Tuesday, February 11, 2020

What is the Tucson Gem Show?

One of the benefits of living in Tucson is being able to attend the Gem Show every year.  The Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase, as it’s officially known, began in 1955 as an exhibition sponsored by a gem club at a local grade school.  There were competitions for different types of collections and the show lasted two days.

Sculptures created from rock formations on display & for sale
The following year the show was held at the Pima County Fairgrounds to accommodate more exhibitors and larger crowds.  Again, the show ran for two days.  Over the next several years, the show grew in size and crowds and in 1972, it shifted location to the Tucson Convention Center.

Booklets advertising various shows
In 2020, there is an exhibition in the Convention Center and also 49 other exhibitions in venues spread throughout Tucson.  The entire Gem Show lasts not two days but two weeks.  It typically begins at the end of January and runs through the middle of February; however, each venue sets its own schedule and many shows run for just one week.  Since moving to Tucson five years ago, I’ve attended the Gem Show annually with my mother, my aunt, and a friend.  It’s an outing we look forward to every year.

Lapis lazuli from Afghanistan
The Gem Show, as it’s commonly called, has transformed itself from purely an exhibition of mineral and gem collections into a marketplace selling gems, minerals, fossils, handicrafts, rare coins and maps, beads, tools for creating jewelry, and jewelry from around the world.  Each show includes numerous vendors.  Many shows are in huge white tents that are visible all around the city.  Most have free entry but the show at the Convention Center has an admission fee.

Jewelry & supplies purchased at the Gem Show
Some venues such as the African Art Village, specialize in products from a particular region.  Having been a Peace Corps Volunteer in Sierra Leone, I was eager to see what that was like so a few years ago, we went there.  There were vendors from many sub-Saharan countries but none from Sierra Leone.  All sorts of wood, basket, textile and other products were available, including shea butter which I used to make soap.  Other venues, such as the Holidome, are open only to wholesale buyers and while free, require registration.  Fortunately, my aunt has a business license because she makes and sells jewelry so I can get into those venues as well.

Trilobites & other fossils are exhibited
Spending an entire day at one of the shows is exhausting!  We wander up and down the corridors looking at all the vendors’ exhibits, frequently stopping to examine things that catch our eye.  We get lunch from one of the food trucks outside.  I inevitably end up buying jewelry I didn’t know I needed but decide I can’t do without.  I also buy materials for making earrings – which I’ve been doing for over 30 years – and necklaces, which I recently started making.  Then, we go on another day to a different location for more fun.

All kinds of rocks and minerals are available
The Gem Show brings vendors and visitors from all over the world to Tucson each winter.  Around 65,000 people attend so it gives a huge boost to the local economy.  There is also a smaller Gem Show in September.  Many of the same vendors participate in that show, too.  Every year I have a great time and I am glad I live in a city which hosts such a great event.