Lexi’s Lessons: 9 Favorite Shows Plus Tips for Shopping the Tucson Gem Shows

Happy, happy, joy, joy! That can mean only one thing! It’s January and the Tucson Gem Shows are starting. Yes! It’s a huge show of international proportions, the largest gem show in the world. In our business, the big question among all of us is, “Are you going to Tucson?”

Going to Tucson doesn’t mean that we will be golfing in fine weather or having a spa day at Ventana Canyon Resort. No way. We will be at the Tucson gem shows, also known as The Show, from “can’t see to can’t see” (before sunrise until after sunset), eating lunch from a taco truck, carrying around a 50-pound backpack, soaking our feet at night, saying a quick hi to friends, falling in bed exhausted at 8 PM and having the time of our lives!

Some of our favorite jewelry teachers having dinner and catching up at the Tucson gem shows.

Catching up with jewelry teachers and friends in Tucson. Left to right: Eva Sherman, Joanie Whitehead, Patti Bullard, Lexi Erickson, Debora Mauser, and Melissa Cable.

The next day, maybe classes and more “shopPING”! What those that don’t go to the Tucson gem shows don’t understand is that this is HARD WORK! And we love every minute of it and can’t wait for it each year. I can promise you one thing from personal experience: I have never in my life been more exhausted than from spending almost three weeks in Tucson during the The Show.

I have heard repeatedly that 90% of the colored gemstones in the world are found in Tucson during The Show. I think it’s true, so whether you are a seasoned pro or you are a show newbie, I hope I can offer you some advice on attending this year’s show.

Before You Arrive at the Tucson Gem Shows . . .

I hope you already have a room for The Show, because many hotels are booked a year in advance. But if you are just now deciding to go, there will be some cancellations, so check around. The prices will be inflated, but at least you have a room.

Make sure to confirm your room with a credit card and have access to your confirmation. Reservations get lost. Also, check with local B&Bs and realtors, because sometimes people will rent out spare rooms or their entire home during Tucson gem shows. Airbnb.com is a good source for reasonable accommodations.

washing rocks in the hotel bathroom at the Tucson gem shows

I can’t wait to get back to the room and wash my rocks to see more of their gorgeous colors and patterns.

A Must-Have for Negotiation Around Tucson

The best source for information about The Show is the Tucson Show Guide (TSG). The Show is not just a few smaller shows in hotels and a tent or two. It is an entire city-wide event with, I would guess, maybe 5000 vendors across all of the Tucson gem shows combined. The mere sensory overload of seeing billboards, delivery trucks, huge tents, giant dinosaur skeletons, and bustling people is overwhelming–and that’s before you even walk into a show!

But the TSG will give you opening and closing times of all the Tucson gem shows, ads and info about who has what and where, maps of the city, emergency phone numbers and, most importantly, the shuttle schedule.

Parking downtown for the big AGTA and GJX shows, for example, can cost $10-20, and it doesn’t matter if you are going to be there for two hours or all day. And if you park illegally, you WILL get a ticket. You can order the TSG ahead of time and plan your trip, but it can be heavy to carry around, so you can order the downloadable one and keep it with you on your iPad or tablet . . . just remember to always stash it away in a satchel or backpack so you don’t set it down or leave it somewhere in all the confusion of shopping.

Click on any image below to open a slideshow of more Tucson gem show photos.

Scope Out the Different Shows

All the initials and for the shows are very confusing. The TSG will tell you which shows are open to the public, meaning open to everyone, and which shows are wholesale only, meaning you must have an ID, tax number, business card, etc.

If you are not preregistered for some of the Tucson gem shows, you may have a long wait in line. Some shows specialize in mineral specimens or fossils only, so if you only want cabs, gemstones, or beads, you might forgo those shows.

Try to plan a day for each area of town, like one day you might just do the downtown shows, and one day the G&LW shows. If you only have three days to visit Tucson, check out your favorite vendors in the TSG and then make a plan to visit those shows.

dinosaur skeleton at the Tucson gem shows

Find the Deals

You can bargain at most of the shows along what’s known as The Strip, along the feeder road of I-10. There you will find a lot of individual and international dealers. Many don’t take credit cards (some don’t even speak English), and cash talks. Yes, here you can and should bargain for rough or slabbed rock.

Personally speaking, it’s also “buyer beware” more in this area. Perhaps the vendors didn’t understand my question, but in the past, I’ve bought something that wasn’t what I expected. So just pay attention to how you ask questions. Re-word the question and repeat it, if necessary. Shop around; unless you see some spectacular stone or bead that you absolutely cannot live without at these shows, you will probably see the same rock somewhere else.

Toward the end of The Show, prices sometimes drop, but don’t wait until the last day, because the vendor may have already packed your special stone. Now for the more high-end shows, haggling usually won’t get you anywhere.

shopping for gems and fossils in a tent at the Tucson gem shows

Lexi’s 9 Favorite Gem Shows in Tucson

If you have a limited time in Tucson and are an art jeweler who doesn’t cut your own stones, here are some of my favorite locations that carry what I use in my pieces:

1. AGTA (Tucson Convention Center, 260 S. Church St.) This is a huge and fabulous mostly high-end show. Cabs and faceted stones. I will be working for The Clamshell, booth 207. Please stop by and let’s meet! Wholesale only.
2. African Village (1134 S. Farmington Rd, I-10 & W. Starr Pass Blvd) Great stuff!
3. GJX (198 S. Granada, across the street from AGTA) This is a HUGE show. See Gary Wilson and the Idar-Oberstein Group of fabulous stone cutters here. Wholesale only.

Bill and Marian Fretz at the Pueblo Tucson gem shows

Bill and Marian Fretz

4. The Pueblo Show (Riverpark Inn, 777 W. Cushing St.) You’ll find Bill Fretz, John Dyer, Greg King (go to Greg especially for turquoise) and Greg Genovese here.
5. The G&LW Show (a combination of the original Holidome and the Gem Mall shows; 4475 S. Country Club Road) Another HUGE show. Wholesale.
6. Kino Jewelry Show (Kino Sports Complex; 2500 E. Ajo Way) If you like beads, this is the home of The Best Bead Show. Public.
7. Tucson Bead and Design Show (Radisson Suites, 6555 E Speedway Blvd) More great jewelry by Interweave artists.
8. To Bead True Blue (Doubletree Reid Park, 445 S. Alvernon Way) Wonderful things, artist beads, findings, and a great, classy show. Wholesale and retail.
9. SRGJ Shows (Grand Luxe Hotel, formerly the Grant Inn, 1365 W. Grant Rd)

See you in Tucson!


Read on for Lexi’s 14 Tips for Shopping the Tucson Gem Shows!

Find more on the shows and get the Tucson Show Guide in the Interweave Store!

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