Everyone who is a rock hound, or a fossil fossicking gemstone collector should add the Tucson Gem Show to their bucket list.
It’s an incredible first experience and a high buzz factor to see up to 6,000 exhibitors from all over the world displaying their best gems, fossils and minerals.
There are 44 shows spread over 3 weeks, so it is best to do your homework and book your accommodation up to 6 months or a year before you go, as accommodation is at premium price.
The weather can vary from freezing or up to the highs 30’s in just one week. For those who have never experienced sleeping in a desert town, it is essential to bring a humidifier. The night air in the desert is very dry and you will not be able to sleep without a humidifier. The Gem Show can also be time consuming so make sure you have very comfortable walking shoes. Sellers are set up in tents or in hotel rooms where the sellers sleep and then they open the room with display during the day time.
All the first time visitors to the show get blown away, as the whole town seems to have minerals, fossils, jewelry and gemstones from every corner of the world. Visitors can fly in Tucson or Phoenix airport and hire a car. First time visitors will enjoy the drive to Sedona as the country is so scenic.
Buses are available between shows but if you are planning on buying, it’s really difficult to take heavy specimens with you. You can see experienced buyers with trolleys, but keep in mind that in most areas the ground is gravel, so make sure you have trolleys with large wheels.
Tucson show guide is available at most shows and is helpful if you want to source minerals or gems, as it does save you a lot of time walking endlessly along aisles of minerals.
Some shows are for trade only and you will need business documentation to enter these shows, but most are open to the public.
The AGTA and GJX, G&LW shows have top gemstones and jewelry but is for trade buyers only. However it still leaves around 40 shows that specialize from gemstone beads, to fossils and minerals from countries all over the world.
Lapidary club - If you’re a member of a club, sometimes it’s a good to start visit a show together as you see all the people go their own way during the day and then come back at the end and all share information about the best deals for the day and compare who got the best deal.
It’s recommended to bring several copies of your business license documentation. Bring your account number for FedEx or UPS, or apply for an account if you don’t have one as the rates are higher at the show than normal. Always have plenty of business cards and dockets so the sellers who you’ve bought from can tape it onto your purchases outside the box. Also it’s convenient to bring a calculator for quick calculations and small scales if you’re buying gemstones.
Quartzsite Show Circuit
The Quartzsite show circuit is considered a jump start to the Tucson show circuit and if you have time you should definitely add it to your itinerary. It starts mid-January and is a 3.5-hour trip from Tucson Arizona and is haven for RV’s. The town has only 2,000 residents but 100,000 RV’s arrive from the cold North during the summer months. It is considered a rock hound’s bazaar paradise and up to 2,000 vendors set up a few weeks early before the Tucson show circuit. Many buyers have said it’s cheaper than the Tucson show, but it takes a lot of time to attend both shows.
If you have time you can visit the Opal Hill Mine for some fire agate, or the scenic drives of Hedges Ghost Town or the Bradshaw Trial. So, there’s plenty of activities if you need a break away from rocks.
Most people end up with more items and weight than what they originally anticipated. Airlines are very strict with weight for carry-on luggage and are known to check the weight. So it’s recommended not to even try and carry over the limit. It’s best to bring tape along with wrapping, bubble pack or foam with you so you can securely pack your items in your room.
Shipping companies do offer to pick your items up and take them to a packaging station. There they will pack and ship the items for you. They can handle local or overseas shipments for sea containers or LCL shipments. FedEx and UPS can also ship for you.
Let’s face it, everyone wants a bargain. However bargains are not easy to find. In the past, vendors from other countries would overload and bring in too much stock. At the end of the show, the vendors want to sell the rest of their stock so then you would get good bargains for bulk discounts. Some sellers will offer items at keystone price. This means they will discount 50% off the marked price. So always remember to ask if the vendor have any keystone stocks, as some vendors don’t display items that they will discount.
In the past two years, there have been so many comments that bargains are hard to find now, and you only need to read social media comments that you can buy better online now than at Tucson gem show. Today the costs of raw materials have also skyrocketed due to environmental laws and the cost of mining operations.
Unfortunately for the show, the cost of booths and overheads have sky rocketed. The vendors are now unable to sell their items at reduce prices like in the past. For the buyer, TIME is now money and the show rates for accommodation is expensive. So to hunt for that bargain can now cost you in other ways. As quality mineral or fossils are what buyers have preference for, the best specimens generally sell first.
