From Australia to England, vendors from around the world are gathering in Tucson for the United States’ largest mineral and gem show. The main event, the 59th Annual Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, starts on February 14 and runs until February 17 but is preceded by two week’s worth of independent shows throughout the city.
For an event that started off as a single, free show in 1955, the Gem Show quickly grew an international reputation. “For seven years we were the only show in town, then in 1962 there was the first satellite show,” said Gloria Quigg, publicity chair for the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show.
Since the show’s initial premiere and quick growth in popularity, the excitement around the show has drawn thousands of independent vendors and promoters to Tucson. More than 3,000 vendors have unique minerals, gems, fossils, rocks, beads and jewelry for sale at nearly 40 individual shows throughout the city.
One original gem show has morphed into an entire two week, city-wide gem and mineral exhibition that attracts more than 50,000 people per year. “The Gem Show is very much a huge asset to southern Arizona, not just Tucson,” said Michael Varney of the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. Varney also said that the gem show has helped turn one-time visitors into repeat tourists. “People that have never visited our beautiful Sonoran Desert before have a reason to come back.”
Varney added that the shows have become a big part of the city’s annual economic component. “Vendors come to Tucson and rent hotels, cars, eat in restaurants, buy gas, and go shopping here,” he explained. Gem enthusiasts can find thousands of vendors, both international and domestic, at multiple shows throughout the city located at hotels, in parking lots, and in large tents.
So how did the small, Southwestern city of Tucson gain an international reputation for gems and minerals? “We have something that’s unique … other shows just come to sell. We have minerals, gems, lectures, displays … its more than just selling,” said Quigg.
The show is not just for gem connoisseurs or serious buyers, but families as well, interested in experiencing some of the rarest gems, fossils, and minerals on the planet.
Young children can experience an up close look at minerals, gems, and fossils with University of Arizona Geosciences students. The undergraduate student club, Society of Earth Science Students, will have hands on activities set up for children of all ages. For the past 20 years, the club has been working with children at the gem show in the Junior Education Area. Here kids learn about minerals, fossils, and earth’s natural occurrences like volcanoes and earthquakes.
“Kids love it. The rest of the show is walking around looking at things in display cases, but this is hands on. They get to touch the minerals and fossils,” said Jessica Kapp, a lecturer in the Geosciences Department at the University of Arizona.
Kids also receive free take-home mineral kits. All activities in the Junior Education Area are free of charge and located in the North Exhibition Hall of the Tucson Convention Center. The show’s educational aspect makes this not only an entertaining show filled with unique geological finds, but also an experience where Arizonans and travelers from abroad can learn about and experience the earth’s natural and rare creations.
The Tucson Gem and Mineral Show at the Tucson Convention Center is expected to see roughly 19,000 visitors alone over the course of the four days that the show is located at that venue, said Quigg. The show’s event schedule has 250 retailers that are set to attend. Quigg says the show will feature 120 display cases, 60 of them Fluorite for the “Fluorite, Colors of the Rainbow” display.
For free of charge, the public is welcome to attend lectures and seminars that will feature topics ranging from Gem Photography to common local minerals found in the Arizona mountains.