The Tucson Gem Show – How to Prepare for It

by Judith Altman.

The Tucson Gem Show and How to Get Ready for It - Discussion on Jewelry Making Journal

Now that the holidays are over, I’m shifting my focus to the huge Tucson Gem Show that’s held annually in Arizona in early February.

This is truly the show-of-all-shows, where I spend five or six days shopping.

Whatever the size and duration of a gem show, however, there are a few things that I have learned that make the experience more pleasant and more successful.

Here are a few of the preparations I’m making for my upcoming buying jaunt to Tucson:

Tips for the Tucson Gem Show

I use a small rolling suitcase for all my gem show purchases. I used to use a large shoulder satchel, but that became too unwieldy and caused too much back pain.

It took some work to find the right rolling bag but I finally did.

The most important feature of my rolling suitcase is that it has a top opening, so that I can unzip the top and place my purchases in it with the bag still standing upright while I’m at the gem show. This makes it easier to deal with, given the crowds.

It also has front pockets that hold all the rest of my supplies. And here is what I bring along:

Ziptop plastic baggies
of various sizes

Some vendors provide paper bags or unsealed plastic bags – which can result in beads falling out and mixing together.

If a vendor does not put the beads in individual plastic ziptop bags, then I do so at the time of purchase.

I also tuck each receipt into the corresponding bag(s), and each night I make a list of what I bought from each vendor and its price.

In addition, I bring permanent markers so that I can write the price on each baggie.

Some vendors are too busy to provide itemized receipts and don’t mark each item individually. So I write the prices on the baggies myself, as the vendor is writing up my order. That way I can keep track of my costs.

My shopping list

While a great deal of my purchasing is based on what I find at the Tucson Gem Show, I do create a list ahead of time of what I need to get.

I write this in a small notebook along with the list of my regular vendors and their locations at the gem show.

I clip a pen onto the notebook so that as I find items that I want to comparison shop, I write down the vendor name and location, along with a description of the item and cost. This way I can remember to come back if I need to.

Proof of my Business

Of course, one pocket in my bag is for a ton of business cards and copies of my reseller license.

Although all the shows I attend are wholesale and they require a reseller license to get in, many times individual vendors will ask for a copy of it. Always have lots of copies on hand.

Personal Survival Items

One pocket of my rolling bag is for “taking care of me” items. Tissues, snacks and a water bottle are essential.

And as any of you know who have shopped at gem shows, it doesn’t take long for your hands to get dirty and to feel kind of grimy.

So I also bring along hand wipes or unscented baby wipes to clean up every once in a while. It helps me get through a long day.

More Tips for
Shopping at Bead and Gem Shows:

Bead Show Tips
Attending a bead show can be a fantastic but overwhelming experience. Faced with 200+ bead vendors, where do you start? How do you keep from overspending? How can you lug all your purchases around for hours? How do you keep track of the vendors you decide to buy from online later? You’ll enjoy guest author Kathy Reading’s fantastic bead show survival tips!

Tips for Attending Gem Shows
How to define your market and plan your gemstone purchases in advance so you can get in and out of a gem show without blowing your budget.

Judith Altman
Judith Altman Designs

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  • Valerie Kiesel says:

    Thanks for these tips. I live south of Tucson in Green Valley, AZ & my first time at the TGS a year ago was completely overwhelming. I have a friend coming in next week for the fall TGS, so will use your ideas for an enjoyable time for us both! Adios!

  • Dita says:

    These are such valuable tips. I find that having a list is essential and a sharpie pen where I write the prices on the zip loc bags right after the purchase. That helps me later to price the product. When I pay by card it is easier because I have the record right there but I try not to take out the plastic, I use cash mostly to keep a control on my spending. I am going to use the tips in the comments next time. Dita from CA

  • PC says:

    Thanks for posting! certainly essential for ALL buying trips.. If allowed, taking a quick cell snapshot @ important booths is also handy to help sort the visual overload. As a photojournalist I use a slender “reporter’s notebook” for notes, captions, and a quick diagram when I reach the end of each row. Why keep in your head what you can keep at your fingertips?!

  • Gaby says:

    These are such important tips, some of them I would not have considered, so thank you, I’m looking forward to attending my first bead show in the future.

  • Robin says:

    I have a question about getting a license I read some where in a book about having your own jewelry business you report your taxes once a year, But I thought regardless of the business you are suppose to report your taxes quarterly? Any tips on this?

  • Hi Robin, I highly recommend getting a professional accountant to help you get lined up with the taxes you’ll need to pay where you live, and when to pay them. Also if you’re in the U.S., check with your state’s Department of Revenue Sales Tax Division (your town may have a local office for this, or you can find their phone number in the state government section of your phone book). Wishing you lots of joy and success with your jewelry business! πŸ™‚

  • Robin says:


    Thank you so much in responding I so appreciate your feedback! This is one of the best wel informed website I have found out here on the internet. Your tips are very helpful.

    Thank you!

  • You’re very welcome, Robin! Thank you for your lovely comment! πŸ™‚

  • Mary says:

    One tip for anyone thinking of going out there – be sure you are in as good physical shape as you can be, some people actually train to go. You’ll walk for miles and be on your feet for hours. It’s really easy to overdo, so “check in” with your body regularly. And bring lots of water.

  • Great tips, Mary – it takes stamina and preparation to make the most of such a big event!

  • Great tips. We went to Tucson last year. Be prepared to spend more than you expect, too much good stuff there. There are shuttles that will take you to most all the show areas, so find a cheap daily parking lot and ride the shuttles. We found a tiny backpack to work well for us. We used the small type that carry a water bladder. We just took the bladder out for the trip and carried water bottles that you can refill as needed.

    We spent two weeks in Tucson going to shows every day and still didn’t see it all. We found if you grab a map of the building you can shop around and go back to the vendors that had the best deals. Take a camera but ask before snapping away. And most of all, have fun!

  • Duane, thanks so much for adding your great Tucson Gem Show tips here! πŸ™‚

  • Carol Burton says:

    I’m looking forward to going to Tucson this year. I took the shopping tour with Dale “Cougar” Armstrong last year. It is a great tour for people who have not been there before, or don’t know where to start. She takes a group of people in a van all day and into the evening. There are discounts at some of the booths, that Dale sets up ahead of time. I’m going on my own this year for five days. There are 40+ shows. So, I recommend reading about most of the shows on their websites, and deciding if that type of show is what you want to see. For instance I’m looking for raw stones, druze stones and fossils. So, I will look for shows that specialize in those. That’s where I will go first. I LOVE Tucson! Hope you can all go someday!

  • Sharon Rittmiller says:

    Can only wholesalers attend Tucson?

  • ChloeGirl says:

    How do you go about finding lodging that is safe? We have been told there are bad sections to stay away from in Tucson.

  • Laura Mitchell says:

    How does one get a resellers license?

  • Sharon, ChloeGirl, & Laura, You don’t need a wholesaler or resale license to go, but in most states they are free so it’s well worth getting. Check with your state tax dept for a Sales and Use tax number. Make up a company name and fill out the form. You will have to report it on your taxes and turn in the sales tax you collect from sales but even thats easy. Once you have a tax number and a business card, you can get into a lot of the vendor only shows. Just jump on the Tucson gem show webpage before you go and you can pre-sign in to a lot of them and skip the long line. You’ll be sent name badges etc ahead of time.

    We stayed with relatives that live in Tucson but to find safe lodging I’d start by the hotels that the gem show page suggests, or contact them. If you pick one of them, the shuttle may even stop there saving you parking fees. You’ll want to book very early.

  • Duane, thanks for this helpful info!

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