Here are some photos from my last trip to the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show back in 2007 – the largest, most elaborate, and most extensive gem show throughout the world! Every visitor is overwhelmed on their first experience at the Tucson show. Exhibitors, vendors and buyers from around the world converge on Tucson for about 2 weeks in January/February, with 40+ venues, many of them 360 yards (~329 meters) and more in length (or so I’m told that they’re the size of 3 football fields. I believe this after having walked the length of them over and over again during the 2 week run of the main shows). There’s so much to see and do in Tucson during the show(s) – the entire town IS the Gem Show! You want to stay in one of the hotels on the main shuttle run if possible, or at the wonderful Roadrunner Hostel. Tucson sets up a fantastic shuttle transportation system so that you can easily get from one venue to another, and most of the local downtown shopping as well. You can tell from the photos, I have a love of crystals, minerals, geodes, and all things unique, unusual and original.
The Dinosaur exhibit. Some of the items in this room are "the real thing", only a few are replicas. All of the Ammonite fossils are real, taken directly from the Aurora Ammolite Mine in Canada ("Ammonite" is the fossilized shell of the animal, "Ammolite" is the luxurious and rare gemstones produced from these shells.) The last image is the remains of an ancient shark. It took up almost the length of the entire room and they requested that no flash photography be taken of it. They had the exhibit well lit, however for me to get this great photo and allowed people to line up along one side to take photos. You can tell from the 6 foot ladder beneath the shark that each of the 4 panels is about 5 feet (~1.5 meters) long.
More fun exhibits just walking along the freeway "Strip".
If you ever make plans to go, I recommend ordering the Colored Stone Tucson Show Guide in advance to plan your trip. You also have to book the hotel, hostel or wherever you want to stay no less than 6 months in advance. Most visitors and vendors book their hotel for the following year as they’re leaving to guarantee a room. Every room in town will be taken by mid-November! I’ve stayed in the Hilton (where the Rio Grande exhibit is located and some of the best classes you’ll ever attend. Try to get into one of the Catalog in Motion classes if you can!), the Roadrunner Hostel (walking distance to the Convention Center, and great place to stay if you’re on a budget. they’ll even pick you up at the bus stop or airport and have self-serve waffles for breakfast every morning. very pleasant place to stay), and on this trip, directly on the Strip at the Howard Johnson. If you’re flying, don’t forget to find out what is or isn’t allowed on a plane too. Much of what you’ll buy won’t be allowed in carry-ons (on my first trip, I came home with tools, tools, tools, and more tools! don’t forget to check airport security rules for proper identification and sheathing of these items in checked luggage too!), and you might want to consider shipping your purchases home. Many of the hotels and vendors have services for this.
If you can go with a seasoned "veteran", all the better, but make sure to have the same goals in mind, or strategize and split up to cover more ground. Some dealers are "by appointment only", setting their appointments months in advance (primarily in the Gem Mall and the Tucson Convention Center), and many shows are wholesale only (you MUST have a business license and tax ID to get in). There are many dealers who won’t deal with anyone who doesn’t have a storefront and references as well – these are the Elite, and they come expecting to Sell. If you’re not ready to Buy, don’t even bother. The Colored Stone Guide can help you find out requirements for the different shows (wholesale only, retail, references, etc). Take a notebook to make a note of where your favorite vendors are located (which show location) and get on their mailing list so you can find them in upcoming years too. Most vendors stay with the same show exhibitors, and in the same space, year after year, but once in a while they move to a new space or different exhibit hall.
My favorite haunting grounds, though, are the hotels along the Strip. Dealers there don’t mind haggling or bartering. I even bartered services for one dealer who wanted some of his glasswork set into rings. They also don’t want to lug everything home, so BE SURE to stay through the end of the main shows (some end at different times than others. the bead show often ends early so plan accordingly if you want to catch that one) and you’ll get some great deals. Most importantly though, have a plan for what you’re looking for (even if you don’t know where to find it yet, anyone there will be happy to point you in the right direction), HAVE FUN . . . and wear your most comfortable walking shoes!