Every year we go to the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show to hunt for the most distinctive beads and elements for your (and our) special jewelry designs. This is not your average gem show that rolls through town and takes place over a couple of days in a parking lot full of pop-up tents. This is the mother of all shows, featuring everything from raw crystals, to precious metals and gemstones, to carved wood beads, lampwork, finished jewelry, and so – SO much more! It is really a pilgrimage to go there – everyone should do it at least once. It is probably the largest convention of its type in the world. Shows are set up in a myriad of hotels and motels across this fun historic town – and there is something for everyone. Not to mention it happens at a great time of year (Jan/Feb) to escape winter weather and do a shopping vacation in a beautiful, warm and sunny place.
Shannon (my awesome daughter and co-owner of The Bead) gave me my first introduction to the 'Gem Show' as we call it. And believe me, a good orientation is essential to even starting to get your arms around it. From the logistics of getting and staying there, to where to go, how to choose what to buy out of the overwhelming array of choices, and some of the secrets and tricks of the trade are covered here. The seasoned visitor/shopper/vendor has an encyclopedic level of these details; here I am just attempting to address some of the most important tips for the first time visitor.
The first thing to be aware of is that you'll encounter retail dealers and wholesale importers – all mixed up and co-existing side-by-side at the shows. Retail dealers set up as they would at any other show; they are charging regular 'store' prices and are trying to get the attention of the serious collectors and spenders. The wholesale importers bring in large quantities of beads, gemstones, jewelry, findings and more – and some sell for amazingly great prices; many of these folks will also bargain – they are often trying to sell out their stock by the end of the show.
When dealing with a retail vendor, ask them what they have that is really new and/or special. They know their business and items better than you – capitalize on their knowledge to learn more about the latest rage, trending items and materials, and perhaps even buy something you might never find elsewhere. The trick with wholesale buyers is to look beyond the items that are commonplace or passe´ -- seeking out the most beautiful, new and/or rare finds. This is your chance to pick up something truly special, exotic, stunning, or whatever 'floats your boat'! Do remember that if you're trying to buy wholesale, you must have a retail business and provide proof of the business with your resale license/certificate.
If you have a lot of time and your schedule permits, great deals can be made by buying out the leftover stock of a vendor on the last day of the show. It saves them the trouble of wrapping and shipping unsold items home, and you can sometimes get a BIG discount off the regular price.
There are many shows that make up the 'Convention'. They are at scattered locations throughout Tucson and have staggered start dates and end dates.
The Main Show: All of the various shows grew out of the original Tucson Gem & Mineral Show (TGMS), also known as the "Main Show", that is held at the Tucson Convention Center by the Tucson Gem & Mineral Society. This is an enormous show – and is one not to miss. Here, you will find not only products and many special items, but places to shop, special lectures and displays, and more.
And even before the Main Show begins, there are many 'sneak preview' shows. All of these are listed in the Tucson Show Guide – a heavy, complete directory of all shows, dealers, special events, and travel information. Look for a general schedule of the 2015 show here: http://www.tucsongemshows.net/coming.html
Mainstream Hotel Shows: Entire hotels are booked with vendors. Booths are set up on one or more floors of the hotel, and the vendors sleep in rooms at the same location.
Fringe Hotel Shows: If you are in a bargaining mood, you might be able to find better deals at these less popular hotel locations – especially after the vendors have been there a week or more.
Wholesale Dealer Facilities: Some wholesale businesses have their own facilities in Tucson. Again, if you plan to visit these, be sure to bring your proof of tax exemption (resale certificate). 'Top Gem' is an example of one of these.
Tent Shows: There are several shows set up under large tents. Give yourself some extra time to walk through these – they are enormous! I remember my first time seeing a 'football field size' table display – every inch covered with enormous mounds of pearls. It is truly unbelievable!
AGTA Show: This is another show I put in the category of unbelievable! This is a special show for the sale and viewing of high end precious gemstones. There are armed guards, and you must obtain a special pass in advance to be admitted (generally, you must own a related business or have an association that will make you eligible). Inside, you will fall in love with glittering diamond beads, sapphires, rubies, and stunning jewelry fit for royalty! And believe it or not, some of the choices are even affordable. But even for the items that are not
within reach of the common woman (or man), it is still a show worth seeing.
Riverpark Inn (aka Pueblo Gem and Mineral Show):
This is only one of the many hotel shows – but I feature it here because it is an up and coming show with reasonably priced vendors and good quality. One of our favorite shops sells here (Natural Stones of Santa Fe). Sometimes we spend more at this show than any other.
My biggest tip? Plan right now! Affordable hotel and motel rooms are almost booked up as I post this. You can stay at a Motel 6, but if you wait to make a reservation there, you could end up paying $150/night instead of $75 - $100. Cruise Hotels.com or Travelocity or any favorite travel/deal site to find the best bargains – but don't delay. The main show starts in late January 2014, and some shows start even earlier (consult the Tucson Show Guide I mentioned earlier – you may even find classes you want to attend while you're there). Be sure you plan a trip for at least four days – a minimum of 1 day for the main show, 2 days for hotel shows, and AT LEAST one day for sightseeing. (Near Tucson you will find the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, Sedona (!!), and in Tucson itself there is the beautiful Desert Museum, Old Tucson, the Pima Air and Space Museum, the Kitt Peak National Observatory, and more. Here's a link to sightseeing information: http://www.visittucson.org/events/gem-show/
It can get cool at night, so bring a lightweight coat – and it's a good idea to bring a sweater and umbrella as well. But during the day it will likely be sunny and warm, so short sleeves are almost always the best option. If you have allergies, pack your Zyrtec or Claritin or whatever you use for that – Tucson has pollen in all shapes and sizes, and the time of the show is high season for allergy sufferers.
It is impossible to cover every possible question about this amazing show. But hopefully I've given you a taste of why it is so special and why you should consider going. And if you do decide to go, you will likely want to go back, again and again.
I should note that some of our readers live and work in Tucson, or are seasoned visitors to the show. We hope you experts will chime in to add anything I've forgotten to mention, share your thoughts, and give us your opinions.
Until Next Time,