10. World’s Largest Gem Show

By Christy Krueger

When a city can claim to have the planet’s largest of anything, that’s a big deal. And because of the Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase, bragging rights are in order. 

“It’s certainly the largest event of its kind in the world,” said Jane Roxbury, director of convention and gem show services for Visit Tucson, the nonprofit that attracts visitors and business to the metro Tucson region.

Although Tucsonans have enjoyed the convenient proximity of the showcase for decades, many may not understand the enormity of the show as an economic driver for the region.

The importance of this colossal annual event is illustrated through Visit Tucson’s economic impact studies. As stated in its most recent report of 2019, each year’s show receives approximately 65,000 visitors coming from 42 states and 17 foreign countries. Direct annual expenditures total over $131 million, and the local tax revenue estimate is $13 million a year.

Through the years, the showcase has continued to grow and expand its offerings. The University of Arizona’s Alfie Norville Gem & Mineral Museum, which opened in 2021 at the Pima County Historic Courthouse, has been a popular addition to the show, according to Roxbury, this year hosting a Day at the Alfie with free admission.

While the museum is open year-round, it’s now having more of a presence through the showcase, hosting events and seminars. It also has a new director in place, Violetta Wolf, who Roxbury says, “will help put it on the map.”

Prior to moving to the courthouse, the 105-year-old gem and mineral collection was housed in the basement of Flandrau Planetarium on the UArizona campus. Former Pima County Supervisor Chuck Huckleberry worked with local developer and owner of Gem & Jewelry Exchange, Allan Norville, to move the collection to a location where more people could appreciate it. The museum was named in honor of Norville’s late wife, Alfie.

“We wanted to move it because nobody saw it at UArizona. With the gem show, more people will see it in one week than 20 years at Flandrau,” Norville said.

When the museum was housed at Flandrau, it had 4,000 square feet of space. It is now spread over 12,000 square feet on the first floor of the courthouse and uses another 9,000 square feet on the lower level for classrooms, laboratories and storage.

An example of non-gem events held during the showcase is Pima County Fairgrounds’ Gem & Jam Festival, giving visitors another form of entertainment with electronic music, vendors and health-related workshops. And the opening of new downtown hotels in the past few years has added accommodations and more small shows, “an emerging trend,” said Roxbury.

The history of Tucson’s highest-attended event goes back to 1955. A small group of Tucson Gem & Mineral Society members started it in a local elementary school and grew it into 10 dealers in two years. As Patricia McClain, the society’s executive manager, told BizTucson in 2022, the group registered the name Tucson Gem & Mineral Show® in 1963 so the City of Tucson couldn’t use it. “That’s why they use ‘showcase,’ ” she explained.

Over the years it moved to different locations, including a hotel, gas station and the Pima County Fairgrounds. In 1973, the Tucson Convention Center (then called Tucson Community Center) became Tucson Gem & Mineral Society’s home for its annual event, which is held the last weekend of the showcase and is always popular with locals and visitors alike. The theme changes each year − the 2024 event was titled Pegmatites: Crystals Big & Beautiful. 

McClain pointed out that Tucson Gem & Mineral Show® operates differently than others in the showcase. “Our event is the only nonprofit,” she said. “We’re not a business or a promoter. We give scholarships to UArizona students, and we give to Boys & Girls Clubs and the Science Fair. Our show focuses on education and our exhibits come from museums and private collectors around the world.”

Tucson Gem & Mineral Society members are proud of the show they present each year, as well as being a major part of Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase. “We do very well,” McClain said. “We get 20,000 people in four days, and what happens in the three-week period is unique and benefits the public and our city. Our city has a lot.”

Since its original roots, the gem show has not only grown in number of exhibitors, venues and visitors, it has also enlarged by having off-shoots during other times of the year. 

“We’re trying to have gem events throughout the year,” Roxbury noted. “TCC is hosting six new shows this year, and there is on-going business in Mineral City west of Oracle Road. It’s an exciting opportunity for Tucson to see what other aspects of economic development we can grow.”


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