If you are in the colored stone industry you have heard of the “Tucson Show”. This is the annual trek, almost a pilgrimage, colored stone enthusiasts do every year in February. So why Tucson, why February and why colored gems? It seems such an odd place and time for the jewelry industry. But if we think about the origins, it is not so strange.
The Tucson shows were not started to support the jewelry industry and Christmas season. They were not in Tucson because it was an easy place to get to or because it had lots of great hotels. It is said that February is when many of the mineral and silver miners in Arizona’s small towns would shut down for maintenance. Throughout the year the miners would find interesting crystal or mineral specimens of some kind, so during the maintenance time, they would gather in Tucson to greet each other and show what cool crystals they had found. It was a true “gathering” or “tailgate” show, not at all like today.
Is this true? Well, I am not sure, but I do know the very first show in Tucson was the Tucson Gem & Mineral Club show. Columbia Gem House started showing in Tucson 42 years ago (yes, in 1978 and I was 27…so young!). There was the TGMS show and one show at the small Desert Inn with about 100 exhibitors. Our industry and the one show were very young at that time.
As more true colored stone and crystal lovers heard about this tailgate gathering more came. As more came a more “organized” second show was started at the Holiday Inn downtown. I have no idea what this hotel is called today because the name has changed so many times.
After a few years of this “Wild West” show at the Holiday Inn, a few of us dealers had had enough, and sitting around the swimming pool, drinking beer, decided we should start our own organization and our own show that represented the colored stone enthusiasts and not just the show promoters. So around the pool, 34 of us (at least I think it was 34 of us), started The American Gem Trade Association and the AGTA GemFair.
In many ways, especially for us in AGTA, this experience is what launched our companies, our careers, and years later made the Tucson experience a must for anyone who loves color and colored stones! I am told that there are some 50 show running at the same time. Yes, AGTA and TGMS are now major world-renowned gem exhibitions, and there is so much more. Dealers, buyers, sellers, new age healers, crystal enthusiasts, everyone is there. I would say for sure the Tucson shows bring together the most unique variety, the largest selection, and the greatest eclectic collections of colored gemstones the world has ever seen. Not only the greatest collection of gems, but the greatest collection of people from every part of the gemstone industry. Small desert miners from the Southwest, to miners & dealers from Madagascar, Zambia, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Switzerland, Germany, and the United States and likely every other country in the world. It attracts the smallest to the largest gemstone cutters, the unique to the bizarre gem dealers and the most eclectic to the most famous jewelry houses and brands in the world. Tucson is not runways, not watches, not movie stars at least as we would think of them. Tucson would be somewhere between Woodstock and Burning Man, 5th Avenue and Hong Kong, history and imagination.
So why do we go to Tucson every year? For some of us it brings back our youth and where we began. For many, it is to see and experience where the industry is going and for all of us it is a just a great time to share with other passionate colored stone lovers.