For many goldsmiths and jewelry designers, both professional and amateur, the annual Tucson Gem Show held in January and February is the ultimate buying and networking event of the year. After hearing about it for years, I finally decided to see it for myself. Fortunately, my dear friend Cori Dantini agreed to join me, which made it all work AND all play. Thanks Cori!
In Tucson there are dealers from literally all over the world, and while it is possible to obtain colored gems and stones from places like New York, Hong Kong and Bangkok, to find exceptional examples of colored stones, or rare and unusual specimens, Tucson is almost like going directly to the source. And, if you are wishing you had a crystal ball to see what will be trending next year, look no further. Gem trends are set in Tucson.
For the novice, attending the shows can be overwhelming. Tucson Gem Show is actually 46 separate shows and each individual show can house 50 to 500 vendors, so there are many venders and venues, all with interesting products, good prices and helpful experts. If you are interested in attending the shows as a jewelry designer or goldsmith, you will likely want to attend the AGTA GemFair™ Tucson, which is the premier show that also includes seminars. The JOGS Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, the GJX Gem Show, the Gem & Lapidary Dealers Association Show and Pueblo Gem and Mineral Show are also great wholesale shows to attend. In order to get in, you will need to register and provide credentials such as a resale certificate. You will also find bead shows and classes, ethnic and tribal jewelry and unique and unusual minerals. There are many satellite shows including mainstream hotel shows where dealers set up displays in their room. “Fringe” hotel shows somewhat removed from the city center that usually cater to a particular industry such as tools, machinery, gemstones, jewelry, gifts, etc. There are also outdoor tent shows along Interstate-10, and local wholesale showrooms. If you have a vender you like to buy from, get on their mailing list to find out where they will be located, or find them on the Tucson Show Guide. Most venders will take credit cards, however you will have more bargaining power with cash.
There are many places to stay in Tucson, so there is no shortage of rooms. However, the inexpensive rooms are in short supply. Motel chains like Motel 6 may have nice rooms for around $85 per night, but getting a reservation during the show can be difficult. You should spend some time online hunting down good prices. We stayed at the Best Western Royal Sun, which is conveniently located to the best shows, has nice rooms with pool and jacuzzi, and includes a fast breakfast in the adjacent diner.
If you want to visit many shows, the AGTA GemFair offers a shuttle that can get you to all of the shows and save you money on parking. However, if you want to save time or plan to visit places further outside of Tucson like the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum or the Arizona State Museum, or to check out the shopping at La Encantada, you may wish to rent a car at the airport. Taking a cab to see these sites can run as much as $40. (which is also what we paid to get to our hotel from the airport.) Flying into Phoenix can get you less expensive airfare, then you can rent a car, and drive the 2-3 hours down to Tucson.
After a long day of hunting and gathering, there is nothing more needed then a great meal and cool drink. Our favorite dinner experiences were at Cafe Poca Cosa, a lively Mexican bistro where we were greeted by chef/owner Suzana Davila who heard our tale of woe (we did not have time to eat lunch – too busy looking for gems) and immediately found us a table (thank you Suzana!). Traditional and delicious! Another night we dined al fresco at a sidewalk table at the Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails, an innovative fusion of French and Southwest cooking.
What started 60 years ago as a show created by 18 local mineral enthusiasts and held in an elementary school has grown over the decades into the premier hunting ground for those looking to buy or sell anything from drop dead gorgeous tourmalines to massive geodes. The Tucson Gem show can be overwhelming and exhausting if you are not careful. Make a plan for where you want to go and pace yourself. You are not going to see the entire gem show, even if you were able to stay for a month. But don’t miss it! Tucson is the place to go to see every gemmy thing your heart desires, in one place at one time.