It's time for my annual pilgrimage to hunt for shiny things at the Tucson Gem and Mineral show! Seriously, I have a countdown app running all year long that I reset the day I get back from Tucson.
This year my shopping list consisted of 50% rough material in rock form and 50% everything else. Now that I have started teaching lapidary classes at BARN, I was on the hunt for a variety of materials I could bring home, slab, and use in my classes. My autofeed 12” slab saw is currently occupying one of the bathrooms outside of my studio in our house. My husband is not exactly a fan of this arrangement, but it's a messy process so the bathroom seems appropriate. Besides, I'm secretly taking over the entire house, inch by inch and hope he won't notice ;).
So You’ve got 100lbs of Rocks to Put in Your Carry-On
I've been there. Last year, I packed only a carry-on, a backpack filled with bubble wrap, and a single change of clothes for 3 days. I somehow managed to get everything I purchased into my carry-on (thank goodness for the 2 inch expansion) and my backpack without having to leave any clothes behind. I secretly weighed my bag when at the airport and it registered at 73lbs! Can I overhead press 73lbs to get this into a bin? I decided to worry about that later and headed to the gate.
The TSA agents at the Tucson Airport are well acquainted with rockhounds like me and must see hundreds of tons of rock passing through their belt monitors. However, be prepared to have your bag pulled aside for inspection, especially if you're carrying any crystal points, and set aside extra time for arrival at your gate.
If you're carrying nearly 100lbs of rock in your carry-on, like I was, you should also prepare your "can you give me a hand" routine for your unfortunate neighbors on the plane. If you are nice enough, you can pretty reliably get some help overhead-pressing your bag into the bin and lifting it down again. It's definitely a two person job.
Pro tip: Hope for a full plane and try to get a seat in a late boarding group. If you're lucky, the plane will be full and the gate agent will ask for volunteers to check their bags for free (and without weighing them). It's a nice loophole.
Just Ship It
This year I decided to avoid the hassle and shipped all the rocks back in 5 boxes. This is a much easier way to go.
Remember, when shipping, to pick up extra bubble wrap and tape because the vendors will wrap things in paper or not at all and you'll have to have your own ready. Use packing tape on the corners of your shipping box (triple-wrapped) because rocks and crystals are very heavy and get tossed around more aggressively in transit. I’ve had some things break during shipping and box corners will split open.
Get There First!
The first Tuesday of the gem show is when the AGTA show opens and we were determined to be first in the door. We had the list of vendors we had contacted in advance and material they were holding for us to sort through. The waiting area was packed with people anxiously waiting with visions of gemstones twinkling in their eyes, salivating at the prospects of the haul they were about to pounce on.
The AGTA, American Gem Trade Association, show is known for being "the world’s authority in color, the AGTA and its members lead the industry in educational resources, ethical practices, and the finest colored gemstones and cultured pearls". They have the highest ethical and disclosure standards which is why so many jewelers line up to purchase high quality stones from this show.
You need to have a business license to get in. This is the top of the line show to buy gemstones from and the vendors are all reputable and vetted.
Have a Budget
Have a budget worked out in advance well before walking into this show. I recommend a max budget, an actual max budget, and a no-really-I-don't-have-any-more-money max budget. You will go through all 3 levels, guaranteed. As the song goes, Everything is Awesome, and you can easily loose your shorts in here.
Add to the "Don't Miss" List
For more gemstone magic, check out the GJX, Gem and Jewelry Exchange, show directly across the street. This place is a maze of bling and your AGTA pass will get you in.
The Tucson Gem Show is a must for any rockhound's bucket list. If you're like me, it may end up becoming something you look forward to every year.
The photo is of me at GJX holding a giant ruby! $$$