Let’s Rock!: Gem shows attract vendors from around the world

By Laura Latzko

Tucson has become a hub for rare and collectible gems, minerals, fossils and handmade jewelry, thanks to annual gem, mineral, fossil, gem and jewelry shows that pepper the city in the fall and winter.

This year, the Tucson Gem, Mineral and Fossil Showcase officially runs from Saturday, January 29, to Sunday, February 13, with some shows starting earlier or ending later than these dates.

A grouping of shows, the showcase offers various price points, gemstones, mineral specimens, lapidary equipment, beads, clothing and fossils.

Jane Roxbury with Visit Tucson says the show respected in the gem and mineral world for its size and scope.

“Our Tucson Gem, Mineral and Fossil Showcase is known as the largest event of its kind in the world,” she says. “It is on the calendar of everyone who is in the industry. It’s the largest event that brings dozens and dozens of shows together, operating simultaneously.

“You can’t cast a wide enough net around the people who come to these shows. It’s a lot of hobbyists, a lot of Etsy shop proprietors and a lot of Etsy personal shoppers.”

Pima County recently instituted a mask mandate requiring people to wear a mask indoors if 6 feet of physical distance is not possible. Institutions within the county are expected to adhere to this policy.

Patrons should check with individual shows for more information about mask requirements.

The showcase has proven to be vital to Tucson’s economy. A 2019 study revealed the 65,000 visitors pump $131 million into the city annually. The visitors patronize the shows as well as hotels, restaurants, bars and microbreweries.

One of the larger shows Downtown, the Pueblo Gem and Mineral Show is spread out throughout the 8-acre grounds of the Ramada by Wyndham Tucson, 777 W. Cushing Street.

The show, which runs from Thursday, January 27, to Tuesday, February 8, takes over two ballrooms, converted guest rooms on the first floor, and smaller and larger tents set up on the property.

Maury Destouet, hotel’s larger company Tucson West Hotel Associates LLC, says pent-up demand will make the showcase a success.

“It is an enterprising business where you want to look at what you are buying because no two stones are exactly the same,” says Destouet, who collects wulfenite and quartz specimens.

He says that the buyers for the show are an eclectic group that includes mom-and-pop store owners, families and museum representatives.

The hotel offers a 2-acre courtyard to relax, a food truck court, nearby street cars, and a large parking lot with golf-cart shuttle service. (GemRide will not run this year.)

“It’s a very comfortable place to be. It’s not like going into an exhibit hall,” Destouet says. “We have a lot of outdoor areas. I would say we are very family oriented and welcoming and very different in our use of our space.”

This winter, the showcase is expected to include about 40 individual shows held in local businesses, hotels and convention and event spaces. Select events are open to the public, while others are reserved for wholesale buyers.

One public event is the 22nd Street Mineral, Fossil, Gem and Jewelry Show at 600 N. 22nd Street, which is expected to attract 50,000 attendees between Thursday, January 27, and Monday, February 13. Guests there will find minerals, gems, fossils, dinosaur and meteorite exhibitions, jewelry, beads and artwork. Parking is $5 to $10; admission is free.

Variety of offerings

The event’s origins date back to 1955, to a show organized by the Tucson Gem and Mineral Society at a local elementary school. Now, it is annual.

The Tucson Gem and Mineral Show will run from Thursday, February 10, to Sunday February 13, at the Tucson Convention Center with more than 200 vendors, a “micro-mineral” room, educational lectures and a junior education area.

Themed “The Show that Glows,” the show will feature a pavilion with 80 exhibitions presented by the Fluorescent Mineral Society. Admission is $13 for adults, free for children 14 and under with a paying adult, and $22 for two-day tickets.

The shows vary in scope and focus. The African Art Village, for example, features African beads, clothing, artwork, masks, home décor and oils, as well as performances and food. It is located at 279 S. Linda Avenue and runs from Saturday, January 29, to Sunday, February 13.

The American Indian Arts Expo from Sunday, January 30, to Monday, February 14, at 2830 S. Thrasher Avenue, will offer turquoise stones from the 1970s, live art demonstrations from American Indian artists, and repairs from an on-site silversmith.

During the showcase, venues will offer hands-on opportunities to learn jewelry-making from artists.

Artisans, studio artists and designers will host “The Colors of the Stone” at Casino Del Sol with workshops and exhibitions from Saturday, January 29, to Saturday, February 5.

Museums get in on the fun, too. The UArizona Alfie Norville Gem and Mineral Museum will be open at its new location inside the former Pima County Courthouse, 115 N. Church Avenue.

Some minerals, gems and meteorites at the museum are over 100 years old. The university started as a land-grant university for mining and agriculture and has received mineral donations since the beginning.

Museum Director Eric Fritz says guests can gather knowledge at the museum to use at the shows.

“They can see how things fit together and how that might fit their personal collecting taste. Then, they have a bit more focus on what they might look for at the gem show,” Fritz says.

Visitors will find interactive offerings, including a scanner that gives information on minerals found in everyday objects, a gallery with rocks that glow in the dark under ultraviolet light, and an optical bench that highlights the interaction between light and gemstones.

The museum will display pieces from American Jewelry Design Council members, who took part in a competition with a “secret garden” theme.

On loan from the Smithsonian, a 116-carat tsavorite garnet will be on display at the museum. It was originally cut in Tucson.

The museum’s hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays. Admission is $15 for adults, $10 for seniors and military, $5 for children 4 to 12 and Arizona college students, and free for children 3 and younger. Masks are required inside the museum.


more info

What: Tucson Gem, Mineral and Fossil Showcase

When: Most shows between Saturday, January 29 to Thursday, February 13

Where: Various Tucson locations

Cost: Many shows are free; some charge for admission or parking.

Info: tucsongemshowapp.com, visittucson.org