Stone Mania, How It All Began
The story of Stone Mania began on a scorching 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 all been worthwhile.
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.
Market life especially during the cold British winter really wasn't for me. Ironically many years later I found myself once again working in markets.
Having left school with few qualifications I was offered a place on a government funded training programme with Thomson Holidays. I was paid £25 a week.
After twelve months with the company they offered me a job.
I initially worked in Personnel as it was once known and then moved to Customer Relations. I then went overseas to work as a holiday rep'. By 1989 I'd had enough and returned home. For the next six months I did temporary work whilst looking for another job.
Having seen an advertisement for Cabin Crew with a new airline called Virgin Atlantic I applied. Less than three months later I was on my first flight to New York.
In 1990 they had six old Boeing 747's and flew to six destinations, five of which were in the U.S.
In 1999 a new route to Delhi was announced. The crew initially had a five day layover. I have great memories of those early days in India.
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.
Whilst shopping for gifts to take home I decided to buy some jewellery. I ended up buying far more than I wanted or needed.
Once back in the UK some of it was given away and the rest I sold on a new website called eBay.
With each subsequent trip to Delhi I returned with more silver and gemstone jewellery.
Before long I was buying from several places around the city
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 built a website and had a stall in Camden Market.
Later that year I changed the name to Stone Mania because the style of jewellery I was buying was more gemstone orientated.
The business quickly took off and before long I was struggling to bring back enough stock.
In the months that followed I changed my contract with Virgin Atlantic from full time to part time.
Flying less each month meant I could go to India on my days off. That enabled me to spend more time buying stock.
Over the next few months the the style of jewellery I was buying gradually changed. Quality became my priority and I also wanted to offer a wider selection of gemstones.
In my spare time I read as much as I could about about rocks, minerals and gemstones. With my newfound knowledge I started writing articles for my website.
My interest in rocks and minerals was ironic considering my grandfather and great grandfather had both been diamond polishers.
For the first couple of years I bought an assortment of different types of jewellery but that changed after being introduced to a new supplier.
This company only manufactured pendants and rings. Both featured a wide variety of gemstones.
The pieces I initially bought sold like hot cakes. From then on Stone Mania only sold rings and pendants.
Before long I was bringing home up to a hundred kilos of jewellery at a time.
My passion for rocks and minerals meant I was always drawn towards the larger gemstones. Despite the size of some of the rings and pendants they always sold quickly.
By 2004 I was bored of buying ready-made jewellery.
Having learnt Jaipur was the place where most of 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. From that point the way Stone Mania did business changed.
I was also introduced to a small team of artisans who could make the style of jewellery I wanted. As well as using finer grade gemstones I also wanted to use a higher purity of silver.
Goodbye to Markets
The jewellery I was now bringing back was really too expensive for markets. I therefore decided it was time to find a more suitable outlet.
Within a few months I was travelling the country doing county shows and small retail events. The environment was very different to what I was used to.
Flyers on the counter promoted my website which led to a dramatic increase in sales. In 2004 shopping online especially for jewellery hadn't yet taken off.
The Credit Crunch of 2008
Taking a stand at the London Ideal Home Show in 2006 was not only risky but also a huge expense. Thankfully it paid off and I returned 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 were being far more careful with their money. 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 huge amount of stock and had paid deposits for regional shows for the next twelve months. If they weren't profitable I would be in serious trouble.
Every day I was hearing about another business who had gone under.
Despite being an incredibly difficult decision I cancelled all future shows and decided to trade solely online through my website.
Over the next two years I saw many businesses who I'd worked alongside disappear.
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 come for me to look at something else and the obvious choice was crystals, rocks and minerals.
A few weeks later I was on my way to Cape Town.
Healing Crystals, Rocks and 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 difficult to get a stall in this market especially as a new trader. 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 crystals, rocks and minerals however sold well.
Christmas 2015 was one of the quietest I had ever known. There had been a surge in new traders in the market most of whom were selling cheap imported products
In the run-up to Christmas we were trading every day yet at times the high street was deserted.
Most of my business was now being done online. People's shopping habits were finally beginning to change.
In 2016 new management took over the running of the 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 stallholders meant new ideas were not well received. Some changes that were implemented 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. They were in place to stabilise the structure.
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 customers to walk through the stall.
Whilst it was fine to do this with one or even two stalls, doing it with four in a block of six reduced the stability of the unit.
As our neighbours started packing away and removed merchandise that had been hanging on the front of the 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.
My entire stock covered the pavement. Hundreds of tumbled stones and expensive gemstone pendants fell down a street drain. Beautiful stone spheres rolled across the road.
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 third time in my life to say goodbye to market life. Stone Mania now only trades online.
Stone Mania Today
Although we still have a small collection of gemstone pendants we're not having any new pieces made. The focus of the business is now crystals, rocks, minerals and gemstones.
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 has now returned to some kind of normality.
In August 2020 with the outbreak of Covid-19 I was made redundant. I had given thirty years of my life to Virgin Atlantic.
It was an opportunity for me to turn Stone Mania into a full time business.
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 Upper Class on a Virgin Atlantic 747.
The shop in India is the first place I bought jewellery to sell in Camden. The next photos are my early websites, 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 photos.