Updated date:

Visiting The 2021 Annual Tucson Gem & Mineral Show

Chuck enjoys traveling and over the years has had the opportunity to visit many fascinating places in the U.S. and the world.

My at the annual Tucson Gem & Mineral Show  taking a selfie in front of a room full of large geodes with amethyst crystals growing inside them

My at the annual Tucson Gem & Mineral Show taking a selfie in front of a room full of large geodes with amethyst crystals growing inside them

A Long Time Tucson Event Challenged By COVID-19

Among other things Tucson, Arizona is famous for its annual Gem and Mineral show held in January and February each year. The show began in 1955 when the Tucson Gem & Mineral Society put on an exhibit in a local elementary school. The show appears to have been held over the course of a week or more and was open to the public. It was such a success that it was repeated annually over the next few years. During this time it attracted an ever growing number of both local attendees and tourists. It soon outgrew the facilities at the local school and was moved to a Quonset Hut at the County Fair Grounds where it continued to grow in terms of exhibitors and visitors..

By 1973 it was attracting exhibitors from major museums in the United States and Europe as the number of local visitors and tourists continued to grow each year. In 1973 the show was moved to the Tucson Community Center where the annual Gem and Mineral Show soon took over most of the event space during each year’s show. Following the completion of the new Tucson Convention Center in 1990 the annual exhibition was moved to that location where it soon took over much of that site each year.

My wife taking a selfie in front of a multi ton granite or marble bathtub for sale at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show

My wife taking a selfie in front of a multi ton granite or marble bathtub for sale at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show

Tucson Gem And Mineral Show Is But One Of Many Gem Shows

Over the years the Tucson Gem & Mineral Society’s Gem and Mineral Show continued to expand its footprint as museums in the U.S. and Europe began sharing some of their exhibits at the annual show. This attracted many new tourists from around the nation and the world who came to see the show as well as gem dealers who saw the show as a great opportunity to meet other dealers and do business as well as seeing it as an excuse to flee the cold northern winter and enjoy the sunny weather in Tucson.

Tucson’s mid-winter tourist business boomed as regular winter tourists were joined by thousands of gem dealers along with increasing numbers of wholesale and retail gem buyers who flocked to Tucson to do business. Hotels filled up fast during January and February with a tremendous amount of business being done by dealers operating from their hotel rooms.

While the Tucson Gem & Mineral Society’s Gem and Mineral Show only lasts a few weeks the buying and selling of gemstones, other mineral stones and fossils ended up continuing throughout the months of January and February as dealers came and went throughout those two months. Due to Tucson’s growing reputation in the field of gem and mineral trading some dealers ended up moving their businesses to Tucson.

While much of the original business was wholesale, gem dealers were not the only people coming to Tucson during the Tucson Gem & Mineral Society’s Gem and Mineral Show. Among the many tourists visiting for the show were collectors and hobbyists and it didn’t take long for retail gem dealers to see the Gem and Mineral Show as an opportunity to sell to a large and growing population of collectors and related hobbyists which soon added to the need for more selling space.

My wife looking through piles of beads seeking ones to make necklaces with

My wife looking through piles of beads seeking ones to make necklaces with

Gem Show Expands To West Side of Santa Cruz River

The Tucson Convention Center is located on the west side of downtown and just east of the Santa Cruz River and continues to host the Tucson Gem & Mineral Society’s Gem and Mineral Show each year. Occupying 181,000 square feet of the Tucson Convention Center each year, the Tucson Gem & Mineral Society’s two week show remains the focal point of the city’s annual gem and mineral event.

The growing retail gem business during January and February needed more room as it sought to expand beyond the already crowded hotels in the area near the Tucson Convention Center. Just across the Santa Cruz River lay a large swath of empty land which had been cleared for urban renewal in the 1970s and early 1980s but, like urban renewal projects in other parts of the nation, ended up stalled as local politicians and activists spent years after the land had been cleared arguing over how to develop the land. This empty land lay just a short walk across the Congress Street Bridge over the Santa Cruz River from the hotels on the east bank of the river to the empty land on the west side of the river.

For years every January and February huge tents housing hundreds of retailers were erected on this empty land. The hotels across the river continued to be filled with other wholesale and retail dealers as well as a few other locations in other parts of Tucson hosting Gem and Mineral events. All of these scattered shows and sites are collectively called the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show even though they are officially separate from the Tucson Gem & Mineral Society’s Gem and Mineral event at the convention center.

