Well, I finally feel like I’ve “conquered” Tucson and know the gem shows enough to write this blog post! This year marked my third attending–not consecutively but third time in my life. You can read about my first time visiting the Tucson Gem Shows here, and my second time here. There’s something to be said about the gem shows and how magical this trip always seems to be. There is inspiration everywhere, great people around ever corner and so many beautiful things that have been dug up out of Mother Earth, cut, polished, steamed, sometimes mounted, etc. It’s like a world’s fair celebrating the beauty that comes from our beloved planet. The shows can easily be overwhelming and overstimulating, and time can easily be wasted. When I’m in Tucson for the shows, time is usually as precious as the gemstones I’m looking at, so I’m hoping to write this guide for those who have never been and are planning to go, or others who may not be rookies but would love to hear someone’s point of view.
So here are my top ten tips to enjoy, conquer and make the most of the Tucson Gem Shows:
1. Ideal amount of time to go: I would say three full days to do as you please, which doesn’t count travel time. Since Nashville doesn’t have direct flights into Tucson (I hope this changes in the future) I like to have at least one full day dedicated to travel and getting settled in. This will give you a leg up on being fully energized and alert when you’re show hopping all day.
2. Where to stay: I’ve stayed at three different hotels during all three of my unique trips and all had pros and cons. Most of the hotels that are very close to the gem shows book up pretty quickly, and since I’m a last minute planner, these are usually never options. The last two hotels I’ve stayed (Casino del Sol & the Westin La Paloma) were approx. 30-35 minute drive to the main shows, which wasn’t bad but something to take into consideration. If you drive all the way to the show and remember that you have forgotten something back at the hotel, this could be devastating because you’ll lose a lot of time backtracking (this happened once last year). If you stay at a hotel that has a spa on the premises it is always a perk to know you could potentially leave a long day of walking and get a relaxing massage…and although the hotel I stayed at this year had a spa, I sadly never got to partake but I was happy to know it was there.
3. Which shows to attend: It’s important to know which shows are worth your time and depending what your goals are and what type of things you’d like to buy or see really answers that question. To start, I would keep this website handy because it lists every show with dates, times, addresses and whether or not the show is public. If you’re a designer and have a resale #, you are able to attend the “trade-only” shows which are some of the best ones. Be sure you have all your information on you, including business cards, photo ID, etc.
My favorite shows for gemstones, jewelry and such are AGTA and GJX which are conveniently located across from one another and easily walkable. These shows have hundreds of exhibitors and enough to create an entire jewelry collection, for sure.
Some of my favorite public shows are the Pueblo Show located at the Riverpark Inn (lots of mineral specimens, large amethyst geodes, lots of photo ops with the BIG stuff), Arizona Mineral & Fossil Show at the Tucson City Center (lots of mineral specimens, unique dealers, crystal points, there’s dinosaur statues throughout the quad and people have converted their hotel rooms into mini storefronts), JOGS Show (lots of unique vendors from all over the globe, some really great prices on things you may see at other shows but for more $, both loose and finished goods), and we tried the Holidome this year but couldn’t get in LOL (they didn’t know what PRESS was).
Some shows I want to do in the future: Westward Look (highend mineral specimens) and GIGM Show at the Howard Johnson. If you’re curious about a show, Instagram comes in handy–just type in the location and search by location and look at the photos people have been posting from the show. Location tagging is awesome!
4. To rent a car or not?: I’ve never been to Tucson without renting a car. For me, I sort of have to because I fly into Phoenix and drive the two hours down to Tucson since Nashville doesn’t have direct flights into Tucson. I like renting a car because I often buy lots of crystals and instead of trying to lug around heavy things all day, I like to make pit stops at the car and drop things off. I don’t ever want to be at a show and not buy something because I’m afraid I’ll have to carry it around all day–that is a debilitating thought!! I also like to come and go as I please or feel like I’m trapped somewhere. I saw lots of people waiting around for Ubers and waiting for a shuttle bus to pick them up, which made me thankful that I had a car. It would be interesting to hear someone else’s perspective on this though! And a lot of shows have valet parking!
