Stone Mania My Business My Passion
The story of Stone Mania began quite unexpectedly on a blistering hot day in Delhi in 2001. A visit to a street market and the random purchase of some silver and gemstone jewellery led to a journey that has taken me around the world and given me more enjoyment than I could ever have imagined.
The last twenty years have been quite an adventure. Things haven't been easy but it's definitely been worthwhile.
Today Stone Mania is a well established business that was built with passion, perseverance and a huge amount of hard work.
Having grown up in a quiet north London suburb I spent more time than I care to remember working with my dad in a south London market. Aware I didn't like being there and disappointed I had no aspirations to take over the business, he left me to my own devices and after leaving school I joined Thomson Holidays.
Market life especially during the cold British winter wasn't for me. Ironically many years later I found myself once again working in markets.
Having left school with few qualifications my mother was determined for me to make something of my life. Having pushed me into a twelve month government funded training programme during which I earned just £25 a week, I was at the end offered a permanent contract.
Initially working in Personnel or Human Resources as it's known today, I then moved to customer relations and finally went overseas to work as a holiday rep'. By 1989 I'd had enough and returned home and did temporary work for about six months.
After returning from a holiday to Florida I heard a new airline called Virgin Atlantic were recruiting for cabin crew. I applied and less than three months later was on my first flight to New York.
In 1990 Virgin Atlantic had six old Boeing 747's and flew to six destinations five being in America.
The Early Days in India
In 1999 a new route to Delhi was announced initially flying twice a week. That meant the crew had a five day layover which was more than enough time for me to get out and explore.
I have great memories of those early days in India and with each flight came a new experience.
Despite the heat and dust I spent every waking hour exploring the city enjoying the sights, sounds and smells. I loved every minute I was there.
Street markets in India are noisy, vibrant, exciting places with no shortage of things to see and buy.
For some reason it was the gemstone jewellery that captured my attention the most. There were so many different stones and so much work had gone into making each piece of jewellery. Before long I was haggling over price for some jewellery I really didn't need. Having initially chosen a few pieces to take home as gifts I just kept adding more and more.
Once back in the UK some of it was given away and the rest sold surprisingly quickly on a new online selling platform called eBay. With each subsequent trip to Delhi I returned home with more silver and gemstone jewellery.
Before long I was buying from several shops around the city. Had I seen rocks and minerals being sold in the market that day instead of gemstone jewellery, I'm certain things would have progressed very differently.
What started as a bit of fun quickly became more serious. By the summer of 2002 I had created a company called Silver People, had a website and had taken a stall in Camden Market. Later that year I changed the name of the business to Stone Mania. I did that because I was mostly buying jewellery with gemstones as opposed to plain silver.
Stone Mania soon took off but I was struggling to buy enough stock. In the months that followed I changed to a part time contract at Virgin Atlantic because of things I was dealing with at home not related to the business.
With more time at home I was able to fly to India on my days off. That enabled me to buy more stock By doing that I could bring more stock back with me. Returning to the UK with significant quantities of jewellery meant it was also time to start declaring everything to customs.
Having found a wholesaler in Delhi who was already doing business in Europe, the style of jewellery I was buying began to change. Quality became my priority and I also wanted to offer a wider selection of gemstones.
Any spare time I had was spent reading about rocks minerals and gemstones. With my newfound knowledge I also started writing articles for my website.
My sudden interest in rocks and minerals was strange because my grandfather and great grandfather had both been diamond polishers. It wasn't something we had ever really spoken about.
Buying gemstone jewellery to sell in markets was hit and miss because you never knew for certain what would sell. This made buying in large quantities quite risky.
Having initially bought a small selection of gemstone pendants from a new supplier, they quickly became my best selling product. Over the next few years I was bringing home a hundred kilos at a time.
Unlike in China, gemstone jewellery in India is all crafted entirely by hand.
My passion for rocks and minerals meant I was always drawn towards the larger gemstones. That meant the pendant itself was also much larger. Surprisingly despite their size, the large and chunky pendants in my collection always sold first.
In every market I worked in my stall attracted large crowds because of the size of my pendants. At one point I had more than one hundred and fifty different gemstone varieties.
By 2005 I was bored of ready-made jewellery and wanted to use use finer grade gemstones. The only way to achieve that was to buy the gemstone before the pendant was crafted. Having learnt Jaipur in Rajasthan was the place where most the world's coloured gemstones were cut and polished, I headed there to see what I could find.
After a challenging few days I found a company who cut and polished gemstones from rough stone. From that point the way Stone Mania did business changed.
I was also introduced to a small team of artisans who crafted each pendant in a simple sterling silver setting. I wanted a good quality product and told them to use fine sterling silver not Indian silver. Indian silver has a much higher percentage of copper.
Goodbye to Markets
Returning home with more than a hundred kilos of newly made pendants is something I'll never forget. I could only hope I hadn't made a mistake.
I was now working in two busy markets but with my new collection being more expensive, felt it was time to find a more suitable outlet.
A few months later I gave up markets completely and started travelling the country doing county shows and small retail events. It was very different to what I was used to. It was a much nicer environment to work in mainly because I had more time to chat with people about about crystals rocks and minerals.
Flyers on the counter promoted my website which led to a dramatic increase in traffic and online sales.
The Credit Crunch of 2008
Taking a stand at the London Ideal Home Show in 2006 was a risk and a huge expense. Thankfully it paid off so I went back for the next two years.
