Five Tips for Your First Gem Show


first gem show - display
“Display” by Deidre Woollard. Licensed under CC By 2.0.

Last weekend, I visited the Colorado Mineral & Fossil Fall Show, and I brought my mom! She’s always had an interest in rocks, but a gem show would be intimidating without her favorite geologist by her side. For your first gem show, follow these tips and remember your manners. You’ll quickly become a gem show addict!

1)      Bring Cash

First, make sure you can buy what you want! Many dealers come from overseas to sell their wares and cannot process credit card payments. An ATM is usually nearby. However, it’s best to have some cash on hand to avoid fees.

2)      Have a Shopping List

Is there something in particular you’re looking for, or a hole in your collection that you’d love to fill? Do some research on the gem and look at prices. Remember, the aesthetic of a rock isn’t always the same as its quality. An ugly specimen of a rare mineral variety might cost much more than a transparent crystal of a common variety of the same mineral.

In my mother’s case, we found a beautiful bit of uvarovite garnet druzy with relatively uniform color and tiny crystals. Later, a rock of a similar size with double the price tag seemed far less attractive. She thought the ugly one was overpriced! However, this one had much larger crystals. Since uvarovite never grows large, the specimen with somewhat larger crystals is more expensive.

first gem show - uvarovite
Small uvarovite druzy with a great sparkle. Photo © Addison Rice. Used with permission.

3)      Ask Questions

Gem shows are set up for the experts. Many specimens have no labels, so if you’re not sure what something is, ask! Similarly, if there’s something on your shopping list, ask the vendor if they have any – it could save you a lot of time.

Also, remember to ask about dyes and other treatments, and whether the material is synthetic. While much of the merchandise is natural, some minerals frequently receive treatments to improve color.

first gem show - beads
Beads at the Denver Coliseum Show. Photo © Addison Rice. Used with permission.

4)      Purchasing Rocks by Weight

Many rocks are sold by weight in units unfamiliar to many Americans. For reference, a gram is about the weight of a paper clip, and a kilogram is about 2.2 pounds.

Some vendors sell by the flat – those short cardboard boxes for mineral specimens. Some will only sell by the flat, not by individual pieces. Please respect the vendor’s merchandise and refrain from picking and choosing if this is the case.

first gem show - flats
These boxes for mineral specimens are called “flats.” “Mineral display” by Deidre Woollard. Licensed under CC By 2.0.

5)      Wholesale Dealers

Most shows have a wholesale section, and some shows are wholesale only.  For these, you’ll need a resale license to purchase anything. If you accidentally wander into the wholesale section, just ask for directions out.  For those starting in the gem and mineral trade, this area might have just the prices you’re looking for!

Enjoy the Show!

Finally, enjoy yourself! Take some time to wander and marvel at some of the specimens on display. While rubies with a trapiche effect, jade cabochons that show a cat’s eye, and gem sculptures might not be on your shopping list, you shouldn’t pass them by!

first gem show - gem sculpture
Gem sculpture of birds on display at the Denver Mineral Show. Stone carving by Peter Muller. Photo © Addison Rice. Used with permission.

About the author
Addison Rice
A geologist, environmental engineer and Caltech graduate, Addison's interest in the mesmerizing and beautiful results of earth's geological processes began in her elementary school's environmental club. When she isn't writing about gems and minerals, Addison spends winters studying ancient climates in Iceland and summers hiking the Colorado Rockies.
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