There are around 600 gemological and mineral societies across the United States, mostly local groups of amateur geologists and paleontologists, jewelers and other “rockhounds” who gather together to share specimens, collect together and so on. Regional and local gem shows happen throughout the year. But the big granddaddy of them all is one massive rock-out known as the California Federation of Mineralogical Societies-American Federation of Mineralogical Societies Show and Convention.

It’s an enormous mouthful, and an equally large occasion for the many gem and mineral societies that come from all over to attend. The 2017 CFMS-AFMS Show — playfully called Ventura Rocks the Nation — takes place June 9-11 at the Ventura County Fairgrounds, and it will be hosted by the Ventura Gem and Mineral Society — a distinct honor. “It only comes to California once every seven years,” says Jim Brace-Thompson, publicity chair for the VGMS.

Brace-Thompson anticipates a crowd of 2,000-3,000 people, including visitors from as far north as San Luis Obispo and as far south as San Diego, the vice presidents of the seven federations (California, Eastern, Midwest, Northwest, Rocky Mountain, South Central and Southeast) that make up the AFMS, and clubs from nearly every state in the nation. The show will feature speakers, dozens of exhibits (with everything from fossils to geodes to fine gemstones), activities (for kids and adults) and demonstrations on anything and everything mineral-related: jewelry making, beading, silversmithing and even glasswork. “People will be demonstrating how to do handblown glass, and fusing dichroic glass with different colors and patterns,” says VGMS President Diane Cook.  

“Lapidary arts are where it all starts,” Brace-Thompson says. “You take a rough stone and cut, shape and polish it.” Gem and mineral shows provide an opportunity for many amateurs to learn how to create their own works of art from the humble rocks they’ve collected.

Prefer to purchase something already cut? No problem — over 60 dealers from across the U.S. will take up shop in one of the fairgrounds’ Quonset huts. “We’re going to have dealers selling everything from rough rock to finished jewelry,” says Brace-Thompson. Offerings will also include meteorites, selenite, opals, jewelry and beads, fossils and even lapidary equipment. It’s an exceptional selection and a rare opportunity to do some serious gem shopping. “You just don’t get that many dealers in one place every day,” Brace-Thompson notes.

The other Quonset hut will contain over 100 exhibits. “Typically at these federation shows, they have competitions,” he explains. Whether they are vying for best jewelry case, best mineral collection, best dinosaur exhibit or for the top spot in another category, every organization will be setting out their finest specimens. “We have nearly 80 cases from across the U.S. These are really museum-quality pieces.” Brace-Thompson expects the professional displays put on by the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, the University of California, Los Angeles, and the California Federation of Mineralogical Societies to be particularly impressive. The latter will display the Golden Bear, a crystallized gold nugget in the shape of a bear that dates from the 1850s.

“I’m looking forward to meeting with all the clubs from all over the U.S.,” Cook says. “What’s exciting about this is that we have people coming from New York, Florida, Texas. It’s exciting to meet so many like-minded people. . . . There are things [the other clubs] get that we don’t get here.” Cook adds that visiting clubs are often impressed by the fossilized whale bone (found from Jalama to Ventura) and agates (found in deserts) available in California.

“This is the first time our society has sponsored a national show,” Brace-Thompson says with no small amount of pride about the event, which was over two years in the making. It’s a feather in the cap for the VGMS, which was founded in the 1940s by a group of teenagers. The nonprofit has grown from a handful of rock enthusiasts to over 100 members of all ages, and today offers collecting field trips, monthly kids programs, educational talks at local schools and scholarships. There’s even a museum and workshop, located on the grounds of Camp Comfort, with a library containing over 700 books on earth science.

The collective efforts of VGMS members come to fruition at Ventura Rocks the Nation this weekend. For once, being between a rock and a hard place isn’t such a bad thing.

The 2017 CFMS-AFMS Show takes place June 9-11 at the Ventura County Fairgrounds, 10 W. Harbor Blvd., Ventura. For more information, call 312-8467 or visit