My (not so) secret source for rocks and minerals
Q: Where do I get all of my fabulous rocks and minerals? How do I find the incredible colors and textures I use? Where do they all come from?
A: Tucson, Arizona.
No, all of these amazing minerals and rocks are not naturally found in Tucson. And no, I don’t go spelunking, or digging, or exploring in the Arizona sun to find them.
For three weeks a year in January/February, all of the world’s fabulous minerals, gems, rocks, and fossils come to Tucson, Arizona. In those three weeks, thousands of miners, traders, designers and dealers from all corners of the world converge at 29 different shows, in more than 50 different venues. It is not just a candy store, it is Willy Wonka’s factory, showroom, and tasting parlor all rolled into one!
Imagine shows as big as several football fields, crammed with vendors every ten feet, set up in every convention center, meeting hall, hotel ballroom, amphitheatre, parking lot, sports field and last scrap of open space in town. Tents pop up everywhere, put down floors, get electricity, and become marketplaces. The hotel meeting rooms get so full, that vendors rent out ground floor and second floor motel rooms and turn them into miniature showplaces. You can wander from room to room, around tents set up by the pool, go up to the next floor and keep going. It never ends!
The vendors range wildly. One table has sophisticated gem cutters in business suits with highly polished displays and carefully calibrated carat scales. The next table has African tribesmen in native dress who show up with burlap sacs full of mineral chunks and pour them out on bare tables for you to look over to see if you want the lot.
You can find anything and everything for sale. Would you like a carved mammoth tusk? An amethyst geode you can take a bath in? Just discovered minerals? Stones only found when the moon is in the seventh house? You are in luck! And, or course, there are rocks in every color, size, quality, shape and cut imaginable (and then some you couldn’t even dream up!).
The show dates are staggered, the hours shift, so that you can see as much as possible, but no one ever sees everything. You rush around from show to show, trying to find the rare and beautiful, the unique and affordable, the items that were so popular with your customers last year, and do your best. Every year there are new, fantastical stones to play with and you are always wondering what you will find in the next table, the next booth, the next tent, the next show.
For several years, I have been doing my shopping (and drooling) at the Tucson gem shows. Even bringing only the cash I can afford to spend and leaving the credit cards locked up (most international vendors won’t even take credit cards), I still always manage to buy more than I planned. I have accumulated thousands of raw and polished rocks, minerals, fossils, and rarities. It will be decades before I use all of them up, but I’ll still be shopping this year :-).
Last year, I decided it was time to start selling my designs in this marketplace. I was fortunate enough to secure a booth (#4002) in one of the most “primo” rooms in town, the Ider Oberstein Pavillion in the Gem & Jewelry Exchange. This section is famous for the breath-taking gem carvings done by the generations of jewelers from that region of Germany. Everyone who comes to Tucson makes sure to go through this room and see the work of the best gem carvers in the world. How I ended up in the room is a lucky accident, but I definitely appreciated the steady flow of customers on my first foray into selling at Tucson.
I will be exhibiting in the same location this year and hope to open many more accounts with galleries and museum stores around the world. For this crowd of rock-hounds, my pieces are “minerals ready-to-wear.” It is thrilling to be in a venue where folks know and appreciate the stones as much as I do.
If you get a chance, swing by Tucson anytime during late January and early February. The shows will ROCK YOUR WORLD!