Not sure which sat/sun you will be in Tucson. I spend two weeks
starting the 28th of January and can no longer see it all.
Each show has its strengths and weaknesses and your choice should
depend on what you are looking to buy. In 1997 I did a piece for
National Jeweler a sort of survivors guide to Tucson. Its a bit
dated and a few shows have moved but it still covers the bases so I
will paste it here and let the moderator decided whether to include
Hope to meet you at the Orchid dinner
Surviving Tucson; Or How to so Twenty Eight Gem Shows in Two
Weeks Without Breaking a Sweat
By Richard W. Wise, G.G.,
Tucson is a must, a true rite de passage for jewelers. This
is where you find out "whats new!" and more importantly, at
what price? We have been making the annual February
pilgrimage for fifteen years and each year Tucson gets a
little bigger. The 1996 tally was twenty four shows, not
counting gas stations. Last year, for the first time, we
missed two shows. I know what you're thinking, "two shows,
Tucson 97 is bigger than ever before! Twenty eight shows,
stretching from January 26 through February 16th for a record
twenty-two days. Fortunately not all of these shows are of
particular interest to jewelers. This review will cover just
nine shows which we believe will give you the meat as well as
a bit of the spice that makes Tucson the show of shows. The
schedule is rigorous, the strategy is simple to get to each
show on opening day.
Fortunately the weather is Tucson is sunny and mild, averaging
between 68-75 degrees during the day. Jewelers attempting to
follow this guide are advised to loose the pin striped suit.
Wear loose fitting cotton clothing, a light jacket with lots of
pockets, a comfortable pair of walking shoes and perhaps a hat
and sunglasses. Also, bring a stack of business cards and half
dozen copies of your business license. Warning: National
Jeweler recommends that you check with your family doctor
before embarking on any program of vigorous exercise.
DAY ONE: 1/26/97
The first show to officially open its doors is "Jump-start" at
the Rodeway Inn on January 26. The Rodeway is a good show
because many dealers who show later at G&LW's Holidome get
started at the Rodeway. The show is a mix with everything from
Brazilian goods to oriental rugs, some finished jewelry and
findings. This year Jump-start adds 50 booths for a total of
225. Its small enough to do in a day with time out for a brief
If your looking for fine colored stones, Rodeway is usually a
waste. However, a few years ago we came across a tender young
gem cutter, first year in Tucson, with no idea about New York
wholesale prices. This year the management predicts a
twenty-five percent dealer turnover. Need we say more?
The Peublo Inn opens the very next day, January 27th. This
show takes several days to crank itself up to full volume,
which is approximately 185 dealers. The smart money often
shows up a few days early, say on the 25th. The tent and lobby
have yet to set up but many of the first floor rooms will be
open and a lot of dealing goes on before the official opening.
DAY TWO & THREE 1/28, 1/29/97
The Peublo is one of our favorite shows. You can find
anything here from fine ruby and aquamarine to gem Silica and
Tibetan singing bowls. How about a Komodo Dragon handcarved
in fossilized ivory? You can get it at the Peublo. There is
one guy, set up in the lobby, who will sell you a complete
dinosaur skeleton. Looking to raise your visibility?
Consider the impact of a forty foot stegosaurus right in
front of your store window. Chances are you won't even be
violating the local sign ordinance.
The Peublo is layed out in a square with the tent forming the
back quarter. The inner courtyard has a pool and a number of
small tents selling Thai, Chinese and Greek fast food. Last
year they added a salad vendor. This is a great place for
lunch if you are tired of TexMex. Speaking of Mexican, Tucson
is the place to eat Mexican provided your Cholesterol count is
To do the Peublo right takes two days. And thats about all we
have because both AGTA and GLDA which are known as the "Big
shows" among the cognoscenti, open on the 29th.
South of the Peublo along the I-10 access road there is a
string of motels and each one hosts a show. This is the place
to find mineral specimens, bolo ties, Mexican Jewelry, African
masks and 5,000 lb. Brazilian Amethyst geodes. Several of
these shows are open into the evening
So if you are a real glutton for punishment, take a walk!
Perhaps a better suggestion; have an early dinner and get a
good nights sleep because the preliminaries are over, tomorrow
starts the main event.