My wife posing in the midst of large geodes at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show

My wife posing in the midst of large geodes at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show

I Never Had Any Interest In The Show

When I moved to Tucson in 1983 I heard about the show but never paid much attention and never visited it until a few years after I met and married my wife. In 2008 my supervisor invited my wife and me along with a few of her other staff over for lunch on a Saturday afternoon in early February.

While I had spoken about my wife with my co-workers this was the first time they had met her. Some knew about me bringing her over from Russia five years earlier while the others knew she was from Russia so they were all eager to ask her about Russia, how we met and how she came to the U.S. (I describe this along with our challenging experiences in navigating the immigration process in my 2006 Hub Bringing Your Foreign Fiancée to the U S. A couple of the women noticed that she wasn’t wearing an engagement or wedding ring and, thinking it was a Russian custom, asked if that was the case. We explained that wedding rings were a custom in Russia as well but with the cost of bringing her and her two children over, the cost of suddenly having my household double from my two teenagers and me to the two of us with four teenagers overnight and her having to wait almost a year to get her Green Card to be able to work a wedding ring was not high on our priorities.

The Gem Show was in town at that time and we were assured that we could get a very good deal on an engagement and wedding ring there. So, after we left, we headed toward the nearby show that we were told about. It turned out to be quite interesting and my wife especially enjoyed it.

Fossils of three ancient fish.  Large one is an ancestor of today's sardines & herrings.  Two smaller ones are extinct ancient North American freshwater fish.  Don't know if the 3 were embodied in the same sandstone or were mounted in plaster.

Fossils of three ancient fish. Large one is an ancestor of today's sardines & herrings. Two smaller ones are extinct ancient North American freshwater fish. Don't know if the 3 were embodied in the same sandstone or were mounted in plaster.

I Finally Got An Engagement/Wedding Ring For My Wife

It was the end of that show’s run and many of the exhibitors were planning to leave after closing that evening while others were planning to stay through the next day, Sunday, which was the last day of that particular show.

We soon came upon a vendor who had sold most of the inventory that he had brought and was cutting prices on what was left in order to get rid of it rather than hauling it back to Montana with him. We saw a beautiful ring that would be a perfect engagement & wedding ring but it was obviously way out of our price range. However, my wife loved it and the merchant, who had said that he had had a very profitable two weeks and was anxious to sell the remainder rather than take it back home with him caused us to pause. The price had been slashed drastically but was still higher than I would have liked. However, my wife really wanted it and managed to talk him into an even lower price. It was still close to a couple of hundred dollars more that I wanted to pay as we still had our four teenagers living with us. However, I had payment from HubPages coming up in a couple of weeks which would cover about two thirds of the cost so I charged it on my Visa.

We were both impressed with the show and have been attending the Gem show every year since. My wife loves shopping and is an expert at sniffing out deals. She also has developed a flair for making jewelry for herself and as gifts for friends. For me it is like attending a medieval fair with sellers and their exiotic goods from all parts of the world and I enjoy walking around looking at all the different minerals and other products and talking with vendors from every nation on earth.

My wife sitting on a giant geode full of  amethyst crystals that had grown inside the geode.

My wife sitting on a giant geode full of amethyst crystals that had grown inside the geode.

Vendors From All Over The World From Afghanistan To Zambia

While the majority of the vendors are selling various types of minerals both in the rough as well as polished and carved, there are also a number of vendors selling fossils ranging from complete dinosaur skeletons to smaller fossils of ancient marine life or insects embedded in amber which is fossilized resin or tree sap. Amber itself is a popular gemstone used in jewelry. Insects often became trapped in the resin and ended up being preserved inside the resulting amber.

There are also vendors from India, Africa and Tibet selling local art, clothing and other items common to those areas. Beads are another popular item, most of which are mass produced in factories in China and other developing nations. These are prized by hobbyists for jewelry making. While raw stones and rocks are available by the pound or gram for hobbyists much of the mineral offerings are polished and carved into works of art. Some appear to be works of art by individual artists while others, due to their quantity and uniformity are obviously mass produced. However, they are not necessarily cheap and can still be enjoyed for their craftsmanship and beauty.

Geodes are another popular product. They are actually quite common and can be found in many places provided one knows what to look for and where to look for them. A geode is a common looking round or oval shaped rock found in sedimentary and volcanic rock formations. The geode consists of a harder rock material than the surrounding sedimentary or volcanic rock it was originally buried in. As the softer sedimentary or volcanic rock erodes away over time the geode, due to its harder material composition, remains behind after being freed from the softer rock that surrounded it. In addition to being composed of a harder rock material, geodes are also hollow with various types of crystals, including amethyst, having developed inside. When cracked open these ordinary rocks become objects of beauty.

