Tips for Tucson Shopping: Gem Show Secrets

By on January 30, 2013
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by Rose Marion,

Tucson Tips for
January 30, 2013

Tucson Survival Guide: Gem Shows Galore!

The Tucson gem shows are world-famous, attracting international gem-lovers for close to 50 years to the Tucson desert, the great winter escape that every jewelry artist should take at least once.

Here are 20 tips for surviving the Tucson gem shows – and if you can’t make it this year, you can use this guide for any local gem shows in your area. Did I forget something? Leave a comment with your tips for shopping at gem shows!

The Tucson skyline from a distance is filled with palm trees and the white tents of the gem shows.

The Tucson skyline from a distance is filled with palm trees and the white tents of the gem shows.

20 Tucson Tips

Things to Bring:

  1. A waterbottle and a couple snacks
  2. Lots of your business cards
  3. Copies of your business license and sales tax license, state resale license or seller’s permit, if you are going to a wholesale show. Your state may call them different things, but basically you need something that proves you sell jewelry in your state, and something that proves you collect tax. Some shows make sure that you sell jewelry or related things – so not just any business will get in!
  4. A ruler in both inches and millimeters (a 6″ one will work) so you can quickly measure cabochons and strands of beads.
  5. A calculator. Your cell phone may have a calculator function: practice using it before the show!
  6. Hand sanitizer
  7. A camera (always ask vendors first – and some shows may not allow photography)
  8. If you’re going to outdoor shows, bring sunglasses or a visor or hat, and sunscreen.
  9. A jacket. Yes, this is the desert, but it gets chilly at night! Layers are your friend.
  10. A Sharpie to mark price and other details on bags of stones
  11. A list of the things you want to see, including any gifts you want to find for friends.
Someone tells me they have big rocks in Tucson.

Someone tells me they have big rocks in Tucson.

Things to prepare ahead of time:

    1. Dress casually. The gems are the star of the show – so feel free to wear your comfortable shoes and comfortable clothing. For fun, bring a pedometer, so you can brag about how much you walked! (It’s going to be a lot! Call it your winter exercise.)
    2. I strongly suggest bringing something such as a canvas bag to stash your purchases in. Many shows give vendors the same bags to use, and it is all to easy to set your bag down to examine a gem, and then not be sure where it went. With all your treasures in a bag that looks like yours, you’ll know where yours is at all times – and it’s easier to carry, too. This might want to be a bag with wheels, so you don’t get tired.
    3. Plan your trip. There are many online guides available for free, and once you get to Tucson, there are many printed guides you can pick up. There’s even a shuttle route guide that maps out the free shutttle routes. With a game plan, you’ll be able to spend the most time shopping, and very little time deciding what to see next.
    4. Don’t buy the first thing you want. Last year I saw a bunch of dyed agate slices and had to have one. But I waited. Sure enough, show after show, I kept seeing the agate slices pop up. I was able to keep track of the prices and then I went back to the vendor who had the best deal.
    5. Take notes on what you see. Comparison shopping is no good unless you know what price was at what booth!
    6. Are there discounts or special offers available to show attendees? Some shows are open to the public, and your wholesale license might give you a discount. At JOGS in booth N1, will be offering free shipping and other great deals – stop by for more details :)
    7. Follow up with vendors. Don’t just see Tucson as a gem flea market. This is where you could find suppliers you’ll reorder from for years and years. So make sure to ask if they will continue to carry the items you’re buying, and how you can buy from them after the show.
    8. Set a budget, and use cash if at all possible. Cash is your friend, because not all vendors are set up to take credit cards, or they may require a minimum amount for credit cards. Plus, your bank may get worried and decline charges for fear that your card has been stolen and taken across the country. Lastly, you’re less likely to over-spend if you use cash. I bring my budget with me in cash, and give myself an allowance each day, carrying it in my pocket and leaving the rest at home. Then when the money’s gone, I stop shopping and go into “looking” mode. If I see something I have to have, I’ll come back for it tomorrow. Or, if it’s a one-of-a-kind item, I’ll give the vendor my business card and let them know I’d like to come back for it the next day.
    9. Tuck away an extra bit of money in case there is something you have to have that you only see as you leave your last show. It happens! You can set this as an amount to withdraw at an ATM (the ATMs will likely charge fees, of course) or keep it in a secret pocket of your wallet.
    10. Plan a way to send your goodies home. I pack a spare purse that I can use as a carry-on for my fragile items on the plane. If you are doing some serious shopping, consider shipping your treasures home via UPS or the Post Office. Savvy Tucson visitors have been known to ship their laundry home via the Post Office, and carry their valuable treasures home in their suitcase instead!

