The 2023 Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase
A “Show” features a unique presentation at a set location. A “Showcase”, however, features numerous shows throughout a city occurring during a similar timeframe. And the Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase is the largest and most expansive Showcase in the world. Occurring annually throughout the desert city of Tucson during the winter, the last week of January through the first two weeks of February, allows for plenty of flexibility for when to visit as well as a cool break from the summer desert heat.
This Showcase features over 40 shows. And many of these shows can easily take an entire day, or longer, to see all that is being offered. So clearly, one must have an organized and purposeful itinerary to see all the shows that meet a particular interest and search prerequisite. If one is interested in mineral specimens, fossils, gemstones, decor, jewelry, beads, and any other item remotely related to the Earth’s rocks, gems and minerals, it will be there – in abundance. It can be found on tables, in small to huge tents, in conventions centers, warehouses, hotels, hotel rooms, expo halls, and even in trunks of vehicles. And items can cost between pennies to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Or more. The scope and size of this Show defies description – it has to be seen and experienced to be understood and believed! (If you’ve found your way to this blog post, you’ve seen my site, and thus you likely know my interest and expertise lies primarily in quality mineral specimens and mineral decor, so I won’t pretend to speak authoritatively to the Gem and Jewelry industry and its representation at The Tucson Showcase.)
My first trip to The Tucson Showcase, 10 years ago, was a mind-boggling experience! I had no idea where to start, but after a few searches and some phone calls to some experienced show-attendees, I made my first pilgrimage to Tucson. And I’ve been back every year since.
Getting to Tucson is fairly easy. If you fly, the Tucson airport is within 15 minutes of practically every show, and there’s a wide variety of hotels to meet any budget. Driving is fairly straightforward as well – I even made the drive myself one year – from South Florida to Tucson (only 32 hours . . . ).
For starters, you’ll want to download a list of all the available shows, their locations and dates/times they’re open. The descriptions of each show will make it easier to determine which shows match your interests and what you’re looking for. I would recommend downloading the Tucson EZ-Guide found here: https://xpopress.com/guide/profile/21/tucson-ez-guide and then pick up a free hard copy or two when you get to Tucson (they’re literally everywhere).
Once you make it to the various shows, you’ll notice that practically every country is represented in The Tucson Showcase. You quickly learn the predominant minerals found in each country as they are similarly presented and displayed. And interacting with the various personalities from numerous cultures is beyond fascinating! You’ll want to be prepared to apply some basic negotiating skills – you can always ask if the price is negotiable, and if you bundle more than one piece, the price is almost always negotiable. Many shops offer “keystone”pricing – that is, 50% off the listed price. In some instances you will even find “double keystone” price, which is 50% off, then 50% off again – which means a total of 75% off the listing price. And pricing can be very inconsistent; for example, you could find a nice piece of Vanadinite at one of the numerous Moroccan shops for $50 and a nearly identical piece at a different Moroccan shop for $200. If a price seems too high, it probably is. If a price seems too low, the piece is probably damaged or lacking in some other quality/qualities. So be alert, and never be pressured into buying something you’re not comfortable with – politely say “I’m just looking around” or, “just taking a quick tour right now, thanks for letting me look.” Stroll around the show to get a feel for what’s being sold and for what prices. Then hone in on those choice pieces you have your eyes on. But – don’t wait too long; if it’s a really nice piece at a really good price, someone else is likely to have their eyes on it . . . I should also mention at this point that you will be dealing with either retailers or wholesalers. Of course a wholesaler’s prices will be substantially lower than that of comparable products from a retailer, but technically, you are required to have a resale license to purchase from a wholesaler. I’ve noticed more and more wholesalers are “looking the other way” and will sell to anybody, but you certainly can’t assume that will be the case, so be prepared to pay retail price for an item unless you have a resale license.
And speaking of paying for items, there are a number of ways to pay at the Tucson Show: Of course, cash is always accepted, even preferred at some of the international booths. In fact, at a number of booths cash is the only accepted form of payment. Surprisingly, checks are still broadly accepted. I don’t understand it – maybe some of these booths have proven techniques for collecting on bounced checks, but nevertheless, it is a common form of payment at most booths. There’s now more and more vendors taking credit cards – access to the internet is no longer a problem as it was 10 years ago. A few vendors will charge a 3% fee to cover credit card fees, but aside from that rare example, get the plastic and start earning points! Another method that has gained acceptance and popularity in the last few years is peer-to-peer (P2P) mobile payment apps, such as Zelle and Venmo. They allow the transfer of funds from a linked bank account to another recipient with a similarly linked bank account. The apps are free and there are no transaction fees for Zelle (because it is linked directly to a bank), and a small 1.5% transaction fee for Venmo (since it carries a cash balance). The recipient’s information has to be uploaded onto your app, but it’s a simple process, and when my debit card was flagged as “possible fraud”, and my cash in pocket was nearly gone, Zelle saved me from losing a stunning flat of Moroccan Vanadinites!