One market operator who does weekend markets full time in California told me the best strategy is to go to the show on the first day or last day of a trade show. On the first day he looks for quality items that he can move quickly at a reasonable profit. On the last day he offers to buy parcel lots at a low price that he can sell at a high margin, but can potentially take while to get his money back. My question to him was “Isn’t it best to buy quality that turns over quickly than bargains that are slow to sell?”
He didn’t reply but later he sent me a message that he had done his last Tucson show after 20 years, and he is now based in California and he can make more money and enjoy life rather than going to the shows.
We all love bargains but isn’t it better to find that one item that’s unique and interesting that you’ll fall in love with and must buy? I look at my private collection from over 25 years and I don’t have many bargain items in my collection. Most items in my collection I’ve paid for at that time for a reasonable price and now these items are valuable. New finds are always in strong demand and you will see booths full of people buying a new gem or mineral that you never know if it’ll be available again.
Only time will tell if it was bargain or not, as new mines do have a reputation of one off hits, in other words, it’s just a small pocket of a certain mineral or gemstone and when the miner goes back to the mine he frequently cannot find another patch like it. The best finds are always when you luckily stumble on a bargain whilst you weren’t looking for it.
Statistics show that retail online sales are only 8-10% of all retail sales and is growing 20% per annum depending on who’s figures you analyse.
I think figures are understated, but the fact is it has a massive influence on retail prices so less shops are now classed as resellers as opal and gemstone buyers want to go direct to the source and not through a middle man.
Ten years ago, buyers within the age groups of 50 to 60 were the strongest buyers, but today the Millennium age are better buyers. They are spending 3 times more than the older categories; that is the 20-34-year-old, and they number more than the baby boomers 50-69 year old’s.
These younger buyers will buy online and can search for the exact item and at the best price instantly, many older people, who are not as computer savvy end up going to trade shows.
Gem sellers who do trade shows are called show Junkies or Show Dinosaurs as they enjoy the lifestyle and social interaction with others in the industry.
The old saying is true “Time is money”, for Australian sellers to go to shows in USA like Tucson takes a month out of a year to travel and do the show. The preparation takes about 2-3 weeks and about a month to do all the paperwork.
The show is becoming inefficient and dangerous, as each year we hear thefts occurring at the shows and the insurance is very expensive and it will be hard to claim if you are robbed.
Even for people in the USA, it’s very time consuming to travel now to the shows. People nowadays don’t have time to spend week or more at the shows.
Australians must have the exact paperwork documentation when taking opals into the USA.
Most items are tax free or very low rate tax, for example rough opal is only 0.25% however the paperwork cost around $600.00 for entry and re-export for both countries.
Last year a boulder opal seller reported that his opals were confiscated at the airport as the rough boulder opals specimens looked suspicious under x-ray and he didn’t have them for the show, but he could pick them up on the way back home.
Several opal dealers have had their stock confiscated for improper documentation and their stock was not returned to them.
Many sellers from other countries have also reported so many issues and the terrorism threat has made customs procedures very complicated.
Currency conversions can also have a big impact on show circuits
Chines buyers, or buyers buying for china have helped sales boom for several years in Tucson but now they have disappeared and go directly to the countries instead of the shows. Japanese and Australian buyers have also slowed down. European buyers have been steady, but no one has mentioned any increase in sales for European buyers.
A common comment is buyers don’t have the time to do show circuits as in the past. Buyers from California make comments that they can’t even afford 3-4 days minimum that is required to see the shows.
We never used to hear that locals found it difficult to go to shows, and how much more it is for international buyers.
On average, a booth can cost approximately $5,000 for 1-2-week show, plus accommodation, food etc. Most international sellers would spend around $20,000 to do the show. Buyers also must pay for accommodation which is expensive. One old timer said he used to sell in Tuscon at 5% cost of items sold, but now stopped when the costs reached 50% of his sales. Even paperwork costs to take items in and out USA, it can be over $600 for most sellers. Some USA sellers have several booths and cost is over $50,000 not including the cost of bringing several staff. Some of the outer shows are less expensive but they do not get much traffic. Sellers are caught between high or low booth fees compared to the dwindling foot traffic.