What are your gem show tips? And Tucson friends, do you have any good recommendations for restaurants? Leave a comment below! :)

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  1. avatar


    January 30, 2013 at 8:05 am

    This is great info to have. My wife and I have been wnting to atend thnTuscon Gem Show for 3 years now and hopefully next year we will be ble to go. I have neen collecting the wisdom of past visitors so any tips on food to footwear places to stay to must see shows is extremely welome.

  2. avatar


    January 30, 2013 at 9:01 am

    Great Tips. I use most of them myself. I have one other one – I never carry a purse – I use a fanny pack instead. Eliminates the fear of purse snatching and also the fear of leaving it behind somewhere. Great place to stash all the business cards you will be collecting as you go along. Enjoy the show.

  3. avatar

    Laura Bracho

    January 30, 2013 at 11:58 am

    The first time I went I was overwhelmed with the choices and temptations. When it came time to come home I had no way to bring back everything without paying a fortune. A thought struck me. I found a suitcase at the Goodwill for a couple buck, and packed all my goodies in it. I paid the extra baggage fee of $25 for it. I was able to take back nearly 50 pounds of jewelry for a mere $25.

  4. avatar

    Mary Phillips

    January 30, 2013 at 3:30 pm

    Just a few notes about the western desertland. It is so dry in Tucson you need to drink twice as much water as you do in humid climates. So if you usually drink 64 oz a day, double that to 130 oz minimum. Also these shows can be the perfect place to catch a nasty bug. So don’t forget to add EmergenC to some of that water.

    And do plan on visiting many different types of Mexican restaurants. They have a great selection. My 3 favorites are La Parrilla Suiza, Macayos, and Guadalajara Grill. I lived there for 4 years.

    And spend some time hiking the canyons. There are trail heads that begin right on the edges of town. Sabino Canyon has a tram so you don’t have to hike as far to experience the beauty of the canyons. And don’t forget the sun block!

  5. avatar

    Dena Ellison

    January 31, 2013 at 9:24 pm

    These are all great tips, and as you said, many are useful for any show. I also try to go to a show with some idea what I want to look for. For example, if I have a certain color cab that I want to match to some beads, I will either put it on the list or bring the cab in my shopping bag. It is just too easy for me to get distracted and grab a bunch of really cool stuff that I am sure I will use, and I end up with, “What was I thinking? I have no idea what I am going to do with this!”

  6. avatar

    Janice Fingado

    October 25, 2013 at 5:34 pm

    You want practical suggestions? Wear pants with an elastic waistband. Long lines at the PortaPotties; why waste time unbuckling belts and undoing zippers? There are more beads out there waiting to be seen!
    Another idea: for those who are professional goldsmiths, take a few photos of your pieces using the gemstones you purchased the year before and show them to the dealers you bought them from. They LOVE to see how you used their product.
    Another tip: don’t begrudge the time you take to sit down every couple of hours; your calves will be grateful, and it give you time to get out your lists, cross out the things you have accomplished or bought, re-organize your thoughts, draw some sketches of ideas you’ve picked up at the booths, and you might find yourself sitting next to the Buyer from Tiffany’s and can find out what she thinks are the important trends……