Cory Cotter, with Michigan Rock and Minerals, makes some changes to his display at the 22nd Street Mineral and Fossil Show during the first weekend of the Tucson Gem, Mineral and Fossil Showcase on Jan. 29, 2017.

Planning, pacing, perspective and a bit of patience are the keys to making the most of the Tucson Gem, Mineral and Fossil Showcase, commonly referred to as “the gem show.”

The showcase is not a single show, but a constellation of 45 separate shows, each with individual vendors. That means there are hundreds of merchants selling beads, bones and stones, baubles and breathtaking minerals.

Negotiating the shows can be overwhelming, said a four-member panel during a discussion hosted by the Arizona Daily Star on Tuesday evening at Casas Adobes Church, 6801 N. Oracle Road.

Some of the shows require credentials to enter, but 80 percent of the shows are open to the public, said Jane Roxbury, director of convention services for Visit Tucson.

Here are some of the panelists’ key tips on navigating the shows and negotiating a good deal:

Planning and pacing

Don’t try to do all of the shows in one day, said Andrew Squire, economic development specialist with the city of Tucson.

He encouraged visitors to take the time to visit various shows and become familiar with what they have and don’t have.

You may buy something on the first day you visit the show and find something better or cheaper on your next visit.

For an overview, check out the 63rd Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, which was the show that put Tucson on the gem-and-mineral map, set for Feb. 9-12 at the Tucson Convention Center’s exhibition halls.

The show has mineral exhibits — like can’t-be-missed pieces from the Smithsonian Institute and the Gemological Institute of America — and educational opportunities as well as 244 gem, mineral, fossil and jewelry dealers.

Know what you’re looking for, suggested Visit Tucson’s Roxbury.

By using Visit Tucson’s website,, you can find the shows, hours and locations. However, on a desktop or laptop computer, you can search and find shows that carry the merchandise you’re looking for.

Use the free Gem Ride Shuttle, said Donovan Durband, parking administrator for the city of Tucson. It runs within walking distance of about 40 of the 45 shows.

Take the shuttle from the well-signed parking area near Mercado San Agustin and the Interstate 10 frontage road.

Download the “Official Tucson Gem Show Guide” app for maps, showtimes and transportation information. Find it at

The shuttles run frequently — about every 15 minutes or so, said Durband — but can slow down to every 30 to 45 minutes during busy, heavy traffic times.

Perspective and patience

Everyone wants a good deal, but value might be in the eye of the beholder.

  • Mark Marikos, president of the Tucson Gem & Mineral Society, said you can see a pricy mineral in one booth, and a similar, less expensive item in another vendor’s booth. Price can depend on many factors, like the quality and story behind the piece. So do your homework before you plunk down your cash.

Point of interest: Unless it’s huge, you usually can’t tell what’s a meteorite and what’s not.

  • Squire reminded the 275-person crowd that you wouldn’t buy a house or car without research. The same goes for an expensive gem, piece of art or jewelry, or fossil.

If you have questions, go to the Mineralogy Database,, or ask an expert from the Tucson Gem and Mineral Society,

  • Roxbury suggests getting to the shows early in the day, near opening, when the vendors are not tired or busy and can be most helpful.
  • Feel free to haggle with vendors for a better deal, the panelists agreed.
  • Toward the end of the shows, the vendors may be more willing to drop prices rather than pack up and lug minerals back to their shops or storage. (Remember, rocks are heavy.)

The risk, of course, is that your favorite item might be gone.

  • Know whom you’re buying from. Roxbury said when she gets complaints about show purchases, the buyer often doesn’t know the name of the vendor or show, doesn’t have a receipt, and paid cash — warning signs that something is amiss.

“If something seems too good to be true, it is,” said Squire.

Contact Ann Brown at or 573-4226. On Twitter: @AnnattheStar