Get Ready for Tucson: The Amazing “Gem Show” Also with Minerals, Fossils, Jewelry, Beads, Tools, and Supplies!

Jump in! If you’ve never been to the Tucson shows before, you’re going to be overwhelmed. Just accept it. Go, drink in as much as you can, and revel in the experience. You’ll learn along the way. If you’ve been to Tucson before, you already know that you’ll continue to be overwhelmed for as long as you keep going. There are more than 45 varied venues this year; no one can see them all and few would want to. Besides, even the most efficient, business-focused plan should include some fun. Take time and pleasure to eye some of the unexpected treasures on offer or display, and seeing friends from far away.

ABOVE: For some reason, this dinosaur skull replica encrusted with seed beads caught my eye as I walked past MineraliA®’s tent at the 2018 Pueblo show; photo: M.White

Basic Buying

As with any trade or retail event, you can and should do some advance planning. Whether you’re a collector, artisan, manufacturer, retailer, or hobbyist, and whether you make jewelry, cut stones, or work with beads, you know the drill. Before you leave home, figure out what you have and what you want, and how much you can spend. Then be sure to take these details with you — and look at them when shopping.

I can’t pass up orange, so of course, a couple of years ago in Tucson, I had to snap a photo of this multistrand necklace of spessartine beads from Mahey Gems & Jewellery Ltd; photo: M. White

I can’t pass up orange, so of course, a couple of years ago in Tucson, I had to snap a photo of this multistrand necklace of spessartine beads from Mahey Gems & Jewellery Ltd; photo: M. White

Check on both your tools and supplies, including packaging and displays if you sell anything. Think about your next likely opportunity to shop in person for that kind of merchandise, and decide if buying something at Tucson is a must, a good idea, or just one option. Take photos of your current inventory to have with you on site. Note sizes, colors, gauges, materials, alloys, varieties, shapes, and quantities. Include who you’ve bought from and how satisfied you’ve been with those purchases. Add what you’ve paid for everything. Don’t have some of that info anymore? Let that be a tip for your next purchases: write it down and keep it organized.

Tucson’s 10+ Dimensions

Robin Hood silver pendant by Cryptic Jewelry: you never know who you’ll see at the shows! Photo: M. White

Robin Hood silver pendant by Cryptic Jewelry: you never know who you’ll see at the shows! Photo: M. White

You can always break down categories further, so I’m not going to figure out the precise number, but consider this. Tucson’s gem, mineral, fossil, jewelry, bead, tool, and supply vendors offer at least half a dozen categories of adornment- art- or earth-science-related merchandise. Shows are open anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, with overlapping starts, runs, and closes. The venues, once upon a really long time ago, used to be clustered downtown but that’s ancient history. Now downtown is just one cluster among others north, south, and east as well.

The Formula and the Solution

Tucson show guide 2020

Given the equation of 6 product types + time (1) + space (3) = 10, what you have is a whopper of “a” show to figure out. Fortunately, the 2020 Tucson Show Guide offers you the details you need: dates, places, and complete vendor lists for all the shows. There’s even an annual buyers’ directory section with product listings that indicate if a vendor is exhibiting at the Tucson shows and if so at which show or shows.

Tips on Buying at the Tucson Shows

John Heusler’s Ocean Voyage pendant project appeared in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist, January/February 2018.

John Heusler’s Ocean Voyage pendant project appeared in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist, January/February 2018.

If you’re going to the gem shows to buy gemstones, you’re in luck. Long-time Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist contributor John Heusler is a miner, collector, lapidary, metalsmith, and gem dealer (at Tucson, no less). With all that experience, he’s an expert on buying gemstones. Over the years he’s shared so much of his insight about gem materials in his many Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist projects, as well as a buying-focused recorded webinar.

Lexi Erickson’s Conical Petrified Wood Pendant project appeared in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist, February 2010; photo: Jim Lawson

Lexi Erickson’s Conical Petrified Wood Pendant project appeared in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist, February 2010; photo: Jim Lawson

If you’re interested in some of the more exotic finds at Tucson, long-time Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist contributor Terri Haag can clear up a lot of questions for you. Native Tucsonan and an accomplished artist and fossil devotee herself, Terri also grew up in the mineral, gem, and meteorite business. She thrives writing about the more unusual things from earth . . . and beyond.

What Are You Going to Do with All That Stuff?

It is so easy to come home from Tucson with many cool things but few ideas about what to do with them. That’s particularly true if you’re active in some aspect of the fields represented because you love it, but it’s not how you earn your living. Fortunately, we have many solutions for this happy problem as well.

Helen Driggs’s Silver in Quartz pendant project appeared in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist January 2010; photo: Jim Lawson

Helen Driggs’s Silver in Quartz pendant project appeared in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist January 2010; photo: Jim Lawson

For instance, stones! It’s never too late to learn to set stones, but it’s an especially good idea to understand their setting before you buy them. That way you’ll be a much better judge of how settable a specific stone is, and how much of a challenge it will be for you.

Madeiran Brimstone Butterfly from Brick-Stitching Nature: Charts for Beaded Butterflies, Dragonflies, and a Honeybee pattern compilation download by Karen Parker

Madeiran Brimstone Butterfly from Brick-Stitching Nature: Charts for Beaded Butterflies, Dragonflies, and a Honeybee pattern compilation download by Karen Parker

Or beads! Different shapes and placement or number of holes likewise need special consideration in beadwork. The more you know about different bead stitching and weaving techniques, the more you’ll be able to do with the beads you bring back, or already have in your stash.

Hope to See You There!

Wirewrap artist Naomi Hinds let me try on her gem shades made with tourmaline slices when I saw her in the Pueblo show courtyard one year. Not that I ever need rose-colored lenses to feel good at Tucson, but they did add to the fun that day. Photo: Naomi Hinds

Wirewrap artist Naomi Hinds let me try on her gem shades made with tourmaline slices when I saw her in the Pueblo show courtyard one year. Not that I ever need rose-colored lenses to feel good at Tucson, but they did add to the fun that day. Photo: Naomi Hinds

Yes, being prepared for Tucson means planning ahead and staying focused on your mission when you’re there. But it also means being prepared to stop and join in the fun when you happen to walk by it. Fun is part of the experience, and you never know what you might learn from it, too.

Merle White is Editor-in-Chief of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist.

Subscribe and Keep Learning

The best way to prepare for the Tucson shows is to keep making, practicing, and refining your knowledge of your materials, tools, and techniques all year long. Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist and Beadwork magazines inspire you and keep you expanding your knowledge base from one Tucson season to the next, so subscribe now to bone up for the 2021 shows!


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