2018 Gem & Minteral Show

Les Presmyk is a retired mining engineer,
owner of De Natura, and a 55-year veteran
of the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show.

Anna Domitrovic is the mineralogist emeritus
at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
and a writer for Rock Talk.

Peter Megaw is an exploration geologist and the
chair of the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show.

A Million Years
In The Making

The 2018 Tucson Gem and Mineral Show has been a million years in the making! Well, OK, it hasn’t taken that long to plan, but some of the “featured guests” have required an enormous stretch of time to shine in the spotlight. The theme of this year’s Show is “Crystals and Crystal Forms.” Nearly 5,000 of the most dazzling specimens Earth has to offer will take the stage to educate and fascinate show-goers at the Tucson Convention Center, Feb. 8-11. Now in its 64th year, the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show is the cornerstone of the Tucson Gem, Mineral, and Fossil Showcase, featuring more than 40 satellite shows that fill convention spaces, parking lots, and hotel rooms across the city for two weeks every year. Facilitated by the locally based, non-profit Tucson Gem and Mineral Society, this is the show that started it all. From its humble beginning in a school parking lot and a few rooms of now defunct hotels to its central place on the world’s stage of gem and mineral events — the Show continues to dazzle as the largest, most highly attended and comprehensive event of its kind. It serves not only as a retail extravaganza, but as an exhibition, symposium, competition, classroom, think-tank, fundraiser, and family-friendly adventure.

Nearly anything related to minerals, gems or fossils in their many forms can be purchased from more than 250 vendors that line the TCC Arena floor during the show. However, the retail selection, while fine, is not what sets the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show apart from every other. The true show-stoppers are the exhibits. This year’s displays featuring crystals and crystal forms may be the most dazzling yet. Exploration Geologist and Show Chair Peter Megaw explains, “We characterize our exhibits as a world-class mineral museum that exists for only four days — never to be seen in that format again.” One would literally have to travel the world to see the specimens that are assembled for the Tucson show. They come from museums and private collections in Russia, Brazil, England, France, Scandinavia, Canada, Uruguay, and the United States (to name just a few locales).

Past show themes have been “Mineral Treasures of the Midwest,” “Shades of Blue — Minerals of the World,” “Minerals of Western Europe,” and “60 Years of Diamonds, Gems and Gold.” Certainly crystals and crystal forms have held a place in most themed exhibits of years past. Why focus an entire exhibition on them? According to Megaw, “The human attraction to crystals goes a long way back. Well-formed crystals are found in tombs and burial sites from 15 thousand years ago.” In other words, crystal forms are beautiful and fascinating. People love to admire, possess and study them, making them the perfect choice for a Show that offers opportunities to do all three!
What exactly are crystals and crystal forms? Anna Domitrovic, Mineralogist Emeritus at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is well versed in offering a layman’s description of crystals and crystal forms. She explains the phenomena via a series of articles in Rock Talk, a newsletter published by the Tucson Gem and Mineral Society (TGMS.org). A crystal is a single geometric shape. Six crystal systems are used to classify minerals: cubic, tetragonal, hexagonal, orthorhombic, monoclinic and triclinic. Experts make differentiations based on axes angle measurements and lattice structures. For non-experts, it may suffice to know that crystals can be square, rectangular, rhomboidal, clear or opaque, strong or flakey, large or small and just about any color imaginable. Crystal forms, also called habits by mineralogists, are clusters of crystals. For example, a single azurite crystal is a long, straight shaft with a point resembling a spear. The spears may cluster into a crystal form called a rosette or azurite roses.
Arizona is well represented among the thousands of pieces in the vast Crystal and Crystal Forms exhibit. In fact, our little piece of the planet is a world-renowned source of wulfenite. In 2017 wulfenite was named the official state mineral of Arizona (sorry about that, copper). Domitrovic supports the designation, “It’s right that wulfenite is our state mineral. We are known for the large number of localities, the most forms, and colors of wulfenite in the world.” Significant deposits of the mineral have been found at Red Cloud Mine in Yuma County, the Mammoth St. Anthony Mine in Tiger (just outside of San Manuel), Glove Mine on the east side of the Santa Rita Mountains, and the Total Wreck Mine in the Empire Mountains southeast of Tucson.

Les Presmyk of Gilbert, Arizona, a retired mining engineer and elected official is the owner of De Natura and a 55-year veteran of the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. Having attended the show since he was 11 years old, Presmyk and his best friend Wayne Thompson began selling minerals they found scavenging in underground mines around the Tucson area in 1971. There were only 26 dealers at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show then. Presmyk and Thompson displayed, traded, and sold maidenite, wulfenite, quartz crystals, and azurite from flats laid out in a room at the Desert Inn. They became retailers at the main TGMS show in 1987, which had, by then expanded to the TCC Arena. Stop by the De Natura booth to have a geode cracked on the spot, and you may be regaled with stories of gemological treasure troves from the Mogollon Rim to the Mexico border and beyond.

In addition to 20 cases of quartz specimens including odd Spanish pyrite habits, colorless amethyst, citrine, green quartz, amethyst geodes and two and half-foot tall crystal stalactites, visitors will be delighted by “celebrity” specimens. The Perot Museum in Dallas is exhibiting a world-famous Brazilian aquamarine crystal that stands nearly a foot tall. The three-foot tall, hot pink Jonas Mine tourmaline will be another selfie-worthy star attraction. As it has done since 1962, The Smithsonian Institution will contribute an impressive array of minerals and jewelry from its public and private collections. Akin to offering thanks for the ever-important “little things” in life, an entire room off the Galleria will be dedicated to a micromineral exhibit. Some of the impressive exhibit pieces aren’t crystals at all but seriously impressive, nonetheless. Case in point, a local collector will display mining-themed beer steins paired with famous samples from the German mines they depict. Another exhibit will include antique crystalograpic measurement tools from a private collection in Rhode Island. Perhaps the most fun to be had will be in the Junior Education Area where kids of all ages can touch, handle, and learn more about crystals, rocks, fossils, minerals and more from knowledgeable University of Arizona earth sciences students.

In all there will be approximately 5,000 specimens in 160 exhibits in the Exhibit Hall. The best way to navigate the immense display is to start at the Focus Pods or spotlight cases, which can’t be missed upon entering the hall. “These are the really big exhibit cases where the ‘knock out’ displays are held,” according to Show Chair Peter Megaw. “This is the best place to start exploring.”

“We put the TGMS show together for Tucson,” adds Megaw. “We use the resources that we have as a local non-profit organization to bring exhibits here for our community’s benefit. Our show is really designed for the public’s enjoyment with a focus on exhibits and development of earth-science students.” Megaw stresses that the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show is designed to educate and enthrall — especially kids. “That’s why we do the school children visits on Friday. We are very proud of what we do and to put our profits right back into the education system here in Tucson. University, high school and grade school levels all receive funding for earth science programs. People here have a really unique opportunity to see this Show every year. We hope they take advantage of it!” TL

- by Kimberly Schmitz