A View of the Quartzsite Gem Shows

The Quartzsite gem shows attract gemologists and rock hounds from around the world. Learn what to expect and how to shop at these huge annual January events.

6 Minute Read

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The world-renowned Quartzsite gem shows are held annually in the desert town of Quartzsite, Arizona. In 2001, International Gem Society founder Donald Clark wrote about his first trip there and offered some advice for first-time visitors. Currently, four Quartzsite shows focus primarily on gems, rocks, and minerals. They run during January and/or February. Please check the websites for the Quartzsite gem shows listed at the end of Mr. Clark's article for exact locations, dates, and times.
Quartzsite gem shows -crystals
These crystals on display at one of the Quartzsite gem shows were visible from the road.

An Early Arrival

My wife Sharan and I pulled into Quartzsite on December 24th. We didn't know what to expect. This desert community supports just a few thousand permanent residents. However, it would soon be home to over 100,000 RVs, trailers, and vendors galore. Quartzsite is famous for hosting a huge flea market as well as gem and mineral shows. We discovered that the big influx wouldn't occur until January. At Christmas, it was still relatively quiet.

Quartzsite gem shows 1
I really liked this piece. In the back you can see people unloading a truck.

There were a few hundred RVs around, but the campsites were sparsely populated. In fact, the RVs that were there seemed to be set in place. This community has few permanent structures. The business area consists predominantly of tents and a scattering of trailers and motor homes, which serve as both stores and dwellings. (Even the dining room of a main street restaurant is a tent).

Driving through town, we could see large empty areas with signs announcing the upcoming Quartzsite gem shows. A few of the mineral dealers were already setting up. Huge displays were visible from the road. From a moving vehicle, I could see quartz crystals a hundred feet away. That was quite an impressive display! Though I was anxious to see the stones up close, the next day was Christmas. We found a place to stay and spent the holiday resting.

Shopping Discipline at the Quartzsite Gem Shows

Quartzsite gem shows - large crystal
This crystal was three feet long. It would've taken a forklift to move it!

We went shopping on December 26th. What an adventure this was! I was like a kid in a candy store. There were so many delightful things to peruse, handle, and possibly purchase. However, it soon became evident that I had to curtail my enthusiasm. Sharan had foreseen this and agreed to sit patiently near by. When it comes to purchasing stones, she has much greater discipline than me. Her presence added some much needed balance.

If You Can't Pick it up, You Can't Take it Home

Since we planned to move soon, I set the first rule: don't buy anything for myself. But that didn't mean I couldn't shop for friends!

The next rule soon became obvious: if you can't pick it up, you can't get it home. Space is limited in an RV. As impressive as some of the three-foot long crystals were, we simply had no room for them. Even some of the mid-sized crystals were too heavy to lift. A quick bit of math and I realized what a fifty to eighty pound crystal cluster would do to our budget. Again, more discipline was in order.

Tourmalinated quartz crystals
Tourmalinated quartz crystals. Note the big cluster of tourmaline near the termination. The big one in front was about 2½ feet high. I tried to lift the next largest piece. It weighed about sixty pounds!

Stay Within Your Budget

There were some outstanding basalt carvings with embedded emerald crystals. As much as I would have liked one, they were too big and too expensive for our budget. ("Yes, we have room on our card for it," Sharan said. "But we really don't need it at this time").

A basalt carving
A basalt carving. Over this fellow's shoulder, you can see a huge emerald crystal. There were several others in the cluster.

Pick the Best Quality Specimens

I finally decided to concentrate on just the best quality specimens. Although the displays were spectacular, finding an undamaged crystal proved difficult. Almost all of them had chips on their termination. Many were heavily included.

Now I had my criteria in place: not too big, not too costly, in excellent condition, and a superb example of its species. Furthermore, I wouldn't let myself be overwhelmed. I went over the tables again with a disciplined eye. I found a few pieces in good condition, but the undamaged pieces were rare, maybe 5% of the total. Although some were in good condition, they weren't particularly special. My search had now slowed to a snail's pace. I started to wonder if I would find anything of value to me at all.

Some Amazing Finds

I went back over the tourmalinated quartz specimens. I found most were damaged or too cloudy to be top quality. Then, a piece I'd missed earlier caught my eye. It was resting between some large crystals. When I picked it up, I had to catch my breath.

An Incredible Tourmalinated Quartz

"This is it!" I said to myself. It was one of the most spectacular tourmalinated quartz specimens I'd ever seen. It had all the elements - eye quality, balance, color, and interest - to be a world-class specimen. I have friends from Afghanistan who specialize in high-grade specimens. They would have asked $400 to $600 for a piece like this. However, the vendor here priced everything by the pound. This piece cost no more than the other tourmalinated quartz crystals, regardless of their condition or eye appeal.

Large Rose Quartz Crystals

Rose quartz crystal.
Rose quartz crystal.

Thoroughly happy, I moved on. The last table I inspected held some large, rose quartz clusters. You rarely find rose quartz in crystal form, so I inspected them carefully. The second largest crystal I found was in almost perfect condition, with just the tiniest chip on its surface. The color was superb, as rich and pure as you'll find. Attached was an assortment of smaller crystals. I would've been proud to own each one. Additionally, a matrix of feldspar crystals in perfect condition surrounded the bottom. This rose quartz crystal was six inches long. I'd never seen a specimen this large, much less in such excellent condition. I had found a very rare prize. Again, I was delighted.

Cinderella's Castle

For a while, I carried a third specimen around with me. It was a smoky quartz cluster that resembled Cinderella's castle. When we came to pay for the pieces, my wife asked about a cash discount. We did get a discount but didn't have enough money on hand for all three. So, I set down the smoky quartz and kept the tourmalinated quartz and rose quartz.

As we walked away, I thought I did well. I'd found the discipline to buy just two pieces. However, as reasonable as my purchase seemed, finding a place for them in the RV where they wouldn't be damaged was a challenge. The only safe place we could find was under the mattress. Of course, we didn't want to sleep on rocks, so every night we had to take them out. Every morning we replaced them. It was worth it!

Advice for First-Time Visitors to the Quartzsite Gem Shows

I learned several lessons from this excursion. We found the residents to be quite friendly. They were eager to start a conversation and quick to help. The dry air was not so friendly, though. My Canadian-born wife soon began to show signs of dehydration. The desert water was little help. It was so hard it would sting our eyes when showering. Although I filtered the water twice, it was still difficult to drink. I love the desert and understand why people would put up with its extremes. However, it's a harsh transition if you're visiting from a milder climate.

If you're going to Quartzsite, bring lots of water!

If you're purchasing merchandise for your store, wait for everything at the Quartzsite gem shows to be unpacked. You can probably get better prices if you wait until the end of the show. However, if your priority is to find high-grade specimens, go early before the shows open. Hardly anyone got to see the two prizes I walked away with.

Websites for the Quartzsite Gem Shows

Donald Clark, CSM IMG

The late Donald Clark, CSM founded the International Gem Society in 1998. Donald started in the gem and jewelry industry in 1976. He received his formal gemology training from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and the American Society of Gemcutters (ASG). The letters “CSM” after his name stood for Certified Supreme Master Gemcutter, a designation of Wykoff’s ASG which has often been referred to as the doctorate of gem cutting. The American Society of Gemcutters only had 54 people reach this level. Along with dozens of articles for leading trade magazines, Donald authored the book “Modern Faceting, the Easy Way.”

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