It’s Tucson’s time to shine, sparkle, glimmer and gleam.

The Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase officially gets underway Saturday, Feb. 2. The showcase is not a single show, but a constellation of 48 separate, distinct shows that house more than 4,000 vendors and stretch across town.

“This is the largest event of its kind in the world, and there have never been so many of the shows open to the public,” says Jane Roxbury, director of convention services for Visit Tucson.

Hotels, exhibit halls and huge tents along roadways and in vacant lots will be stocked with rare and bargain-priced gemstones, minerals, fossils, lapidary items, crystals and metaphysical pieces, beads, petrified wood, ethnographic art and carvings — just about everything geological plus oh-wow items that pique the imagination.

“Shoppers can find great buys not just on gems, jewelry, minerals and fossils, but great wearable art, clothes and home accessories,” says Roxbury.

OLDEST STAR

The center of the constellation is the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, presented by the Tucson Gem and Mineral Society. It’s set for Feb. 14-17 at the Tucson Convention Center, 260 S. Church Ave.

Themed “Wulfenite is Loved” (it opens on Valentine’s Day, after all), the 65th show will include about 250 retail dealers, exhibits from private and museum collections, lectures and seminars.

Often referred to as “the original show” or the “granddaddy,” the show humbly began in an elementary school in 1955 and then moved into a Quonset hut at the former Pima County Fairgrounds, now the Tucson Rodeo grounds at Sixth Avenue and Irvington Road.

The show’s popularity among hobbyists, professionals and the public evolved, and it became the “largest, oldest and most prestigious gem and mineral show in the world,” according to the show’s website.

It’s a popular stop for kiddos: About 3,000 Arizona school students attend the show for free with teachers and chaperones to view the exhibits and shop. In addition, 2,000 children visit the Junior Education Area that has hands-on activities and University of Arizona Society of Earth Science students sharing mineral and earth sciences info and answering questions.

Show hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Feb. 14 through Feb. 16, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Feb. 17. Admission is $13 per adult with discounts available. Two-day tickets are $22. Children 14 and under are free with a paying adult.

NEW TO THE MIX

The showcase mix is slightly different every year, and it adds two new shows this year:

  • The Mineral City, 516 W. Lester St., will have more than 60 dealers and is the only show with an onsite mineral preparation lab and a custom acrylic-base service, according to the show’s website.
  • Tucson’s Hidden Gem Show, 707 N. Main Ave. (formerly Samora Minerals and Amber Co. Warehouse) bills itself as “as a show for astute collectors and mineral dealers brought to you by mineral dealers.” Its vendors will show a range of minerals, fossils, rough, cabs, jewelry, and brilliant, oh-my-gosh crystals.
MAKE A PLAN

The sheer number of shows in Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase and the variety of items shown by vendors can be overwhelming; so it always helps to have a plan, says Donovan Durband, administrator of the city’s Park Tucson.

Here are a few ideas to help make that plan:

  • Explore the guides and lists before you head out to the shows. Focus on the open-to-the-public shows and get an idea of what shows you want to visit, Durband suggests. Most of the shows have free admission and are open to the public; however, several shows are for wholesalers and require a business license, taxpayer ID number and business card to register.
  • Be prepared to be surprised: “I have only ever known what I was looking for once I found it,” says Roxbury. “I went to JOGS (Gem & Jewelry Show) in September to greet my clients and had zero plans to buy anything, but then I spied this booth carrying the most beautiful pop-up cards, so of course I bought several,” says Roxbury. “And then I discovered that the same vendor had beautiful rings, bracelets and hair accessories made out of carved horn, so I needed many of those as well.”
  • Do your homework and don’t rush: The adage of “if it seems too good to be true, it is” holds at the shows. At last year’s show, a woman bought five purses for $20. She had no expectations — or illusions — of Louis Vuitton-quality bags. She knew what she was buying. There are bargains to be found, but before you plunk down serious money on a purchase that you think is a good deal, take some time. The ample days of show operations give time to comparison shop carefully; and for investment pieces, ask for an opportunity to get an independent appraisal, says Roxbury. And get a receipt. If you feel pressured or the vendor won’t give you a receipt, feel free to walk away.
  • Use public transportation: There’s no reason to feel intimidated by how many shows there are or how to get to them, says Durband. You can connect to 43 shows by parking once and using GemRide. “We boarded more than 13,000 passengers last year over 17 days, mostly in 11-passenger sprinter vans, and the ridership has grown every year since we re-launched the system in 2012,” he says. “We also have ambassadors at the shuttle hubs. This year we expect to have some of the same ambassadors back from last year, so they are knowledgeable and helpful,” he says. GemRide connects clusters of similar-interest shows through the Hub Express shuttles between downtown and the Kino area, and to the bead shows at Casino del Sol, says Durband. Within those cluster areas, the shuttle routes connect parking with several shows in the same section of the city. “The GemRide system is a great way to sample lots of shows. Since some stops serve multiple shows, and some of the shows are huge, there may be a fair amount of walking and time needed to walk and browse,” says Durband. The Official Guide is integrated with GemRide, listing all the shows by shuttle route and ordered by stop. Find the GemRide brochure in the guide and at GemRide.com. Or ride the SunLink streetcar. The downtown Mercado hub is next to two streetcar stops and the African Art Village, says Durband. The streetcar can take you to the Tucson Convention Center, downtown and Fourth Avenue restaurants and entertainment.
  • Practice personal safety: The shows are patrolled, but they can get crowded. Durband encourages being aware of your surroundings and taking practical safety steps such as not flashing cash.
  • Be patient: All of the visitors to the shows — 50,000-60,000 — might mean a long wait at your favorite restaurant and heavy traffic on the streets. Patience can help everyone, locals and visitors, have a more pleasant and productive gem show experience.

“Now is the time that Tucson shines brightest. Get out there, find your gem,” says Roxbury.

A list of Tucson gem shows and where to find them: 

Ann Brown is a former Star reporter

and editor