Updated January 2022
Have you heard of that mysterious and alluring gathering in Tucson where the rock hounds, crystal-lovers, and metaphysical community convene? From mid-January through about the end of February, The Tucson Gem Show takes over the the city of Tucson, as it turns into a treasure trove for beads, gemstones, crystals, jewelry making supplies, global antiques, and magical oddities. There is truly an energetic, metaphysical pulse to be felt in Tucson during this inspiring time. It's by far my favorite month of the year.
This year there are 51 shows spread throughout the city, all at different venues, from casinos and hotels, to tents on the side of the road. Edit: Due to Covid, the overall number of shows has declined; there are 41 shows this year (2022). There are shows that carry nothing but lapidary tools and huge rough rocks, shows for beading supplies, beads, and tools, some for precious stones and specimens, and also shows full of cheap mass-produced jewelry and beads. There is something for pretty much everyone at the gem shows!
WomanShopsWorld's booth at the 2017 Tucson Gem Show
Are you thinking of going to Tucson? It's a blast, but it's overwhelming for sure, and it definitely helps to have some insider tips.
I've been attending and/or vending at the Tucson gem shows for about 15 years, and I've definitely learned a thing or two over the years that are worth passing along. Whether you're on the vending or shopping side of the spectrum, these tips are helpful, so I'll dish them here.
1. Q: Is the Tucson Gem Show open to the public?
A: Yes and No. Some shows are open to anyone and everyone. Other shows are open to anyone with any kind of business license. Other shows require an industry business license. And some shows require industry receipts, other credentials, or even an invitation. It's definitely a good idea to look up the shows before you arrive in Tucson, and get an idea of what information you might need to bring with you. Many of the shows allow you to pre-register online too, so that you can avoid having to stand in long lines at the show.
Natural Crystal Quartz found at the Tucson Gem Show
2. Q: Speaking of credentials and paperwork, what all should I bring?
A: Here's a list of items that I find handy:
- Business cards, and lots of them
- Small copies of your resale license; some vendors will ask to keep a copy for their records, so it's convenient to have multiples.
- Business checkbook if you have one.
- Pre-printed stickers with your contact details and your business license number. Vendors will really appreciate this, because it will help save time at checkout.
- A small Sharpie so that you can take notes on business cards. (And please take notes. You think you have a good memory, I know. But the shows are complete sensory overload, and you will forget where you saw things. Save your brain space and write it down!)
3. Q: How do I figure out where all of the shows are?
A: I rely on the Tucson Show Guide to inform me of all of the shows dates and locations. These guides are also available in print form at most of the hotels in town. While it houses a calendar and show times, it also has a lot of ads that will make you want everything in the city, from huge Amethyst crystals to a blue diamond ring. I actually save my physical copy for most of the year, to flip through for inspiration and eye candy.
Opal Specimens at the Tucson Gem Show
4. Q: How do I get around from show to show?
A: There is a shuttle that goes around to most of the bigger shows. It's pretty convenient and it's free, but the shuttle can take a bit longer during busy times, so you can also use Uber or Lyft. And don't be scared to share a ride! Remember the city is over-flowing with people from all over the world who are into rocks, crystals, and beads; so there are lots of kindred spirits to meet!
5. Q: What do I wear?
A: Layers and comfortable shoes! Being in the desert, Tucson can be cold in the morning, hot in the mid-day, and then the temperature drops again as soon as the sun goes down. If you're anything like me, being comfortable is important to your decision-making abilities. So comfortable clothing is a necessity!
And please don't wear those cute cowboy boots you just got to the shows! You have to walk a lot at the gem show, so comfortable shoes are a necessity.
Large Rose Quartz Specimen found at the Tucson Gem Show
6. Q: How do I carry all of the stuff that I buy?
A: There are several ways to go about this. We always have a big box truck with us, so we run things out to the truck and then we drive home with all of our goods. But if you're in a rental car and flying home, things can get complicated (and heavy!) fast. Lots of shoppers use a rolling duffle to put their purchases in at the show, and then unload into their car before they go to the next show. Please make sure you lock your car and cover your purchases well! And also remember that lots of crystals and dyed stones can loose their color in the sun. So don't leave those new pink crystals sitting on the dashboard!
Dyed Crystal Specimens at the Tucson Gem Show
As far as getting it home: If you have a FedEx or UPS account, that's probably the cheapest way. There are plenty of stores around town where you can take your gem show finds to ship them home. We always bring a tape gun with us so that we can have the boxes ready to ship and just drop them off at the store. And here's a pro-tip: sometimes the stores run out of shipping boxes! So it's not a bad idea to pick up boxes early on in the show. If you save your receipt at FedEx, you can return any unused boxes that are in brand-new condition.
7. Q: Water or Margaritas?
A: Tucson is in the desert, and it is hot and dry. Literally within an hour of arriving every year, I can feel my lips start drying out, and my throat gets dry. You need to drink a LOT of water here to stay hydrated. It can be hard to remember to drink extra water, but make a habit of forcing yourself. Lots of vendors will offer you water. Take them up on it, even if you don't think you need it, and drink it!
The margarita scene is excellent, but for every margarita, remember to drink extra water!
8. Q: Should I bring cash or credit cards?
A: Both! Many vendors will only take cards over a certain amount. And sometimes cash can be quicker (and cheaper... it's perfectly normal to ask for a cash discount!)
And speaking of credit cards: call your credit card companies and let them know that you will be shopping at the show. Most of the vendors at these shows are from other parts of the world, and very few are actually from Tucson. So when American Express sees charges coming in from all over the world, they'll freeze your card in a heartbeat! If they know you're at the show, though, you should be able to shop without the hassle of fraud-provention alerts.
9. Q: Packing tips, or things I should remember to bring?
A: There are some Tucson Essentials that I pack first!
- Suncreen - Quite a few of the shows are outdoors, and that sun gets really strong. You'll be distracted by all of the amazing finds and nothing thinking about getting sunburned. So just lather on the sunscreen every day to avoid potential sunburn.
- Hand sanitizer - There's always a Gem Show Funk that goes around, with so many people from all over the world gathering in one place, touching and feeling all of the things. So please use hand sanitizer regularly, and wash your hands every chance you get. This year with the coronavirus outbreak, and so many vendors from China, this is even more important.
- Chapstick - it's dusty and dry here. Even if you don't normally use chapstick, trust me: you will need it here!
- Energizing aromatherapy - Sometimes coffee doesn't do the trick. A little aroma boost can do wonders for that mid-afternoon slump.
- Vitamin C or other immune support. Again, the Gem Show funk is not fun. Support your immune system in any way you can.
Display of Tourmaline Crystals at the Tucson Gem Show
While we don't vend at the shows any more, we always come. It's in our blood, so we can't possibly stay at home! Plus, desert temps in mid-January vs. a cold and rainy winter back home? Is there really a decision to be made?!
So if you see us walking around, please say hi!
I've also curated a little selection of some of our favorite goods, into a Virtual Tucson Gem Show Shopping section. If we were set up at the shows, these are the items that I would bring: