Planning to come to the Tucson February Gem Show? How? What? When?
How? Plan ahead. You will need to make hotel arrangements at least three months in advance. Six months in advance is better because you will have a chance of better rates for rooms and lodging. The closer to the show you make reservations the more the they will cost. All hotels charge a premium for lodging during the gem show. The gem show is probably what keeps half the hotels in town in business and the February gem show is probably by far the largest attraction that Tucson has… Contrary to what the city thinks. So the sooner you make reservations the better off you will be. Also be sure and confirm your reservations at least a month before you come. Hotels have been known to miss place and/or loose reservations. So check… before traveling.
I generally recommend that people try the hotels out by the airport, especially if flying in. There are some new large ones just out side the airport entrance and they are easy to access, clean, as well as a straight drive to the heart of the main gem shows. You can easily find them by searching on the web.
If you plan to rent a car and drive around the shows, be sure and also reserve the car or transportation way ahead of time. Some issues about driving around the gem show… Generally the people (I am being polite, my opinion of them cannot be any lower) that run the city of Tucson not only do not want to acknowledge that the February gem show is probably the major money maker for the city. But more than once in the past (probably the future too) the people that run the city (I use the term very loosely) have and will do their best to completely screw the gem show up. Typically they have all the roads torn up, detours, and believe me, police and meter maids writing all the tickets humanly possible.
Beside all of that. Over the next 3-5 year (probably longer) the main freeway I-10 will be under construction. So it is going to be a major mess. Avoid driving if at all possible, especially around the downtown area. Be aware. You park in a questionable place any where around the gem show and you will be ticketed and probably towed. So watch what you are doing. As I have said my opinion of these practices could not be any lower, but that is how it is. Parking tickets are common, the city has been known in the past to hire people just to write tickets during the February gem show. Also the tickets can be pretty darn expensive, I have seen tickets for $100 and more.
Here is a true example. I actually parked in a clear space a few years ago at a gem show. Right next to a police car with an officer in the car. The parking space looked fine to me and my passenger, there was at least another half dozen cars parked along the same row… I waved to the officers and ask if I was OK… he nodded. Then he got out of his car and yellow taped the whole area and wrote me a parking ticket. He was a total jerk. Not all of the city police are jerks but some of them are really jack ass’s, so be very sure where and how you park. I fought the ticket, but I did not get the officers badge number so I could not report who he was. I had to pay the ticket. Believe me I have never made that mistake again.
If you ever have any issues with a police officer (or any official), get the badge number, name, precinct. Do not argue with them, be polite, but be sure and write the information down. So that when you file a complaint you know who to file against. It is the only way to do it an it does work. I have had several things like this happen. I would also point out that in general the police officers have been helpful when I have asked for directions or information. But if they are jerks, report them, I do.
So basically what I am trying to say about driving around the gem show is. Do not do it. The best and easiest thing to do is drive to a good parking place like the ball park gem show, or the Holidome gem, show and park. From there catch the free shuttles to all the other shows. Believe me it is a lot easier, there is not generally much if any parking along the freeway and community center shows and when all the major gem shows are open at the same time, there is no parking downtown at all. Study the free shuttle maps, they are in any show guide and many of the trade show web sites also list them.
What? Which shows are the best? Well that depends on what you are interested in. If you are a faceter then generally the shows that you want to see will be along the freeway and the community center. Those shows are where all the rough tends to be. Not always, but usually.
AGTA – Is the major money cut stone show. It is generally not worth a faceters time if you are wanting rough. If you want to see a lot of quality rough all butchered up by bad cutting, this is the show. There is seldom any rough here and what there maybe is both very high end and it is usually parcel $$$. This show specializes in cut stones and high end jewelry. It is worth seeing, but it is also the most difficult show to get into. This show requires business and trade references as well as a minimum of $10,000.00 worth of receipts. That is what they were wanting. It may have changed so double check. Do not expect to get in unless you can produce the correct credentials.
The AGTA also has both a back ballroom for equipment manufacturers (jewelry mostly) and a jewelry designer’s ballroom upstairs which is generally worth a look. I could spend most of my money on tools.
GJX – Similar to the AGTA mostly cut stones and high end jeweler. This show will also require business ID and references. It is in general not as tough to get into as the AGTA, but most small business and hobby people will not get in with out references. There is very little facet rough here, a little but not a lot. Generally you have to buy the rough in large lots/parcels which is $$$ so for the hobby cutter or little business person, there is not much.
GLDA – Mainly a colored stone show, and not as strict in requirements as the AGTA and GJX. Virtually no rough, almost all cut stones and Indians, Chinese manufacturers, as well as some Americans. I generally do not bother. In my opinion it is all commercial cutting and not very interesting jewelry.
La Quinta – This is where most of the foreign gem dealers are. Afghan, Pakistan, German, et… Rough is around, but buyer beware there will not be all that much good material. It is an easy show to get into no papers are needed. All kinds of dealers from Brazil with barrels of low end rough, you can some times paw through it and find some decent cuttable material.
Rapa River (Old Pueblo, they keep changing the name) – This is where all the well known American rough dealers are located generally. It is an easy show to get into no papers needed for the rooms, the tent will require a business licence. But keep in mind you can buy year around from most of the well known dealers, so why bother buying at the show? The only real advantage to buying at the show is on hand inspection. Believe me you will have to inspect every piece carefully too, most of the material will not be clean. Check closely.
Howard Johnson’s and the Days Inn – Open to the public, the dealers are all mixed, a little bit of almost everything. Generally not much quality rough, but you never can tell. Kind of like a swap meet. All kinds of mineral and just odd things. Usually worth a look just for fun.
Desert Diamond Ball Park – This is where virtually all the equipment manufacturers are located. Very little rough. Open to the public. Need lapidary tools? Then you can find them here usually. Keep in mind that many of the “good deals” are not. For example you will find diamond topper plates way under my cost here, but the reason they are cheap is because they are cheaply made. These topper do not have the same amount of diamond on them (just a few carats, the rest that looks like diamonds is often sand filler) so they may look good, but they are not. Same with saw blades and every thing else. Do not be fooled. Look around you will see the quality stuff is pretty much the same rate you would pay every day online.
Holidome – Bead central. Beads, beads, beads, not worth going if you have limited time. If the women want to have a ball drop them off here and go do your own thing down town or some where else. This is junk central. I know another man’s treasure.
There are other shows, many of them mineral and fossil shows. About the only one I bother with is the Inn Suites show. There is always some interesting things there, but almost no faceting rough to speak of.
When? This again depends a bit on what you are interested in seeing. But generally I recommend that people plan to be at the Tucson gem show on the same weekend that the AGTA is open. This timing is almost always the first weekend of February. The main reason that I recommend this weekend is because at this time pretty much every major gem show is open and doing business at this time. If you come into town on this weekend you can see all the major shows.
Some notes on coming to the Tucson Gems Shows. Do not get “show fever”… What is show fever? Well in tucson during the show people often get caught up in the excitement of the show and often buy things they should not. Here are some tips.
Know the Going Rates – Spend some time online (on my web site and others) and make some notes on what is available and what things cost. People often buy things at a gem show they could have gotten for the same price or often less from a regular dependable supplier. Do not get caught with the show fever.
No Returns – Remember at a gem show there is in many cases no way to return some thing. Yes, with the well known regular dealers you maybe able to. But forget it on any of the foreign dealers. So be aware, yes you may save a dollar, but no you will not be able to return any thing.
Buyer Beware – From a well known American dealer, you probably will not have a problem. But from about anyone else, remember that you make a mistake, you bought it, you own it. There is no going back. Also remember that while I and most top American dealers will honestly answer your questions and give you good information, many over seas dealers will not.
They will not volunteer any information, if you know enough to ask, then they will usually tell you the truth, but I have had some lie to me. What type of information? Well… Is that heated? Nuked? Treated? Oiled? Clean? Flawed? You pick the question. Do not expect any dealer at any show to hold your hand and point out problems, it will not happen. Knowing the questions and what you are buying is YOUR responsibility.
Tucson has many other thing besides the gem show. Tucson has very good food and some decent entertainment. Plan to bring a mix of clothes, the weather is changeable.
One last tip and probably the most important. Bring some anti-bacterial hand wipes and wash your hands often (carry them). Usually there is some people that bring in a cold or flu, which can often spread around the show. So clean your hands and wash often. Do not rub your face unless you know you have just washed. This will improve your odds of avoiding any of the common show bugs.
Tucson (and others) Gem Show Questions
Jeff’s Tips for the Tucson Gem Show… Equipment
Gemshows… Tucson In Particular
Jeff’s Tips for buying at the Tucson Gem Show
What is the Bisbee Mineral show like?
2004 Tucson Gem Show Report
2005 Tucson Gem Show Report
2006 Tucson Gem Show Report
2007 Tucson Gem Show Report