The "Story So Far" is the story of Stone Mania in words and photos and explains how the company started and where we are today. We update this page periodically as the business continues to evolve.
Whilst growing up I spent a great deal of time working with my father in his shop in a South London market. He was well aware I didn't enjoy it and was disappointed that I had no ambitions to take over after he retired. Market life just wasn't for me so it was quite ironic that more than twenty years later after initially following a completely different career path, I found myself once again working in markets.
After leaving school in 1984 I started working at Thomson Holidays first based in the UK and subsequently moving overseas. I left in 1989 and a year later joined a new airline called Virgin Atlantic. At that time they had six aircraft and flew to just a handful of destinations but it gave me the opportunity to travel the world which is exactly what I wanted to do.
In 1999 Virgin Atlantic started flying to Delhi and I was excited to be on one of the very first flights. Back in those early days we were fortunate enough to have a five day layover which gave me plenty of time to get out and explore. During that first trip I walked the length and breadth of the city and loved every minute of it, India really lived up to my expectations and before I'd even left, I was looking forward to coming back. The markets in Delhi are noisy, vibrant, colourful shopping areas where almost anything at all can be bought and sold. Jewellery featuring natural gemstones is available in abundance and prices were cheap, shops were eager to sell especially to western tourists and it was difficult to know what to look at first.
The shop in Old Delhi where I first started buying gemstone jewellery
Even though I'd never bought ladies jewellery in my life, I decided to buy a few pieces to take back home as presents. Typical of me I ended up spending far more than I had anticipated but didn't give it too much thought. Once home some of the jewellery was given away as gifts but when I realised just how much I'd bought, I had no choice but to put the rest on eBay but to my surprise, it sold in no time at all. I returned to Delhi regularly after that first visit each time bringing back more gemstone jewellery either to sell or to give to friends and family. After several months and having become very familiar with the city and its markets, I started to find better places to buy and the type of jewellery that I was choosing gradually began to improve. Looking back to those early days, it amazes me that everything I bought actually sold, I had no idea at all about jewellery and was more attracted to the gemstones than I was the jewellery.
Some of the earliest pieces bought for the collection
What started out as a bit of fun was now turning into something more serious and after about a year, I created a company that was initially called Silver People but having decided to concentrate more on gemstone jewellery, I changed the name to Stone Mania. As well as having a logo designed, the website was launched in 2003 and because I was now importing in much larger quantities on a regular basis, everything was being done properly. The business had really taken off, I was buying from a few different suppliers and had a regular pitch in Camden Market and as the business grew, so did my interest in crystals, rocks and minerals.
One of my suppliers specialised exclusively in gemstone pendants and everything that I bought from him sold really well, it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say I couldn't bring the stock back fast enough. The fact that I was always reading and writing about rocks and minerals fascinated my family because my grandfather and great grandfather had both been diamond polishers.
How our logo has changed over the years
I traded in Camden for a couple of years before moving to St Albans market and with each visit to India, returned home with more and more stock. I was young and ambitious and wanted the jewellery to feature the best gemstones possible so was always pushing for better quality. The larger, chunkier stones always caught my attention first and the pendants that I was buying reflected this. Although I knew it was risky buying so many large and chunky pieces, they were clearly popular and sold like hot cakes both at the market and online through my website. Stone Mania quickly became known for this style of jewellery and people were always surprised at how many different gemstone varieties I featured in my collection. Despite having come a very long way within a relatively short space of time, I still had so much to learn about how to make a nice display, all four display boards were jam-packed with ladies pendants and looking back at photos like these, I wonder how anybody ever managed to choose one they liked. It has to be said that once someone had decided on a gemstone, we would then show them a large selection of pendants in different shapes and sizes all featuring the same stone and that's how most customers made their selection.
One of four display boards on our stall in St Albans Market
Leather Lane which runs parallel to Hatton Garden is a busy lunchtime market and I traded there for about a year. My stay was short-lived because I started doing retail shows and fairs and two markets as well as those was too much to manage.
A freezing cold morning setting up in Leather Lane market
By 2005 Stone Mania had grown significantly and I was turning over a considerable amount of stock but was no longer satisfied buying ready-made pendants, I wanted to use silver with a higher purity and to be able to choose the cabochons for myself. On one of my subsequent trips to India, I was introduced to someone whose business was crystals, rocks and minerals and he also cut and polished cabochons for use in jewellery. That visit changed the way that I did business and from then on, all of our pendants were made exclusively for us using the finest grade sterling silver and gemstones that we had chosen ourselves.
Choosing cabochons loose meant that we could buy far superior quality stones
Having spent a frightening amount of money I returned home with sixty kilos of newly made pendants and could only pray they were going to sell. I also realised that this quality of jewellery was really too expensive for a market so decided to give up my stall in St Albans and concentrate solely on county shows and carefully selected retail fairs. 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 plenty of attention.
One of our first country shows after leaving the market
Thankfully my gamble paid off and Stone Mania was doing really well, every few months I went back to India and returned home with another thirty to forty kilos of beautiful hand crafted pendants. Although there was no shortage of jewellery at the shows and fairs that we were doing, our stand always attracted large crowds because people were fascinated by the sizes of some of the pendants. We gradually also started seeing the same customers at different shows and were often told "we came specifically because we knew you would be here". We were well known for our huge stock and people quickly learnt that once they'd found a gemstone they liked on one of the boards, they could ask to see what else we had available and after disappearing under the counter, we'd pop back up with a container the size of a shoe box that was full of pendants featuring that same gemstone variety. Our collection usually included between eighty and one hundred different gemstone varieties and because we chose each stone individually, no two ladies pendants were ever the same. Sometimes too much of a selection caused total confusion and nothing ended up being purchased but it quickly became apparent that many of the customers who shopped with us online, had recently visited our stand at a show or fair.
