A Cut Above the Rest: Fall gem show glistening with opportunities

At the Fall Colors of the Stone show, attendees can shop for beads, gems, minerals, clothing, accessories and jewelry. (Garan Beadagio LLC/Submitted)

By Laura Latzko

Tucson has become a destination for gems, fossils and minerals because of its annual Tucson Gem, Mineral and Fossil Showcase.

Leading up to the winter shows, companies hold events in the fall for designers, gallery owners, hobbyists and consumers who want to shop early for beads, gems, stones, minerals and artisan items.

This year, the Fall Colors of the Stone show is Thursday, August 31, to Sunday, September 3, at Casino del Sol.

Garan-Beadagio LLC hosts juried shows in Tucson in the fall and winter, the latter of which is part of the larger showcase.

The company was founded in 2004 by Anna Johnson, a beadmaker, jewelry and traveling merchant, and her jewelry-maker daughter, Casey Kennerson. They also host artisan trade shows in California. Kennerson acts as show manager.
Kennerson said in the artisan show industry, it is important to visit Tucson, especially during the winter showcase.

“If you are a show promoter or an exhibitor, you want a presence at the Tucson gem show,” Kennerson says.

The event will have over 300 artisans, beadmakers, jewelry makers, ceramic artists, gold smiths, wholesalers, lapidaries and tradespeople.

Attendees can interact one-on-one with artisans who have been working in their crafts for decades and tradespeople who travel to find gems, minerals, beads and antiquities.
Some of the artisans will offer demonstrations. Kennerson says it allows them a chance to educate others about their work.

The selection will include items such as lampwork and antique beads, minerals, hand-cut gemstones, crystals, Hill tribe silver, raku ceramics, one-of-a-kind artwork, cameos from the 1800s, Ethiopian jewelry, tribal textiles and beads from Africa, apparel and accessories.
Kennerson says these items are often discovered in interesting places, such as an old warehouse in Germany or the home of a longtime collector.

“Especially with the antique or vintage, that is something you have to really search for. You have to get lucky to find that treasure trove,” Kennerson says.

The event offers a chance to look for materials early for selling or crafting.

“If you are a designer or store owner, it’s a great time to come and shop for everything before the holiday rush and stock up,” Kennerson says.

“It’s a little more laidback and not as crazy as the winter show. You can spend more one-on-one time with your suppliers.”

Kennerson says the show was designed for attendees with different interests, including those who want to decorate their homes or find something interesting to wear.

“We have a whole section of clothing, accessories and jewelry,” Kennerson says. “You can come and shop for yourself for all of those things. We have crystals and minerals you can decorate your home with. Even if you’re not into making jewelry or into gemstones in that way, we have all the other things, too.”

Kennerson sees antique beads and cameos being used in repurposed jewelry. Clothing styles from the ’70s and ’80s and big-bead necklaces are also becoming trendy again.
“It’s always going to come back in. You just have to wait long enough,” Kennerson says.

Throughout the four-day event, guests can take part in artisan workshops in areas such as beadwork, jewelry design and silversmithing.

They are taught by experienced craftspeople and designers.

“We keep all of them as nice, smaller classes so that everyone gets one-on-one attention,” Kennerson says.

Guests are encouraged to sign up for workshops early. There are additional costs to take these classes.

Kennerson says many attendees return for multiple workshops, which allows them to develop their skills.

“Sometimes, it takes a few different workshops to learn everything,” Kennerson says.

Her mother participated in the gem showcase in the ’90s, taking part in shows throughout the years. She and Kennerson started hosting their own in Tucson in 2004.

They started out with around seven exhibitors and grew very quickly to 50 the next year and soon 100 vendors. They’ve held them Downtown near Reid Park, but the casino was a better fit for their size and scope.

“We moved out to the casino because we needed the space, and they had unlimited free parking, which is so hard to find now,” Kennerson says. “That was one of the biggest pluses, and lots of food and new hotel rooms.”

Kennerson says their shows have a strong reputation in Tucson and built a returning customer base over the years.

“We’ve been doing it for so long that we have a loyal following,” Kennerson says. “All of our customers know that we bring in the truly unique and artisan-made, and we have the workshops. Even though there are 50 other shows, we are unique from them.”

Fall Colors of the Stone Show
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, August 31, to Saturday, September 2; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, September 3
WHERE: Casino del Sol, 5655 W. Valencia Road, Tucson
COST: Free admission and parking
INFO: colorsofthestone.com