Now to the show: This year’s showcase was once again very impressive – good inventory and generally good pricing with great selection and variety. Add to that high temperatures in the mid to low 60’s with lots of sun – simply spectacular! And I average between 5 and 6 miles per day of walking, which means I get in around 35 miles of walking in a week’s time – that’s gotta be good for the heart!
My top 5 shows are as follows: 22nd Street Mineral, Fossil, Gem & Jewelry Show, Pueblo/Rapa Gem & Mineral Show, Kino Gem & Mineral Show, Mineral City Show, and RMGM Tucson Mineral & Fossil Show. There are many, many more, but these 5 shows alone can easily take a day each, and I often go back to one or more later in the week as time allows (and as budget allows . . . ).
But it all began with the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show (TGMS) back in 1955 in an elementary school. Now it occupies the Tucson Convention Center and takes up over 181,000 square feet of space – well over 4 acres! You must experience the big show once, which I did on my first trip, but after that, it doesn’t work for me. Here’s why: As the original show grew, dealers began selling to other dealers before the big show started. Having found great success at this approach, more and more dealers began doing the same thing, and then doing it earlier and earlier, until now these pre-show sales have eclipsed the big show and many start up to three weeks before the big show. The big show is still a huge and must-see show, but now the dealers place their prices often above retail (even embarrassingly beyond retail), while the wholesaler’s best prices and inventory is being presented three weeks in advance. Not many of us have the luxury of hanging around Tucson for three weeks to get the best deals and still see the big show. For my first trip to Tucson, I went a couple of days before the big show in order to catch the end of some of the earlier shows. But what I found was the stock was depleted and the vendors were already packing up their good stuff to go set up at the big show and sell. And the big show was truly amazing, but it was so overpriced it was embarrassing – in 181,000 square feet of retail space I purchased just one item that I thought was reasonable. So now I go a day before my aforementioned 5 favorite shows begin, shop and negotiate for a solid week, and then pack up to go home well before the big show even starts.
Speaking of packing up: There are a few ways to get your pieces home. The easiest is driving them home. But for long distance buyers and fliers, you can take them with you in your carry on, but NEVER put them in your checked baggage – there’s a really good chance some of them won’t make it home in one piece. It’s happened to me, it will happen to you, so don’t do it. Boxing them up and shipping them home is better, simply because your boxes won’t be opened, “inspected” and haphazardly put back in. As long as you pack a box within a box with lots of bubble wrap, you stand a very good chance of an uneventful delivery. And then take your extra fragile pieces on the plane with you – but purchase shipping insurance anyways . . . For me, the best and most reliable method of shipping is via a pallet – simply because the boxes stay level, allowing even fragile pieces to be safely shipped. Then you make sure the pallet is non-stacking, and wrap enough plastic wrap around it to make it look like an oversized cocoon! And it’s not as expensive as you might assume – depending on where you live, it will cost between $250 -$450 for a pallet weighing under a thousand pounds. UPS is the best, and their customer service is very helpful; they’ll get a pallet for you, help you load it, plastic wrap it for you, and fill out all of the necessary paperwork for you. Please note: UPS only takes cash. No exceptions.
Another thing to consider is what to do with purchased items while roaming around a show. Since parking is often a long walk from where you are at any given time, you could be holding a heavy box or bag of minerals, or both, for a long time. Many buyers have a backpack, or a wagon, or a small flat cart, or a spouse, or in my case, a convertible hand truck, to haul around items. Whatever your choice, be prepared – it’s a lot of walking around the shows, and almost always a long walk to the car/truck/van. If you know you’re only going to buy a few items, you’ll probably be fine. But when you see that 40 lb Amethyst Geode that you have to have, and you’re the one that’s gonna have to carry it – it’s gonna hurt!
And finally, because it is the desert, always have lots of water on hand, bring lots of lotion, have a hat in case it gets hot during the day, and bring a jacket because it cools off quickly when the sun goes down.
Be warned: Once you visit the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show, you’ll be hooked and going back again, maybe even every year – I know, it happened to me!