2008 was our third and final year at the London Ideal Home Show and although we did well, things were down on the previous two years. There was talk of a looming credit crunch and everyone was becoming very nervous. The papers were full of doom and gloom and whilst the shows and fairs were still busy, people were not spending anything like they had been for the past few years.
Daily Mail Online from November 2007
I had come a very long way since setting Stone Mania up in 2002 and 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 considerable amounts of money in deposits for upcoming shows over the next twelve months and with takings down, I wasn't going to ignore all the warning signs and continue full steam ahead. Every day I was hearing about another business that had gone under and many were people who I either knew or had traded alongside in the past so I had to act quickly if I wanted to ensure Stone Mania was going to be around in the future. I decided to pull out of all the large events that I had planned and to concentrate just on smaller ones and the rest of my time would be spent promoting the online side of the business.
2008 Ideal Home Show
As the weeks and months went by it was very noticeable how careful people were being with money and although visitor numbers remained fairly steady at the shows, the spend per head plummeted. Promoting the website was a good move and my online sales began to increase and because I had such a huge amount of stock, there was no chance at all of running out of anything. Business ticked over slowly for the next couple of years and it was Christmas 2010 before things finally started to pick up. As cash flow began to increase the money was reinvested back into the business, the website had a complete overhaul and I started travelling once again to replenish stock.
Newly crafted larimar, septarian and pink opal pendants
By 2013 I was back trading back in St Albans market, the high street had a very different feel to it since I was last there and many of the shops had closed down or changed hands. The market had always been notoriously difficult to get into as a casual trader but there had been a dramatic change during my absence and on some days the managers struggled to fill all the stalls. Everything now revolved around price and the ladies pendants which made up most of my collection, were not particularly cheap and they weren't everyone's cup of tea. I had thought many times in the past about adding something else relating to crystals, rocks and minerals to my collection but had kept putting it off because the time never seemed right. Although the financial downturn was easing, things were far from stable and St Albans was full of cheap jewellery hence I knew I needed something else to attract people to my stall. Over the next couple of weeks I looked at where in the world I could go to find what I was looking for and before long, I had arranged a short trip to South Africa. Everything was meticulously planned and I knew exactly where I was going and who I'd be meeting and after five incredible days in Cape Town, I returned home once again hoping and praying that I'd done the right thing.
Three aisles of plastic barrels like this all of which contain tumbled stones
As I sat in the red channel at Heathrow Airport waiting for my customs agent to arrive, I reflected on the success of my trip and looked forward to my first day back at the market. The crystals, rocks and minerals that I'd bought were beautiful and each one had been very carefully chosen yet I didn't really know how they would be received. Setting up on that first day was nerve-racking because most of the stock was new and I had no idea what to expect but I went home feeling elated after having had a great day. In the weeks that followed business really picked up and the volume of traffic on the website also increased, before long I was back on a flight to South Africa. During 2013 I made several trips back and forth each time returning with more stock, everything was carefully priced and having tumbled stones starting at just a few pence, proved hugely beneficial.
In 2016 new management took over in the market and things were being run very differently, the changes didn't go down well and many issues arose which had a negative impact on trade. The week before St Valentine's day whilst fully set up and serving customers, our stall literally tipped over because the supporting bars in several adjacent stalls had been removed. These were in place to keep each block of stalls secure but traders regularly removed them so the stall was open on both sides. Whist the previous management had always monitored this carefully, the new team took little or no notice at how many stalls were being opened up. On this day four out of the six stalls in the block in which we were trading had been opened up by new traders and because it had been raining heavily, the rear section of many of the overhead tarpaulins was full of water. We had been emptying ours throughout the day but the adjacent stalls hadn't bothered hence as each trader began removing items from the front of their stall, the entire block of six units tipped over backwards. It was just surreal, everything fell to the ground, crystals, rocks and minerals were everywhere, many were scratched, broken or chipped, the pendant display boards were face down on the road, mineral spheres rolled away and tumbled stones covered the pavement.
We lost a huge amount of stock on that Saturday afternoon and the managers of St Albans market showed little interest and took no responsibility for the incident at all. We never returned after that eventful day and subsequently sued the council for a significant amount of money which enabled us to comfortably replace all of our 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 it was time to say goodbye to markets, retails shows and fairs and concentrate all my efforts on trading solely online. The website was now very well established and had plenty of traffic to keep the business ticking over and with good management and promotion, it would keep moving in the right direction.
I definitely don't miss trading outside or constantly travelling around the UK to fairs and shows and am very happy to be able to spend more time at home with my family. Internet shopping is the future and it's moving forward at an incredible pace and Stone Mania absolutely welcomes it with open arms. During 2017 we have made additional trips to Africa, Asia and the USA to once again replenish our stock and are also looking at other places in the world to travel to.
Stone Mania has certainly been an incredible adventure and if the next fifteen years are anything like the last fifteen, we'll have plenty more to write about. Thanks for visiting and taking the time to read about us, we keep in touch with the world through social media and would love you to follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.