DAY FOUR: 1/30/97
Which to do first. Both shows are well established and most
of the dealers are old hands. Given the choice we will hit
GLDA. The shows are located about 1,000 yards apart but with
pre registration you can walk right into GLDA show at the
Holiday Inn Broadway or wait in line to have your AGTA
credentials validated at the Tucson Convention Center. This
tactic gives us about a one hour shopping advantage and an
hour can be forever in Tucson. We will get our AGTA
credentials validated the second day of the show when there is
usually no line.
GLDA is a big show, 374 dealers. There are dealers stuffed
into every hallway and function room on the first and second
floors. So, unless you know someone it doesn't really matter
where you start. Its easy to lose your bearings and every
year we see a few of the Tucson Lotus Eaters, unfortunate
buyers, glassy eyed and babbling, wandering aimlessly through
the halls. One of the highlights is the Intergem group from
Idar Oberstein, Germany in the upper Starlight room. We
attended this years Intergem in Germany. If you are looking
for exceptional quality in carvings, cameos and exquisitely
cut stones, this area is a must.
Other than the German group there is no logic to GLDA.
However over the years certain informal groupings have
emerged. Second floor Mezzanine "gemstone row" is where you
will find the precision cutters. Very fine well cut
traditional gems mostly cut in the U. S. There is a Sri
Lankan group in the Mezzanine room at the end of the row.
Pearls, opals and Brazilian dealers are usually found on the
lower level in the Empire Ballroom. There are always good
deals to be found. One piece of advise, if you see something
you like don't hesitate. These waters are full of sharks!
Ok, its the end of the fourth day and you brain is getting
ready to short out. You've spent the day at GLDA and seen
about half of it, found a few good buys and you are worried
that all the good picks will be taken at AGTA before you get
there. To make things worse GJX opens tomorrow as well.
GLDA!, AGTA!, GJX! what to do?
We like X!. The show is now in its third year. GJX started
with 165 booths in 1995 and grew to 254 last year. This year
it remains the same size but has moved on the property so that
the entrance is directly across the street from the Convention
Center. X was certainly the most exciting show of 1996. So,
we hedge our bets, arrive early and park at AGTA saunter in
and get our credentials stamped and spend the morning
strolling down the wide half empty aisles.
Contrary to what some dealers say, there are buys to be found
at AGTA! Oddly enough, prices on the big three, ruby sapphire
and emerald, are often the most competitive at AGTA simply
because many of the 230 dealers carry them and you can play
one dealer off against another. Also, this is the show where
you will find the finest of the fine.
Last year I saw an exceptional four carat Demantoid garnet. A
perfectly cut, flawless top-gem Brazilian Emerald and a
breathtaking two carat padparadcha sapphire from Songea,
Tanzania to name just a few standouts. AGTA is the place to
educate your eye and the dealers are quite willing to give you
pointers, especially mid-week, Its only thursday!, the big
crowd comes on the weekend
In 1995 AGTA added a New Designers Section. Last years
participants were impressive. If you are not a goldsmith here
is a chance to buy some exceptional gems and work directly
with world-class designers who can make them up for you. The
70 plus designers in this section are some of the best. Most
have won Spectrum awards and they love fine colored stones.
Along the way from check in to the main hall is the Galleria.
Walk slowly! This year AGTA is featuring an exhibet of gem
sculpture as well as the winners of The Cutting Edge and
Spectrum competitions in The Galleria.
After the cool, ordered, professional ambiance of AGTA we take
a sunny walk across the street to the tents of GJX. X retains
some of the charm of the old days in Tucson, that is, its hot
stuffy and crowded.
The rewards can be worth the trouble. Last year we found a
cluster of small Australian opal dealers toward the middle of
the tent. Tahitian black pearls were a specialty last year at
GJX. There are several dealers with good inventory sprinkled
about the aisles. GJX is also a mixed bag but, all gem
dealers, no specimens or fossils at X.
DAY FIVE: 1/31/96
Five shows in four day, not too bad! Today is consolidation
day. We have cruised, gotten oriented, checked prices and
gotten the flavor of all the majors excepting one. Today we
do the Dome! The Holiday Inn Palo Verde known to gemshow
regulars as the Holidome. This show has grown dramatically.
