Tucson Gem Show Guide Magazines are available during the show and they are free. You can find them at the entrances to all the big shows (of which there are many). You can also see the schedule for the Gem Shows online.
Most of the venues in the Tucson Gem Show are free. There are a one or two (that are just open to the public) that charge for entrance. The Tucson Gem & Mineral Show® is the original show and is part of Tucson Gem Show. It takes place the last weekend of the show in the Tucson Convention Center and it is also a show that charges a $13/person entrance fee.
Wholesale vs. Public
Most of the shows are open to the public but there are a few that are for wholesalers only. To attend the wholesale shows, you must have a business license, EIN number, and a business card that shows your business is related to the show in some fashion.
The Tucson Gem Show “satellite” shows that are open to the public, obviously, have higher, retail-type prices. But, walking around, we still saw some very good deals. The trick is to know what a good price is and not get taken in by the first vendor that has pretty, shiny things. When we walked around the main event, Tucson Gem & Mineral Show®, we saw copper cuff bracelets for $10 or $20 in different isles, and the bracelets were identical!
Fall Gem Show
Yes, folks, there is a fall Tucson Gem Show. It is much smaller comparing to the winter show but it does host some wholesale shows, as well as, public ones. And you better believe, we plan on attending 🙂
In addition to the official events of the Tucson Gem Show(s), there are also, what I would call, complementary shows. These are not officially part of the Gem Show but they are going on at the same time and are pretty cool. For example, we went to a Native American Arts Expo that was amazing but wasn’t part of the official Tucson Gem Show.