This is the story of Stone Mania, who we are and where we came from, an adventure born from a passion for crystals rocks and minerals although it took many years before I finally realised it was something that was meant to be.
Whilst growing up I spent more time than I care to remember working with my father in a south London market. Well aware that I didn't really want to be there and disappointed that I had no aspirations to take over the business, he left me to my own devices and after leaving school at sixteen I was taken on by a well known travel company. Market life just wasn't for me so it was ironic that more than twenty years later and after having followed a completely different career path, I found myself back in the markets.
Having left school in 1984 with few qualifications my mother was determined I would make something of my life so having pushed me into a twelve month government funded training scheme with Thomson Holidays, I was at the end offered a permanent position working in Human Resources or the Personnel department as it was known back then. Three years later after having been offered a job as a holiday rep' I worked in several different resorts before finally leaving in 1989. My last holiday prior to leaving Thomson was to Orlando and I flew there with a relatively new airline called Virgin Atlantic. Soon after returning home I applied for a job with them as cabin crew and quickly found myself on a training course at their base in Crawley. In 1990 Virgin Atlantic had six Boeing 747-200 aircraft and flew to just six destinations, five of which were in the USA.
In 1999 a new route to Delhi was announced and I couldn't wait to go. Flying twice a week to begin with meant we had a five day layover which gave me plenty of time to explore. I spent hours walking the length and breadth of the city taking in the sights, sounds and smells of India and I loved every minute that I was there. The country definitely lived up to my expectations and before I'd even left, I was looking forward to my next visit. Street markets in India are noisy, vibrant, colourful shopping areas where almost anything can be bought and sold. Gemstone jewellery was available in abundance and prices were cheap, shop keepers were eager to sell to western tourists and it was difficult to know what to look at first.
The shop in Old Delhi where I bought my first pieces of jewellery
Despite never really having looked at a piece of gemstone jewellery in my life, I was mesmerised by all the different gemstones, the intricate designs and amount of work that had gone into making each piece. The urge to spend money was overwhelming even though I had no idea at all what I was going to do with a load of ladies jewellery. Having spent far more than expected, I returned home and gave some of it away and the rest I sold on eBay. Before long I was bringing jewellery home with me on every trip and after several months felt at home in Delhi and was familiar with its many markets. As I found better places to buy, the quality of the jewellery that I bought slowly improved but having said that, looking back to those early days it amazes me that some of that stuff sold at all. I knew nothing about jewellery and even less about gemstones but was addicted and had no plans to stop any time soon.
Some of the jewellery that I bought during my early trips to India
What started out as a bit of fun was now becoming more serious and after a year or so I created a company called Silver People. The name was appropriate because I was buying large amounts of plain silver jewellery but as I began to concentrate more on pieces featuring gemstones, I changed the name to Stone Mania. In 2003 I launched my website and from then on the business was run properly. It had really taken off and I was spending a considerable amount of money with several different suppliers and all stock was finally being imported through the correct channels. I had taken a stall in Camden Market and as the business grew, so did my interest in everything related to crystals rocks and minerals.
One of my suppliers specialised in gemstone pendants and the more I bought, the more I sold. Whenever I had a spare minute I read about rocks and minerals and started writing relevant articles to post on my website. The path that we follow in life can be unpredictable and my newfound interest in crystals rocks and minerals fascinated my parents because both my grandfather and great grandfather had been diamond polishers even though I had never really been fully aware of that.
Some of our logos
I traded in Camden market for a couple of years before moving to St Albans market and following each visit to India, I returned home with more gemstone pendants. I was young and ambitious and wanted the best gemstones that I could afford so was constantly looking to improve on quality. The larger and chunkier pieces always attracted my attention the most and although I knew it was a risk buying such large pendants, they were popular and always sold quickly. Despite having come a long way within a relatively short space of time I still had so much to learn about how to make a nice display and when I look back now at photos of my display boards, I wonder how any of my customers ever managed to find anything they liked.
One of four display boards jam-packed with pendants
Leather Lane is a busy lunchtime market close to Hatton Garden and I traded there a couple of times a week for about a year. My stay was short-lived because I was starting to do county shows so doing markets and the shows was too much to manage.
A bitterly cold morning in Leather Lane
By 2005 Stone Mania had grown significantly and I was turning over a considerable amount of stock but I was also bored with buying ready-made pendants. Not only did I want to use a finer purity of silver but I also wanted to choose the gemstones myself. During one of my many trips to India I met someone who cut and polished cabochons for use in jewellery. That encounter changed the way that I did business and from then on, all of the pendants in my collection were made specifically for me using the finest grade sterling silver and gemstones that I had chosen myself.
