The Tucson Gem Show is one of the largest gem shows in the world, held every year in Arizona.
There are vendors from all over the world, selling all kinds of crystals and it really is pretty magical. I mean, it’s pretty amazing to see all of the different things that are available.
So, I wanted to share with you some of the things that I’m doing behind the scenes right now to prepare for my trip to the Gem Show!
I always like to make my packing list for the trip to make sure that I’m nice and organized before I go. I pack things like packing tape, and rolls of tape because I want to make sure that I can wrap everything up nicely and get it home safe and sound. I also pack some Sharpies for labeling things, some pens, and some little notebooks like this one.
You think you’re going to remember things like what you bought, where it’s from, how much you paid for it, and who the vendor was that you bought it from in case you want to buy more next year. But it’s so hard to remember after the busyness of the show really sets in, so taking a notebook along with you to keep track of these things can be super helpful.
So these little notebooks are perfect for every time I’m there and I make a purchase. I write down…
- What the minerals are that I bought
- How much I paid for them
- The location of where they’re from (if I know)
- The vendor’s name, as well as where the vendor was located at the show
That way, I can review my notes from last year if I want to go back next year and find something similar because a lot of the vendors will have similar things from year to year.
You also should plan to dress in layers because you will be in the desert. So it can be really cold in the mornings, pretty warm by the afternoon and then everything else in between.
You can expect a little bit of everything in terms of the weather, so I’d recommend that you pack in a way that you’ll be prepared, come rain or shine.
Also, comfy shoes are a must for me! As much as I want to be cute and stylish, I have to be comfy because you do so much walking there.
A note on accessibility: – Many parts of the show are accessible if you use a wheelchair, a scooter or other mobility devices, although some areas are not as user-friendly. A lot of the aisles can be really narrow and very, very crowded with people. So if you do use a mobility device, just look for areas where you’ll be able to navigate more easily because, unfortunately, the way some of the vendors set up the tables is not very easy to work around.
Budgets & Bargains
I like to make sure that I have a budget in mind before I go to the Gem Show. How much do I want to spend? Once you get there, it is so easy to overspend on things.
That’s another reason that I take these little notebooks with me. At the end of every night that I’m at the show, because we’re only there 4-5 days, I total up what I’ve spent for that day on cash and credit cards. If you have cheques or traveller’s cheques, it’s good to include that as well. That way, you’ll know what you’re spending, and you can try to stay within your budget.
It can be tempting to go overboard when you see things you really like! To allow for this, I try to have a little cushion in my budget of about 20 to 25%. So, I have my target budget but if I see something that’s really spectacular, and I know it’s worth going a little over, I will because sometimes there are those pieces you just can’t walk away from.
The only crystals I have regretted my relationship with were the ones that I didn’t buy, the ones that I walked away from. I never regret the ones that I bought.
I make sure that I call my bank a few days ahead of time, because I usually do a modest cash withdrawal and I want to make sure that they’ll have enough cash there for me since I’m buying for a whole shop. If you’re buying for yourself personally, it’s probably a little bit different. For me, if I’m going to go down there and pay for a hotel and airfares, I need to buy enough for my store to make it worth all those expenses. So, I usually will call my bank in advance to make sure that they have enough cash for me. Then, I’ll go in a day or two before I’m scheduled to travel and get my cash.
I try and go grocery shopping the night that I arrive. While I’m at the grocery store, I pick up some extra paper towels and toilet paper.
Believe it or not, toilet paper and paper towels are some of the best things that you can use for wrapping all those little fragile crystals and shipping them back home.
Some people rent a car, drive across the country, get a big trailer, load it up, and drive it home. That’s an awful lot of hassle for me. So I fly out and I get a big pallet to ship things through UPS.
At this time of year in Tucson, so many people are sending rocks through the post office. When those boxes get stacked up, all those heavy rocks just tend to break or damage things. So, I no longer use the post office, I choose UPS and I drop off a couple of boxes every day so that my car doesn’t get too full by the end of the trip. If you wait until the end of the trip, you’re going to have a lot of stuff. It makes everything complicated. But now, I use a pallet because I found it actually saved me a lot of money. I can insure the whole pallet, I’ve never had anything get damaged on a pallet, it really is the way to go for a shop like mine.