Many sellers have had enough of extremely high prices. In the past when business was easy, they had put up with it, but now they cannot afford these high prices. It starts from accommodation at $200 night when off-season is $29 and food prices, and whatever a seller does costs him money. We have had sellers charge $1500 to add lighting to booth as his form wasn’t filled in correctly for what should have been a $236 fee. There are too many stories of excessive charging to sellers that buyer do not realize and this affects what seller can sell his goods for.
Many buyers in the past would go to buy bargains at the show but unfortunately sellers cannot sell bargains now as the costs are too high, and attendance is down so less sales for the average seller. Buyers enjoy a bargain but when you see the position they sellers are in, most will do less sales each year until they reach crisis point. 2/3rd of our verified sellers who did trade shows in USA have now stopped or limited the Trade show routes.
We can expect more retail shops to close as they have in past due to efficient online sales and they have always paid top rent for the best position in shopping centres. In past these shops would go to trade shows to buy opals or gems and make their own jewelry.
Pay attention to your old local established jewellers for closing down sales as they just cannot compete with efficient online sellers whilst landlords keep increasing their rental prices. One jewellery association says that when shops sales overheads costs reaches 45% of sales that they will close. There are already many jewellers that are near this dangerous percentage now.
I have noticed that over the last few years the wholesale and retail prices have blurred. In other words, a trade price on opal wholesaler at certain price per carat is not much different for wholesale buyers or resellers or retails. So, shops cannot mark-up due to online sales where it’s easy to check prices online. The days when an opal would change through 4-6 hands, each with a margin are now ending as buyers are sourcing direct.
Tucson will always be the number one mineral and fossil show worldwide to visit and a great place to meet your friends in the industry. But the shows are not as busy now as it was in the past.
According to the Tucson Local News, most vendors had a decrease in business this year also. Obviously, this is due to online sales as online sites have increase in sales. In the past buyers would buy a years’ worth of supplies at Tucson, but now they can buy mostly online at cheaper prices, and sellers can’t discount as cost to do these shows are exorbitant. So lower grade items are higher due to overhead costs to sell. But Time is money now, and business people cannot afford to spend weeks at shows, especially if sales are lower and they are now caught spiralling downwards on the business model, so it is hard for everyone.
I empathize for older or non-English speaking vendors who can’t sell on line and must keep doing these expensive shows to sell their products. I recommend buying online but also to visit Tucson as it’s a once in lifetime experience to see so much variety in one small area.
My brother Paul from Seda Opals did the Tucson show for 25 years but now he is all online, however he still loves to visit the show and meet fellow mineral, fossil rock and opal lovers. Since he stopped selling at Tucson he has sold over 30,000 opals and gemstones online and is constantly adding new items to the thousand buyers online looking daily for that special item.
There will always be Gemstone or Jewelry trade shows. A recent International colored gemstone association meeting had only 10% members who sell online and the rest do retail or trade shows. The average age is around 65 years old, so one can do the sums on how long shows will be as large as in the past. Jewelry shows are now becoming a show and tell and promote new lines instead of orders.
Over the last 5 years we have seen jewelry shows declining due to above reasons and they have adopted an internal promotion strategy. Gemstone and opal industry is more unique items, so this strategy will not work.
Writer Wayne Sedawie went to Tucson in 1998 and 2004 and did Tucson show with a booth and has visited 3 times since, but started his online business Opalauctions in 2004 and has never looked back since.
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In 2006 we went to Tucson Gem show and was great experience and we bought 40-foot container of minerals and gemstone specimens and shipped back to Australia.
We purchased Stock of mineral display specimens was from all over the world and was good buying such large range from many countries
Unfortunately, it was a disaster!
paperwork didn’t match up and customs seized the container
Quote $8000 to land container blew out to $23,000
Once customs seized container, the paperwork didn’t fully match as some seller listed as bulk lots
Eventually we received container and $3000 refund
USA shipping company was not helpful at all even though we used their local clearance agency
Now we buy containers direct from Morocco, brazil and Pakistan
Instead $8,000 freight its now $3500
I will go back to Tucson but can’t afford to buy from there now
Accommodation, airfares, expensive foods are just too much
Today we skype with our Moroccan and Bali supplies and can see stock instantly from our office
Last week we had images fossil in Sahara Desert and we bought few meteorites while chat skype.
I recommend visit to Tucson but not for volume buying as better to make connections.
Sellers at Tucson have to ship to USA so you are paying double freight and shipping prices from some these third world countries are inexpensive.
Its good to enjoy the experience Tucson!