It requires two huge igloo shaped tents and the whole main
floor of the hotel. This show is a bit out of the way, take
I10 south seven miles to exit 264B (remember B) Palo Verde Rd
follow Palo Verde for one half mile.
The Dome, in a word, has everything: Gem dealers, pearls,
equipment, findings, new jewelry, antique jewelry, synthetics,
etc. By now we have accumulated so many badges that we look
like refugees from a VFW parade. So what one more. Sign up
is in the main hotel lobby. This is the G & L.W. Show and pre
registration is possible by writing the show sponsors.
The lobby is a good place to start. Lots of interesting
equipment, everything from gem scales to cobbing hsmmers. How
about a gold pan? From here we can cruise the two function
rooms that are chock-a- block with dealers. We rarely find
anything of interest here and its on to the tents! The tents
are layed out in long narrow aisles and it is best to go aisle
by aisle. Some excellent smaller American cutter/dealers set
up at the Dome. We have found some exceptional, very well cut
stones at this show including some designer friendly Boulder
Opal. Chinese freshwater pearls are another big item at the
Holidome. We will see pearl dealers with big stocks of well
priced freshwater at this show.
DAY SIX: 2/1/97
Survey complete. We have gotten a taste of all the major
shows. Problem is we need at least a day more at each one of
them. Today is Saturday and the Jewish Sabbath, so I
recommend that we go back to AGTA. This is the most popular
show, Saturday will be crowded but Sunday will be a mob scene.
DAY SEVEN: 2/2/97
Its sunday, the major shows are very crowded. GLDA is open
til the fifth and GJX doesn't close until the sixth so there
are two other shows that we are going to take in as a change
of pace. The first is the Whole Bead Show at the Windmill
Inn. Wait!, I know what you are thinking but, we are not
talking peace love and tie-dye here. Over the past several
years we have seen a renaissance in hand bead making in the
United States specifically on the West coast.
Most are technically called "lamp-work" beads which describes
the method of manufacture. Here you will find seventy
sophisticated craftspeople whose work often surpasses the
finest Venetian glass. Each bead is a handmade original.
There are also demonstrations. You can see just how these
tiny works of art are made. Hey!, who is running this tour
anyhow?, just get in the car and lets go!
The Whole Bead Show is relatively small, about 70 dealers.
Actually there are two shows running simultaneously, the other
is called The Best Bead Show, located at The Southwest Center
for Music, on North Sixth Avenue. We attended our first show
here in 1995. As a result my wife designed and strung a
series of elegant necklaces mixing these beads with pearls.
Some craftspeople are selling beads that are completely unique
as well as some doing small production lines. Those less
creatively inclined will find designers who have created a
line of designer jewelry using these lovely beads.
DAY EIGHT: 2/3/97
Still with us? Today we are going to a rock show. Not just
any rock show but, The Executive Inn which houses one of the
finest specimen, crystal and rock shows in Tucson.
Specimens, particularly crystals, make excellent display
pieces. Clients ask questions and provide jewelers with the
opportunity to wax lyrical about the unique genesis, beauty and
rarity of the cut product. Gems are fascinating! The more
people learn the more fascinated they become. Don't neglect the
first floor rooms to the right of the main exhibition hall.
The Executive Inn is a long rectangular building with dealers
located in rooms on either side of a central corridor. The show
is in its second day. You will find dealers here who go direct
to sources in Brazil, East Africa and Pakistan. These are
mostly mineral dealers but, some will also carry cut and rough
We bought a magnificent 9.50 carat Mt. Mica, Maine
tourmaline here a few years back. Assuming we have not been
hung up by the beads, we will spend a profitable afternoon
Nine shows in eight days, not bad! We have chosen the
highlights. There are nineteen more shows, the last ending on
February 16th. Each has something to recommend it. We have
chosen this group because it is of greatest interest to
jewelers and few of us can devote two to three weeks going to
shows. However, if you have a bit more time we suggest The
Tucson Gem & Mineral Show starting February 13th and oh, yes, I