- Remember to pace yourself and take breaks
- Know where you’re going and what to look for
- Take a water bottle and make sure that you’re drinking plenty of water throughout the day
- Wear sunscreen and use Chapstick or lip balm that has some SPF protection as well
Be conservative with your shopping if something seems too high priced or not good enough quality, don’t rush into buying it because you will see something similar somewhere else.
Spotting Crystal Fakes
Be really careful of fake crystals and minerals. They are everywhere and I’ve really seen it all! I’ve seen fake crystals that are completely not the stone they claim to be at all. For example, Malachite is commonly faked with green resin.
Natural Malachite has beautiful swirls and banded patterns in it. It’s also heavy because it’s a copper-based mineral.
Fake Malachite that’s made of resin is very lightweight and the swirls are stripes, and are much chunkier rather than light and airy, like the natural crystal.
Crystal fakes are also mislabelled. A friend text me earlier this morning who sent a picture of some crystal skulls that she was considering buying, and she said “what do you think these are?”. They were labelled as Yooperlite, they were actually a Granite but they had a similar coloration and similar patterning. The seller may have been doing this intentionally trying to pass off a really cheap Granite as Yooperlite because it’s more sought after and popular right now or it could have just been a case of true mistaken identity. They might’ve misidentified what they were selling totally by accident because they genuinely thought that’s what it was. Either way, technically this would be the kind of thing that would be considered a crystal fake because it’s one thing trying to be passed off as another.
A lot of crystals can be dyed, and this is common for Quartz and Agate. If you see them in really brilliant colors, you can probably spot that. There are also other enhancements though, like heating. Many of you are probably aware of Amethyst that’s been heat-treated to make it appear as Citrine, which is very common and widely accepted on the market but a lot of Crystal workers don’t like to work with heat-treated minerals.
There are also artificially irradiated stones. Stones that are commonly irradiated are things like Smoky Quartz, especially the ones we see coming out of Arkansas. That can be a little easier to spot because it is sold in points or clusters and it’s often milky white at the base and very dark brown to black on the body of the Crystal in the tipper termination. They can be easy to spot, but there is other Smoky Quartz that is naturally, very dark, but they won’t have that milky base. That’s kind of a good giveaway. You’ll also see a lot of minerals from Afghanistan, and Pakistan that can be artificially irradiated, things like Kunzite. Definitely one of the ones that we see a lot of is Hiddenites which is like the green cousin to pink Kunzite.
It’s important to know what to look for in each type of mineral, especially if it’s something that you’re paying a lot for.
When people ask me: how do I spot a crystal fake? There’s really no one right answer.
There are loads of videos on the internet with all kinds of testing methods to test if your crystals are fake. Although some of those can be good in certain circumstances, some don’t work in other cases and can even be dangerous such as the burn method, which I do not recommend. Also, those aren’t things that you can do before purchasing a mineral.
Educating yourself about the specific type of crystal before you buy is really important, especially if it’s a big investment. If you’re buying an Agate slice for a couple of bucks and you’re not sure if it’s dyed or not, but you’re willing to take the risk before you do some research, that’s fine. But if you’re buying a Kunzite crystal for a couple of hundred dollars, you may want to think twice and do a little bit of research. Doing a quick Google search is the best thing that you can do, on the fly when you’re out at the show.
Having more information at your fingertips steers you into asking the right questions. You might ask someone: “Is this Kunzite fake?” and they might say no. But asking: “Has this Kunzite been enhanced?” can be a different story.
Then they might say yes, or if you ask about artificial irradiation they might say yes. Know the right questions to ask about each different type of mineral because they are widely varied in terms of the enhancements or fakes or substitutions that you will see.
Timing your visit
The second to the last week in January is too early to visit the Tucson Gem Show because not everybody is set up yet. Although you might get first pick at some of the vendors that are set up, it doesn’t really give you the opportunity to explore the show in its fullness, unless you’re really staying a couple of weeks, which some people do. Bear in mind that accommodation rates are really expensive during the show!
