Editor’s Note: The world-renowned Quartzsite gem shows are held annually in the desert town of Quartzsite, Arizona. Several years ago, 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.
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.
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 is made 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. I was very impressed that, from a moving vehicle, I could see quartz crystals a hundred feet away. That was quite a 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
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.
We were planning to move soon, so the first rule I set was not to 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 and, as impressive as some of the three-foot long crystals were, there simply was 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.
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”).
I finally decided to concentrate on just the best quality specimens. As spectacular as the displays were, finding an undamaged crystal was 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. And 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.
“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. Here, everything was priced by the pound. This piece cost no more than the other tourmalinated quartz crystals, regardless of their condition or eye appeal.
Thoroughly happy, I moved on. The last table I inspected held some large, rose quartz clusters. Rose quartz is rarely found in crystal form, so they deserved some careful inspection. 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. If that wasn’t enough, 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. This was a very rare prize I found. Again, I was delighted.
For a while, I carried a third specimen around with me. It was a smoky quartz cluster that resembled Cinderella’s castle. When it came time to pay for the pieces, my wife suggested we ask if we could get a discount for cash. We did get a discount but didn’t have enough money on hand for all three. 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 may have 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. The water was difficult to drink, even after filtering it twice. 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, waiting for everything at the Quartzsite gem shows to be unpacked makes sense. If you wait until the end of the show, you can probably get better prices. 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.