Visiting Tucson for the Gem Show

How, to sum into words, the magnificence and overwhelming-ness of the Tucson Gem, Mineral, and Fossil Showcase.

You can’t. It is not a thing that words can truly explain. It has to be experienced.

This is the largest gem and mineral show in THE WORLD!

I used to live there, and had lived about half of my time there before I got deeper into my jewelry-making journey. Then I moved here, and I am grateful that I spent so much time living there that I have friends and I know the public transportation system pretty well, that saves me a lot of money. In fact, if I did not have these things, I could never afford to go.

When was the last time you went to the state fair? It doesn’t matter what state (or country, even). You have a general sense for the acreage, the amount of booth spaces, the amount of people. Now imagine, it’s all rocks, beads, stones, fossils, tools, supplies.

Heaven, yes?

Offically, TGMS only encompasses the convention center, But, all told, this year there were over 40 venues running. Some ran for a few days, some ran for a few weeks. Each venue had 20-250+ vendors. What venue you attended depends entirely on the kind of shopping you do. High-end gems? Convention center, JGMS, 22nd Street show. Do you own a shop, looking for wholesale deals for your store? Holidome, Jogs, etc.

I have not been to any of those, usually outside my budget, price range, and/or needs.

This year I went to 6.


There is an area of town some people call Mineral Alley, where you can find almost a dozen venues with a range of products from cabs to minerals, fossils to golf-cart sized geodes in sunlight-free rooms. I bought a half-kilo chunk of Labradorite, 5 strands of pointy coral beads, and enough high end cabochons to last me all year, if not more. Two of my six venues down.


Along the interstate are a number of motels, and usually about a half-dozen of them end up being shows. Tents outside taking up parking spaces, lining the walkways and surrounding dormant pools, meeting rooms and lobbies, and most first floor motel rooms, all vending. Some beads, cabs, but this is also where you find a lot of the not-gem people, selling blankets, tapestries, singing bowls, smudgers, Indian and Chinese incenses, leather work, tchotchkes, and etcetera. Also, is usually where you find some ginormous stones, the guy with the 2’ tall Herkimer diamonds, and a lot of rocks you would buy as a lapidarist. I only purchased from one booth, acquiring some metal beads, heishi beads, and a trio of graduated fan focals. The duo running the space were a mother and son, and the son was struggling on writing on a card for the mother, and I suggested some poetry with images of sunflowers turning towards the sun, as children do when following their parents.


There used to be these three shows in different parts of town, and I would go to one of them regularly and another occasionally. Then, a few years back, they all combined together into one show and out at Casino Del Sol. So YAY, a day at the casino to shop for beads. This is the show that is for people like me: people who make jewelry, costume or higher. Beads, tools, wire, classes, workshops, artists. The vendor I was looking for wasn’t there this year, bummer, but maybe next year. Parawire is always here, and I bought square and half-round wires. I bought strands of stone and glass beads at one space, seed beads and metal findings at another. More seed beads and dagger beads and metal findings at another.


But the biggest, brightest star of our journey is the Kino show, at the Kino Sports Complex.

You can’t see it all in one visit. Heck, I didn’t see it all in two visits. I found a woman who was closing her store and trying to be rid of everything, so I got some really good deals.

The first day when I got there, it was still below freezing, and this one space had these water fountains carved from stone, and the ice crystals froze on them, and made them look magnificent. I wonder if they were carved to accentuate this freezing.

You can find everything at Kino. There is always this one tent that is full of all you need for Native American crafting. There is always this one tent that is filled with tables with huge honking chunks of malachite. Like housecat sized chonks. There are always these booths with ginormous tanks of rocks for lapidarists. If there was a one-stop shop for most things, this is the place.

I bought agate slices, cabochons, beads, star shaped stones.


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