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The largest gem shows on Earth take place in Tucson, Arizona, every January and February. As award-winning silversmith Jeff Fulkerson says, “For those who haven’t been to Tucson, it’s like taking a drink from a fire hose. It isn’t one show, it’s over forty shows. Gems, minerals, stones, and jewelry take over the entire town for three weeks. It truly is unbelievable.” When tackling Tucson for the first time, Jeff advises there are several things you need to do to prepare.
Pack Your Bags
If you have never been in the desert in the winter, you may think it is always hot. While it is usually sunny and 70°, it can get chilly in the evening, even downright cold. I remember one morning a few years ago, we went to breakfast at 8:00 a.m. and it was 18° outside. It can also be windy. And, hot or cold, Tucson is also usually very dry (although it does rain sometimes).
Related: What to Pack for the Tucson Gem Shows
Manage Your Time
There is no way to hit all the shows. You must ask yourself, what do I want to buy? Because let’s face it, Tucson is all about buying. Do you want beads? What kind of beads? Do you like mineral specimens? How large or how small? Do you want finished stones? Cabochons or faceted? Do you want rocks? By the pound? By the ton? Do you want slabs? Polished or unpolished? Are you starting to get my drift?
There really is too much to choose from in Tucson. You will never get it all figured out on your first trip. The best you can do is try to make a plan and see what you like and what you don’t. Every year, I take notes on the shows and dealers and restaurants and hotels to remind myself the next year of what to do and not do.
Start your plan with your Tucson Show Guide, reviewing the shows, the dates they’re open, their locations, and the kinds of dealers and merchandise they have on offer. Don’t get married to it because your plan will definitely change as you make your way around the shows, but it will be a starting point.
Bear in mind that some shows are open to the public and some shows are wholesale only. You may think a certain show is just what you want, but you may not be able to get into it. Check each show out before you get there. You must preregister for some, and I highly recommend it as you don’t want to spend your time in Tucson standing in lines and filling out forms.
Buy it Now
A few final words of advice—if you see something you like, buy it! I know you think you’ll come back or maybe find it somewhere else a little cheaper, but it probably won’t happen. Just buy it! Also, write down what it is and who you bought it from. I always think I’ll remember, but when I get home, I have all this stuff and I look at half of it and wonder, “Where did that come from? What was this stone?”
All in all, Tucson is an adventure. I love going there, seeing what’s new, seeing my friends from across the country, talking shop, and catching up. You never know who you’ll run into or what you’ll find!
Related: Fun Tucson Food and Drink to Enjoy During the Gem Shows
Jeff Fulkerson has been creating imaginative jewelry for 30+ years and has taught at museums, schools, and events. Noted for his meticulous execution and attention to detail, Jeff loves the creative process of seeing his ideas take shape and come to life. | https://www.artistjefffulkerson.com/
This article is excerpted from Shop the Shows by Jeff Fulkerson in Tucson Show Guide 2019. Originally posted to web 10/27/2022. Updated 11/9/2023.