Choosing cabochons individually instead of buying ready-made jewellery enabled me to use a higher grade of stone
Having spent a frightening amount of money I returned home a week or so later with over sixty kilos of newly made pendants and kept my fingers crossed that everything would go to plan. My prices were now out of the range for a market so having given up my stall, I concentrated on trade fairs and county shows. Before long Stone Mania could be found in the shopping village of events the length and breadth of the country and our dramatic collection of pendants attracted more than enough attention.
One of our very first county shows
My gamble had paid off and business was booming. Although there was no shortage of jewellery at the shows and fairs that we were doing, our stand always attracted large crowds because of the size of some of our pendants and the wide variety of different gemstones.
2008 was our third and final year at London's Ideal Home Show and although we made a tidy profit, it was down on the previous two years. There was talk of a looming credit crunch and both consumers and retailers were becoming nervous. Newspapers were full of doom and gloom and whilst the shows and fairs were still busy, people were not spending anywhere near as much.
Daily Mail Online November 2007
My business had come a long way since setting Stone Mania up in 2002 and I had no intention of losing everything during what was being predicted as the largest economic downturn for many years. I was sitting on a huge amount of stock and had paid out a considerable amount of money in deposits for upcoming shows over the next twelve months and with takings down, I couldn't ignore all the warning signs and continue full steam ahead. Every day I heard about someone else who had gone under so I had to take appropriate action to ensure I wasn't next. I first thing I did was to pull out of all the events that I had planned and concentrated on promoting Stone Mania online.
2008 Ideal Home Show
Dropping the shows and promoting my website instead was a great move and online sales began to grow. I had plenty of stock and was content with the number of new orders coming in. It was Christmas 2010 before business really started picking up. As cash flow increased I invested the money back into the business and that soon paid off. I'd also decided that instead of concentrating solely on ladies gemstone pendants it was time to invest in a larger collection of crystals rocks and minerals.
Larimar, septarian and pink opal pendants
By 2013 I was back in St Albans market but the high street was noticeably different, many of the shops had closed or changed hands and there were more charity shops and outlets such as Poundland. The market had always been notoriously difficult to get into as a casual trader but that had changed and on some Saturdays there was no shortage of empty stalls. Everything now revolved around price which meant my ladies pendants weren't selling as quickly as they once did. The crystals rocks and minerals however that I'd slowly added to my collection attracted loads of interest and sold like hot cakes. In the months that followed I returned to India on several occasions and also went down to South Africa where I met with several new suppliers and returned with some pretty impressive pieces as well as a large collection of tumbled stones.
Plastic barrels full of tumbled stones
In the weeks and months that followed profits rose and online orders increased dramatically. The future was finally looking brighter.
In 2016 new management took over the market and things were being run very differently. The changes were not well received and many issues arose which had a negative impact on trade. On a cold and wet February afternoon whilst serving customers, the entire structure tipped over backwards because traders in the four adjacent stalls had removed supporting iron bars whilst setting up that morning. This was a regular occurrence to enable customers to walk through the stall but it could only be done with one or two in each block, not with four out of six. The block tipped over because unlike us, our neighbours had not been emptying accumulated water out of the back sections of their overhead tarpaulins therefore as they packed away and removed weight from the front of the stall, the back became top heavy. The result was absolute carnage and our entire stock was thrown to the ground. There were crystals rocks and minerals everywhere and many of our smaller pieces including hundreds of tumbled stones fell down a street drain. Our pendant display boards landed face down on the pavement, polished mineral spheres rolled away and the road was covered with stones of every size and shape.
We lost a huge amount of stock on that rainy afternoon and the market managers showed little or no interest. We never returned to St Albans market and subsequently sued the council for a significant amount of money which enabled us to replace our entire stock. On a happier note we spent a wonderful week in Cape Town and an amazing few days at the Tucson Mineral Fair in the USA and by the end of the both trips, our warehouse was once again full with beautiful crystals rocks and minerals. After careful consideration I decided for the second time to say goodbye to markets and retail shows and concentrated my efforts on selling solely through my website. I had no doubt in my mind that shopping online was the future.
Over the last few years we have continued to make regular trips to Africa, Asia and the USA to choose crystals rocks and minerals for our collection and with the explosion of shopping online, we certainly made the right decision. Since setting up Stone Mania in 2002 we've had an incredible adventure and have achieved more than we could ever have imagined. We're still as enthusiastic today about our business as we were all those years ago and look forward to whatever the future has in store for Stone Mania.