Don’t Miss Tucson’s Gem and Mineral Show This Weekend
The long-running showcase of gems, minerals and fossils leaves no stone unturned.
By Robert Danielson
In my ongoing quest to discover unique places in my new home state of Arizona, last weekend I decided to turn over a few more stones—literally. Just over a hundred miles down I-10 West is a sparkling gem of a destination: Tucson and its Gem, Mineral and Fossil Showcase.
This event started in the 1970s with a small gathering of gem and mineral collectors. Today, the event is hailed by promoters as “the Giant of all Gem Shows, the largest of its kind in the universe.” It features more than 50 individual shows and 4,000 exhibitors, and draws more than 65,000 people from 42 states and 17 countries across the globe. An economic impact study commissioned in 2019 found that the Gem Show, which is Tucson’s largest annual event, generates $131 million in direct spending each year.
The event is really two shows in one: the official Tucson Gem and Mineral Show (registered trademark) which ran this year Feb. 13-16 at the Tucson Convention Center; and the larger three-week Tucson Gem, Mineral and Fossil Showcase which has burgeoned to include dozens of venues throughout Tucson. Some of these venues include stadium-sized tents along I-10 frontage roads, smaller tents that pop up throughout neighborhoods all over the city, on blankets on sidewalks, hotel ballrooms and even in individual hotel rooms.
Most of these shows have adjacent food trucks and occasional live entertainment. They generally open between 8 and 10 a.m. until close at 10 p.m.
The event at the Convention Center, which charges admission, includes children’s activities, museum-quality exhibits, lectures, exhibitors and food. It is traditionally held on the final weekend of the larger three-week “mineral madness.”
We had no intention to attend the showcase, but it was hard not to when this treasure chest of collectibles engulfs the city. Where ever we went, we encountered pedestrians walking blocks – and even miles – from their parking lot to the venues, tents with rocks spilling from within and purveyors with credentials hanging around their necks.
I’m not a collector, of anything. I was mystified why a bunch of rocks would create such a frenzy, fill parking lots and nearly every hotel room in the city. So, who exactly visits the Gem Showcase?
According to its web site, the Showcase attracts “researchers, gemologists, authors, artists, miners and nearly 4,000 trade companies from every continent to share their treasures, knowledge and expertise.” A significant portion of this event is geared toward the professional supplier and wholesalers who
buy gemstones for use in jewelry and other wares. Some venues only admit professionals with business licenses, but the public is welcomed at most shows, and all are free.
You can find just about anything. Items range from gemstones, rare diamonds and meteorites to boxes made from petrified wood, jewelry, desert animal sculls, beads, home decor items and gifts. At some of the larger venues, appraisers are on-site. But organizers recommend buyers do their homework before attending the event. Some vendors also provide shipping to your final destination.
Getting between venues that span the city’s 226 square miles can be a challenge. There is a free GEMRIDE Shuttle with stops at approximately 40 venues. The shuttle intersects with the Sun Link Streetcar system that connects four bustling business and entertainment districts and the University of Arizona, along with the Sun Tran bus service.
We took advantage of this opportunity to see an attractive, compact and walkable downtown. Microbreweries, outdoor patio restaurants, artisan craft galleries, the Tucson Museum of Art, Old Town and historic sites such as the Congress Hotel (where Dillinger was famously captured) topped off our weekend treasure hunt. A short 10-mile drive south of downtown, don’t miss the Spanish Colonial-style San Xavier Mission, the oldest structure of its kind in Arizona.
If you haven’t been before, and have an interest in attending next year’s Gem Showcase, visitor officials say it’s not too soon
to start planning now as most hotel rooms sell out early. Next year’s event is January 30 to February 14. Mark your calendar now.
While we had no intention of going to Tucson to look at a bunch of rocks, we are happy we did. When you turn over a stone, sometimes you discover a real gem.
More Desert Dirt
I consulted a few experts and have some tips on surviving the annual Tucson Gem, Mineral and Fossil Showcase. Here’s what they advise.
- We amassed about five pounds of guides to both the official Convention Center show and the larger Showcase. They are available at all venues, Visitor’s Centers, and hotels throughout Tucson. They are invaluable resources. Make good use of them.
- The official show’s website, tgms.org/show, provides exhibitors, schedules, lectures and events.
- Haggling is permitted, and even encouraged, particularly in the smaller tent shows throughout the city. But be respectful, don’t waste the exhibitor’s time, and don’t say, “I’ll be back” if you don’t mean it. They have a nickname for those shoppers, “be-backers.”
- The final weekend often offers the best buys, as suppliers are hoping to unload their inventory before heading home.
- If you plan on doing some serious buying, experts offer the following advice: bring your business license paperwork if you are a wholesaler; dress nicely and be polite; make a list of what you are looking for; plan your route in advance; and don’t deviate or browse (stick to the task)..
- Have a parking plan. Tents and vacant lots used for parking look alike. Use a parking app to help find your car after a long day of gem-hopping.
- Most importantly, have fun and enjoy all the treasures Tucson has to offer.
Editor’s note: The Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, as well as the larger Gem, Mineral and Fossil Showcase, runs through Valentine’s weekend through February 16.
Robert Danielson is a 35-year career journalist, marketing and public relations expert. He joins us here at Phoenix Home and Garden Magazine as he explores the Valley as a newcomer to our region. Please welcome him by e-mailing him at RobertDigsIntoArizona@gmail.com