Thursday, February 15, 2018

The 2018 Tucson Gem Show Trip

For rock hounds and mineral lovers Tucson is the Holy Grail. Every year for a few weeks in late January and early February the city is taken over by rock, mineral and gem dealers and lovers from around the world. There are over twenty different shows around the city with dealers from all continents. This year marked my second trip to Tucson for all the fun.

Honestly, my first visit back in 2013 I was overmatched. A definite novice in awe of the greatness. Once again I was able to go on the Tucson adventure with my awesome Mom and stepfather Richard. In 2018 we returned more educated and ready to do some real damage. We had a few hours Thursday afternoon after flying in, all day Friday and all day Saturday to search for treasures.

The plan was to hit the show at the Kino Sports Complex on Thursday afternoon. Friday morning to the Miners Coop show and Friday afternoon to the main show at the Tucson Convention Center to see the super high dollar specimens. Saturday we’d hit the big hotel shows all day.

Just what was I looking for you ask? A few things in particular....bumblebee jasper and rough emerald primarily. From there I’d be after any other well priced gem specimens.

After flying in Thursday we picked up the rental car and headed for the show at the Kino Sports Complex. This show is big covering many acres consisting of large tents and table setups. There were a lot of dealers offering rough mineral specimens which are my favorite. The huge main tent was a disappointment as it contained mostly dealers selling jewelry and beads. Not my thing.

I searched around for a couple of hours only making one purchase. But what a find it was! We found a dealer with a large selection of rough bumblebee jasper. I’ve never seen bumblebee jasper in the rough before! I’ve only seen it cut, polished or cabochon. What a treat!

Bumblebee jasper is only found one place in the world from the volcano of Mount Papandayan in Indonesia. It is rare stuff and not cheap. It actually isn’t jasper either it is an agate. It is a mix of several minerals when the volcanic lava mixed with the surrounding ground. The result is beautiful yellow, orange and black material. You have to be a bit careful handling bumblebee jasper as it has arsenic and sulfur. So don’t go around licking it!

I searched through the pile trying to find that perfect mix of specimen I wanted and specimen I could afford haha. After all it was just the first day. I couldn’t break the budget at the very start right? Pretty soon I found it. My first piece of rough bumblebee jasper. I’m excited as I have been looking for two years and had yet to find any worthy. Today I did! Check out the specimen I purchased.


Tucson gem & mineral show rough bumblee jasper

Tucson gem & mineral show rough bumblee jasper

Friday it was up early and off to the Miners Coop Show. I wasn’t sure about this one since I hadn’t read any reviews, but I was hoping to find a show that featured more of the rockhound/mine owner rather than the high priced dealer.


We arrived at 9am sharp which was a problem as over half the dealers were not up and going quite yet. Many of the displays were still covered with tarps unfortunately. Otherwise the Miners Coop Show was simply wonderful. Much more my kind of folk. Real rock hounds and miners ready to talk your ear off about minerals and gold. So much fun and a totally different vibe than the more major shows for sure. I found some great specimens here and also met some great people. My only recommendation is to wait until at least 10am in the day to hit the show.

From there we were off the to 22nd Street Mineral, Fossil and Gem Show. Two huge tents with a ton of variety. They have a lot of cool fossil dealers here with everything from ammonites to ancient fish to dinosaurs.



Cool stuff. There are also plenty of gems available. One of my main missions of the trip is rough emerald. It’s not easy to find and up until this show I had not found one single person with any rough emerald.....and then jackpot.

One table had a flat set up of only a few beautiful emerald specimens. The price said $40 which was definitely on the high side for me so I picked out my favorite. Thought about it. And walked away. I walked around awhile longer but could not get that awesome emerald out of my head so i decided to go back and offer $20 and see what he said. I kinda hoped he would counter with $30 and then I could get it at $25 possibly.

So I walked back over and picked up the emeralds I wanted and said “$20”. He countered with $30 just as I had expected. So I made a face and kinda mumbled and paused. Then to me delight he said “ok $20”. Yessssss! Jackpot! Check out this awesome specimen of rough emerald.

Tucson gem & mineral show rough emerald

So cooooooool!

Well that was it for me. I was officially done with the 22nd Street Mineral, Fossil and Gem Show. Both my main targets for the trip had been obtained. Rough bumblebee jasper and rough emerald! Time to grab some lunch and then head to the big TGMS show at the Tucson Convention Center. The “main”show with the truly high dollar displays!

After grabbing lunch it was off to the big show. I had high expectations. Upon entering the main arena my thoughts changed. Pretty much all the merchants were selling high end jewelry. Yuck not what I was expecting or looking for at all. Luckily after walking around a bit I discovered a ramp leading into another area of the convention center. That’s where I found the real show.

Wow. Wow. Wow! Tons of tables with wonderful stuff! Amazing displays of incredible minerals. Everywhere you looked was total coolness! Most of it was high end stuff a bit out of my price range. Fun, fun to look at. I didn’t buy much here, but it is well worth your time. A definite must visit.




The next day was Saturday and the end of the Tucson Gem Shows. The plan was to hit a few of the hotel shows. These are pretty cool. The whole hotel is transformed into a huge show. Display tents all around outside and many of the rooms are little sales rooms.

Once again we arrived too early. It seems not much happens at the Tucson gem shows before 10am. So keep that in mind if you ever attend. Once everything opened up it was good to go. I was able to track down some good buys. In particular a seller from Peru had some amazing specimens of quartz crystals with pyrite on matrix.

I hung around browsing a few minutes looking for just the right piece. Unfortunately nothing he had was priced, which usually means I head somewhere else. Two things though kept me....firstly I love Peru and secondly the material was awesome and different from most of the other stuff I’d been seeing.

So I decided to pick out a couple of specimens and get a price. I was thinking $25-$30 possibly even more per piece, but then boom. The man said “$10” I was like “heck yes!” so I bought both my favorite specimens. They are so cool. I just hope they make it back to Dallas without breaking any of the crystals.

Tucson gem & mineral show Peru quartz with pyrite

After that I was pumped! So I headed onward. Next I found some really nice malachite which my girlfriend Taylor loves. I searched for the perfect piece and found a great one. Once again I thought at least $20, but I thought I’d ask just in case. I walked up front to the man and heard the soccer game playing behind him. Manchester City - Leicester was on his tv. I struck up a soccer conversation and we chatted a few minutes. By the time I asked for a price I guess he liked me because he said the magic words of the day “$10” and I responded once again “heck yes!”

Tucson gem show azurite & malachite

I was officially kicking butt lol. Venturing on I found an awesome piece of fire agate and bought it for $5. Sweet! That ended my morning. The rest of the day was not so successful unfortunately. We tried another hotel show but it seems most of the vendors had already packed up. From there we tried a few of the satellite shows but they were really low end. I didn’t make another purchase all day.

All in all it was a wonderful few days at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Shows. I made out with some great specimens I think! If you enjoy gems, minerals, gold prospecting and rock hounding then this is the place for you. The weather is great and the town quite friendly.

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