Geode Learning Kit With 15 Geodes to Crack Open

COVID Pandemic And Tucson’s 2020 Annual Gem & Mineral Event

Because the political class didn’t really get on board with the media induced COVID Pandemic panic until mid-February 2020 and the lockdowns and business closings didn’t begin in earnest until early March the 2020 Tucson Gem remained a financial success for the local Tucson economy. The impact of the two month long Annual Gem and Mineral Show is huge with the 2019 show generating $131 million dollars being spent on hotels, restaurants, local temporary help employees hired for jobs directly related to the event and other businesses directly related to the show. In addition to the $131 million an estimated additional $69 million was spent by dealers and other tourists visiting for the show on non-event purchases from local businesses.

This is  a ceramic elephant at a booth selling traditional  Indian art fabrics

This is a ceramic elephant at a booth selling traditional Indian art fabrics

While the 2020 Gem and Mineral Show appears to have been minimally, if at all, affected by the COVID Pandemic in 2020. While I haven’t been able to find estimates for the entire event an

November 20, 2020 article in Inside Tucson Business newspaper stated that hotel revenues for February 2020, when COVID fears were beginning to rise, were $40 million dollars,

As usual my wife and I attended the event a couple of times in January and, when our daughter visited Tucson in mid-February the three of us attended again and on all three visits gem and mineral show events were going on at all the usual sites and the number of vendors and attendees seemed the same as in previous years. I remember being in one of the huge exhibition tents at the Kino show site and, upon seeing a number of booths manned by Asians, I thought that this might be a place where I could catch the disease (I had been following information about COVID online since the past Autumn) but then realized that most of the exhibitors, especially those from abroad, spend much of the year traveling a global circuit of gem and mineral shows and had probably left Asia months earlier and thus probably not contagious so I dismissed the concern and continued to enjoy the event.

My wife taking a picture of a small dinosaur  skeleton at a booth selling fossils

My wife taking a picture of a small dinosaur skeleton at a booth selling fossils

COVID Pandemic And The Future Of Tucson’s Gem And Mineral Show

On Tuesday October 27, 2020 the Tucson Gem And Mineral Society announced that, not wanting to be responsible for the spread of the Coronavirus they were cancelling their big show at the Tucson Convention Center. Organizers and sponsors of the other Gem and Mineral shows around town decided to postpone their events until later in the year due to fear of spread of Coronavirus.

Later in the year turned out to be this month (April). We managed to visit the three main shows over a couple week’s period. This year all three shows were smaller with fewer tents and fewer vendors. While the shows attracted a number of people the number of visitors were less than previous years. COVID was part of the problem as it probably had an effect on both the number of vendors, outside tourists and locals who feared COVID.

Polished amber gemstone with an ancient embedded inside

Polished amber gemstone with an ancient embedded inside

Like other social trends COVID may be merely an acceleration rather than the cause of some of the trends we are noticing. In leafing through some of the event booklets that accompanied the event I glanced at a short article saying that changing tastes and buying habits could result in large shows like Tucson’s Gem and Mineral show declining or disappearing entirely. The article attributed this to the millennial generation’s preference for online shopping rather than physically traveling to where merchants were selling. For years most of the merchants displayed their phone numbers and web urls on their business cards and signs at their booths. This year I noticed one booth had also included the vendor’s URL for its Etsy site (on an online marketplace for craft sellers and other small businesses) as well as its Instagram site showcasing the vendor’s wares. I saw some others that included Instagram and/or Pinterest sites where they displayed their wares.

Amber Stirling Silver Necklace with Leaf Pendant and Earrings

Travel costs are another factor. Not just airline tickets and hotel rooms but the cost of shipping and labor needed to load and unload their goods. Many of these brought a few tons of merchandise with them (rocks are heavy). Selling online can be much less expensive than the cost of carting heavy merchandise around the world hoping to sell it.

As King Solomon’s verse in the Old Testament book Ecclesiastes states There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.

2021 Tucson Gem Shows Locations

Of course , there were numerous COVID-19 Pandemic signs warning about COVID, social distancing, mask requirements, etc. However, I think the little human in the picture has a bigger survival problem than Coronavirus.

Of course , there were numerous COVID-19 Pandemic signs warning about COVID, social distancing, mask requirements, etc. However, I think the little human in the picture has a bigger survival problem than Coronavirus.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Chuck Nugent

Related Articles