5. Where to eat in Tucson: Most of the trip consists of grabbing food wherever is convenient, especially after a long day at the shows. Hotel restaurants come in handy because exhaustion usually sets in once you get back to your hotel room from being gone since 9am and the only thing you want to do is walk a few feet to eat. If you do find yourself with some extra energy, I recommend Cafe Poca Cosa and el Charro Cafe to name a few. In terms of where to eat at a show–that one is a little tricky since some shows don’t have very many options. AGTA has a whole row of food trucks outside of the show, which is convenient. I suggest attending a show that has some great food options in the morning so you can eat lunch there, then head to a show that is outdoors and has less options for eating.
6. To buy or not: I think the biggest piece of advice I could give is to buy things when you can (don’t say “maybe I’ll come back to it” or wonder how you will carry it home), because you will regret not doing so after the trip is over. The shows happen once a year, so plan for it financially and be ready to buy. This year we noticed some favorite vendors not being there, so we really wished we bought more while we could the year before because you never know if they will be back…or if they are back, they might not have the same inventory. Most gemstones and mineral specimens are one-of-a-kind, so if you love it you better buy it! And every show has a UPS stationed somewhere, so if it is quite heavy, you can ship it back home instead of lugging it on an airplane.
7. How to make the most of your trip: If making the trip to Tucson every year is not in your budget, plan for the trip once and make sure you make the most of it by making contacts with suppliers of things you use often or have a specialty in. Take photos of business cards matched with the type of things the person sells–the worst is getting home with a stack of business cards and not remembering who or what each correspond to. If you have a very specific game plan, like for example finding someone who supplies rose cut diamonds, make sure that becomes a priority and don’t get sidetracked by everything else. For someone like myself, I can’t imagine having to focus on creating a collection or designing a piece of jewelry when there’s so much to choose from. I can see how someone would go in having a specific vision and then leaving with the exact opposite and feeling like you’ve wasted an important trip.
8. To plan or not to plan?: Having a game plan can be important–whether it is for a specific budget, the logistics of the day or what things you are looking to make sure to buy while here. While all this is true, it can be nice to not necessarily have a plan besides knowing which shows you want to tackle each day. I like letting the show dictate and lead me to things, rather than looking for things on a list I’ve created weeks in advance. It sort of takes the fun out of it. But yes, budget planning is NECESSARY as it is easy to get carried away in Tucson.
9. What to wear to Tucson gem shows: The desert during late January/early February can be tricky when packing! I recommend layers because in the early mornings and evenings it can get quite chilly, but by mid-afternoon the sun can scorch to the mid-80s. Obviously comfortable shoes, as I can’t stress that enough! I have some worn-in snakeskin booties I like to wear, as I can walk miles in them and they look professional enough to seem like I still care. Sunglasses are another recommendation because some of the outside shows are sunny and dusty!
10. How to make connections: From the people that are there exhibiting, to the ones walking down the aisles shopping, there are worlds and walks of life from all over the globe. It ranges from new designers, to incredibly famous designers and everything in between. Making connections is what this entire industry is about and it is always fun to make a new friend or learn something new from someone. I encourage people to talk to the vendors as much as you can; ask questions about their product and learn the history–I understand you can’t do this with every single booth or else you would make it down one aisle in one day, but the booths you are most interested in or end up purchasing things from. It’s also great to connect with people walking the aisles–if you see someone you look up to or follow on Instagram and feel a connection with, if they don’t seem busy it is great to politely say hi! I always enjoy it when people come up to me and tell me they like following me–it happened several times this trip and it really is great validation for continuing to do what I do (because most days I don’t get direct feedback and I don’t have a boss telling me how I’m doing!).
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