It has been called “The Greatest Treasure Hunt in the World”, and the city of Tucson, Arizona is invaded annually by its participants.
“It” is the Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase — the largest event of its kind in the world. From its start as a one-weekend show put on by a local club (the Tucson Gem & Mineral Society), The Tucson Show (as it is commonly called) has grown to encompass more than 40 separate gem, fossil, and mineral shows located at venues ranging across the entire city of Tucson. It has become so important to the City of Tucson that the City Manager’s Office created a position for a TGMS Liaison Officer.
Many of the shows are open to the public, although there are a few, such as AGTA (American Gem Trade Association) and GJX (Gem and Jewelry Exchange) which require proof that you are a wholesale buyer in the gem and jewelry business. One year, as I was standing in line at GJX to get my badge, I overheard a woman trying to get in with a reseller license for an interior design business – she was turned away.
It is difficult to imagine the scope and range of this event unless you have experienced it. From cheap tchotchkes to rare minerals to the most magnificent gemstones and jewelry, The Tucson Show has it all. As someone before me has said, if it’s not at Tucson, it probably hasn’t been discovered yet.
It is not just designated event venues that host the various gem shows. Any open space will be taken over, either by RVs where dealers just park and set out their wares on a table or by tents (some simple pop-ups, some that are hundreds of feet in length, complete with air-conditioning). If a show is located at a hotel, not only is every public space in the hotel given over to vendors, but the rooms themselves become stalls.
The photos below were taken at this years’ 22nd Street Show, one of the event-tent venues.
The Tucson Show By Numbers
- There were 42 separate shows in 2018.
- Start-to-finish, the event runs for 28 days, although the majority of shows occur during a two week period in the middle of that time.
- An estimated 55,000 visitors come to Tucson for the shows.
- More than 3,300 dealers, representing over 30 countries, participated in the shows.
- 42 gazillion dollars changes hands. Not really – I just made that up! No one know how much business is done, but it is almost certainly in the millions of dollars.
An Abbreviated Timeline
- 1955: The Tucson Gem & Mineral Society organized a small club show at the Helen Keeling Elementary School. The show was held over one weekend, and about 1,500 people attended.
- 1956: Because of their success the previous year, the show moved to the Pima County Fair and Rodeo Grounds.
- 1960: The Smithsonian Institution was invited to attend, and Paul Desautels, the assistant curator of the Smithsonian’s mineral collection, brought some noteworthy items to exhibit. The Smithsonian’s participation continues to this day.
- 1961: A 19,227 carat ruby from Ceylon was exhibited. The first satellite shows occurred, in an empty gas station across from the fairgrounds, and motel-room sales started in the Holiday Inn South.
- 1966: The show was extended to 3 days.
- 1970: The British Museum exhibited and lectured, and legendary gemologist Campbell Bridges brought tsavorite garnets and emeralds from Tanzania.
- 1972: The show moved to the Tucson Convention Center and was extended to 10 days. The satellite shows have continued to grow.
- 2018: The Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase runs from January 19th through February 16th and includes 42 shows with more than 3,300 dealers (according to The Tucson Show Guide).
See What My Tucson Finds Have Inspired
To see what I create with my Tucson Gem Show treasures, visit my website: studio44jewelry.com