Although 2008 was profitable, takings were down and there was talk of a looming credit crunch. The atmosphere quickly changed and consumers and retailers were both being much more careful. The newspapers were full of doom and gloom and whilst the shows I was doing remained busy, people were not spending anywhere near as much.
Stone Mania had come a long way since that first day in Camden Market and I wasn't prepared to take risks. The looming credit crunch was predicted to be the largest economic downturn for many years.
I was sitting on a serious amount of stock and had paid deposits for regional shows and events for the next twelve months. If they weren't profitable I would be in serious trouble.
I wasn't prepared to risk losing everything I had worked so hard for and every day was hearing about another business that had gone under. Despite being an incredibly difficult decision, I cancelled all future shows and decided for the time being to trade solely online through my website.
Over the next two years I saw many businesses who I'd worked alongside disappear. Those who did survive really struggled.
Although all of my money was tied up in stock, my expenses were minimal and business online remained fairly steady. It was Christmas 2010 before sales really started picking up . As consumer confidence returned I decided it was time to change the direction of the business. The jewellery market was saturated, prices were cheaper than ever and it was difficult to remain competitive.
The time had finally come for me to look at something else and the obvious choice was crystals rocks and minerals.
In true Stone Mania fashion I had no interest in buying from a wholesaler in the UK. A few weeks later I was on my way to Cape Town.
Rough and Polished Crystals Rocks Minerals
By 2012 I was back in St Albans market but the high street had really changed. Many of the shops that had been there for years had closed down. In their place were charity and discount shops.
It had always been notoriously difficult to get a stall in the market especially as a new trader and more so with jewellery. That was no longer the case. On some Saturdays there were plenty of empty stalls which at one time was unheard of.
What for many years had been a large bustling street market was now smaller and considerably quieter. Everything revolved around price which meant the pendants in my collection were no longer as popular as they once were. The tumbled stones rocks and minerals that were now part of my collection sold like hot cakes.
Christmas 2015 in St Albans market was one of the quietest I had ever known. There had been a surge in new traders most of whom were selling cheap imported products. As a result the market's reputation for quality began going downhill. In the run-up to Christmas we were trading every day yet at times the high street was deserted.
Most of Stone Mania's business was now being done online. Clearly people's shopping habits were beginning to change.
In 2016 new management took over the running of St Albans market. Despite things having been run in the same way for many years, they were intent on change. Lack of experience and not engaging with traders meant new ideas didn't go down well. Some of the new rules impacted negatively on business.
On a cold and very wet February afternoon whilst serving customers, our entire stall suddenly tipped over backwards. It happened because our neighbours in the three adjoining units had removed horizontal supporting bars.
Each block was made up of six stalls all of which were attached. On one side was a countertop which traders selling clothes often removed. Removing the bars which supported the counter enabled people to walk through. Whilst it was fine to do this with one or even two stalls, doing it with four out of six in one block made the entire structure less stable.
Previous market managers had always checked stalls were set up safely but the new team didn't bother.
On that fateful day as our neighbours started packing away and removed merchandise hanging on the front of their stalls, rainwater that had accumulated in the back section of the overhead tarpaulins unbalanced the block. Unlike us, they hadn't been draining the water during the day. As the front of the stalls became lighter the entire block tipped over backwards.
The result was absolute carnage. It was a miracle nobody was hurt. Crystals rocks and minerals covered the pavement. Hundreds of tumbled stones and expensive gemstone pendants fell down a street drain. Beautiful mineral spheres rolled across the pavement.
The management took no responsibility and told me to sue my neighbours. I never returned to St Albans market and sued the council for enough money to replace my entire stock.
On a happier note, I spent a wonderful week in Cape Town and also had an amazing few days at the Tucson Mineral Fair in Arizona. By the end of both trips my warehouse was once again bursting with beautiful crystals rocks and minerals.
Following that horrendous day I decided for the second time in my life to say goodbye to market life. Stone Mania now only trades online.
Stone Mania Today
I've worked hard over many years to make Stone Mania a great place to buy crystals rocks and minerals online.
The Articles and Photos section is packed with more than seventy pages of carefully researched information and fascinating photos. Everything in our collection has been meticulously photographed to ensure it's as true to life as possible.
Many of the rocks and minerals are one off pieces and new items are added regularly. Most of our buying is done locally in Africa Asia and the USA.
Although we still have a small collection of gemstone pendants we are not having any new pieces made.
I've learnt so much over the last twenty years about how to do business and how to get through the difficult times. Covid presented a whole new set of challenges but thankfully life is slowly beginning to return to some kind of normality.
In August 2020 after thirty years with Virgin Atlantic I was made redundant in response to Covid-19. This opened a new chapter in my life and has enabled me to spend more time growing and developing Stone Mania.
Thanks for dropping by. Enjoy browsing the website and should you need to get in touch we'd love to hear from you.
The first photo was taken in 2002 during one of my first days in Camden market. The second was taken around 1996 in the Upper Class cabin on a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747.
The shop in India is the first place I bought jewellery to sell in Camden. The next two photos are my early websites. The first was launched in 2002 and was updated in 2003.
The next photos are my stall in St Albans market, choosing gemstones for pendants in India and my stand at regional county shows and the London Ideal Home Show.
The final photo was taken in St Albans market in 2016.
Most images are clickable and redirect to the original non-compressed photo.