For about three weeks in February, the town of Tucson, Arizona is taken over by jewelry, beads, rocks and minerals thanks to the Tucson Gem and Mineral show. The name itself is a bit misleading as there are, at last count, 38 shows during the show. It is the biggest fair of its kind in the US. Over 55,000 people come from all over the world to gather with other like minded afficionados. For someone with an interest in gems, minerals, beads and jewelry, this is the place to be. Nowhere else in the world would you see such variety and the sheer number of things on display is staggering.
The show that began it all, the Tucson Gem and Mineral show, started out, humbly enough in 1955, when a group of mineral and rock collectors from the Tucson Gem and Mineral Society decided to hold a free exhibit at a local school. It was such a success that they decided to hold another one the year after. Now, this Gem Show has moved to the Tucson Convention Center and a host of different shows have sprung up in various locations in town. It has gotten so big that even such institutions like the Smithsonian and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History have booths showing a portion of their collection.
I first heard about Tucson more than 10 years ago when I bought my first strand of sugilites from a dealer who came from Tucson. He had a dazzling array of stones, some of which I’d never seen before. And he told me that Tucson was where I could go and find everything and anything I could possibly want in gems. Fast forward to present times and I found out that even my beloved trade beads could be found in Tucson. Now I really wanted to go. Miraculously enough, a way was found, a few days carved out of daily life’s routines and I could spend a few days being in bead heaven.
What I found far exceeded any of my expectations. One thing I learned fast was that its impossible to see everything. And I wanted to see everything!! A friend who has done the show at least twice and has been to all the shows, put it in perspective “you can see all the shows, but it doesn’t mean you can see every booth there is.” There’s just so much to see. There were 38 shows when I went but each show had numerous sellers and booths, with the bigger shows hosting easily 100 vendors, maybe more. The trick is to decide on your priority and to stick to it. I wanted to see antique beads and gems so I duly limited myself to the shows carrying the best selection. All told I went to about 10 shows. Not bad for a first timer I thought.
Even by limiting myself, it was so easy to get overwhelmed by the shows I did get to visit. I found myself gawking at everything. There were huge mammoth tusks and fossils from all over the world. And tubs and tubs of every kind of gem and mineral that could possibly be mined from the earth.
And while there were plenty of rough gems and minerals, there was no shortage of the finely cut, high end gemstones as well. I had the pleasure of meeting John Dyer, who has received numerous awards for his work in cutting gemstones and the selection he had on display was magnificent.
I love gems in the pink spectrum and he had the biggest morganite I ever did see. The morganite is the pink stone in the middle and the the spinel (the big read one next to it) was not too shabby either–22 karats big and a whooping 269,000$! I got nervous holding on to their cases!!!
Just thinking about them makes me weak in the knees. Whew!
So far I’ve talked about gems and minerals, but I haven’t yet told you about the beads. That’s another story altogether. Tune in tomorrow for the next installment….