Just before the last weekend in January is when most things open, that’s a great time to go. When I say the Tucson Gem Show, there’s really like 30 shows or something like that, all happening simultaneously all around the city. That last weekend in January is a great time because there’s a lot of overlap amongst the shows that are open. You can pretty much take your pick and go just about anywhere.
A lot of people strategize the opposite way, they go toward the end of the show which could be the second week in February because they want to get really good last-minute deals. A lot of the vendors have gone to great expense to ship all of those rocks and gemstones to the show, so toward the end of the show, they’re pretty motivated to sell. If you want to go toward the end of the show to try and get bigger, better deals, that can be a really good strategy as long as you know that the quality might be a little bit less.
Or you can go earlier on in the show, where you’re paying the standard prices but you’re getting really good quality and I’ll tell you, that’s my preference. I’d rather have a better pick, better quality, and pay just a little bit more because the show is so competitive that I think the prices are fairly reasonable no matter when you go.
The beginning of the show is more geared towards stricter wholesale. You need your tax ID, your reseller permit number or wholesale license (it’s called lots of different things) to get into some of the shows and there are other places where they don’t ever ask you for your tax number. You can buy whatever, even at wholesale price. So you might be a person with a massage business or something like that and you want to start selling crystals in your studio, you can go there without a tax ID and pick some things up.
Some are very strict. You have to be registered and have badges and that kind of thing. It really helps to look up the shows in advance and see what their requirements and what their dates are. A quick Google search will give you a link with a list of all the shows by year, where they’re located, and then links to their individual website. But you’ll find tons of things all across the city where you don’t need a reseller permit or tax ID in order to get in or buy things from them.
When you’re there shopping, you do need to watch your invoicing closely. Not because any of the vendors are trying to pull one over on you but because they’re tired too, and they’re humans too, and they can make mistakes in the math. So a lot of people will choose to – if you want to save time – leave the stuff that they’ve picked out with the vendor, let them total it all up, and then come back later and pay their invoice. If you’re short on time, I do that in a lot of instances. You just have to be prepared for the odd mistake here and there. I’ve had some very costly ones where people overcharged me. I’ve also had some where they undercharged me and I am always super honest about that and I call them.
There was a jewelry company once, no joke, that undercharged me by about five thousand dollars and I didn’t realize until we got back to our shop! We were unpacking everything and checking it in and I saw all these things that were not in the invoice and the credit card total on the invoice was really low. I called and paid the difference for what I could figure out that they had missed putting on the invoice. So, it happens both ways, be prepared that if you’re not checking your invoices when you’re right there with them, there can be mistakes.
A good tip, if you need some boxes to pack your crystals into, head to the grocery stores or little retail stores and ask if they have any extra cardboard boxes. A lot of hardware stores, places like that have tons of cardboard boxes around, but they do get picked over this time of year. If the person that you’re buying from has any extra boxes that they’re willing to part with, it’s good to ask for those too so you can get things packed up. If you’re shipping through UPS, you can also try and buy boxes at UPS, although they tend to run out. The US post office has its priority mail shipping boxes but then you have to ship through the post office, which I mentioned isn’t my favorite because I’ve had a lot more damage that way.
If you are personal shopping or if you don’t have quite as much and you want to take things home on the plane, here is the trick: do not wrap all your crystals up ahead of time because you will not be a friend to TSA. Let me tell you, I made that mistake once and they really were not happy with me! I almost missed my flight because they had to unwrap every single little crystal that I had purchased to check it. So if you’re taking things in your carry-on, the best way to do it is to have a cardboard flat, leave all the crystals loose in there, just carry it through the airport and have a roll of paper towels, and some tape, or some rubber bands or something in your backpack and then pack it all at the gate while you’re waiting.
So, I hope that all this information is helpful to you. If you want to follow along with all the crystal fakes that I discover while I’m at the show, please follow me on Instagram @Love and Light School. I will be posting daily my stories of all the different fakes that I find at the show, with some information on what to look for so that you can be better informed about those crystal fakes.