Many rockhounds only collect stones from the local area, and that’s awesome, but some of us are always on the hunt for new or interesting stones no matter the source. Buying minerals for our collections can be dicey, but you can minimize risk if you know where and how to purchase stones online and in person.
So, let’s dig right in and I’ll give you a brief primer on how to buy minerals both online and in person, and give you some hints to help you avoid costly mistakes.
Buying Minerals Online- Convenient but Very Risky
Buying stones online is riskier than purchasing them in person, particularly if you’re not very knowledgeable about stones. After all, not every rockhound is interested in the difference in the chemical composition of varying types of garnet or debating whether a specific stone is a rhyolite or jasper.
That said if you spend some time learning about your stones you’ll walk away from the deal with what you actually ordered 99% of the time.
There are quite a few places to buy stones online:
- Facebook Marketplace
- Private Websites
For the most part, I purchase my own stones from aggregate sellers like Etsy and eBay. I do my best to avoid retail outlets like Amazon these days, but good stones can be had for a reasonable price there as well if you’re careful.
For the most part, you’re not going to have your money disappear entirely if you buy something from an aggregate site. This does happen on occasion with private dealers, so make sure to vet them properly.
I actually use every single one of the above at different times, and I primarily use them for specific reasons.
Etsy is a great place to find gemstones. The dealers I use for bulk gemstones are all from Etsy, although I purchase most of my material from their own websites now. I don’t recommend it for very valuable gemstones (ie: high grade emerald or ruby). There are also a number of artisans who cut fantasy-cut gemstones here, making them easier to find. You can check it out here to see the variety of material that’s available.
eBay is a great place to pick up slabs and rough for lapidaries. The prices are usually great, there’s rarer material on occasion, and the sellers tend to be straightforward. It’s also not a bad place to pick up gem rough, but I generally avoid buying cut gemstones from eBay unless I can’t find another option.
Amazon is a last resort, but I often use it for rough materials where quality matters less. I’m not too picky about the rough used for carvings and polished display pieces, and you can buy many common stones by the pound. I’d avoid single stones and display specimens from here, but it’s not too bad if you just want a bag of something like green opal or labradorite.
GemRockAuctions is my high-end gemstone market. You’re not 100% protected, but most of the people on the site want to maintain their reputation and customers can request assays on gemstones. If I want something one of my usual dealers doesn’t have, this is the website I head to. I’m much more confident about purchasing things like colored sapphire or low-end diamonds from here than any other aggregate seller.
Facebook Marketplace is a fantastic place to find good mineral specimens. I’ve met most of my dealers through rock groups, and many of them sell through the marketplace. The best part here is that you can generally ask questions of the dealer in real-time. This can be risky, so you need to know what you’re looking for, how it should be priced, and how common fakes of that particular material are.
A Final Recommendation
And lastly, I use private websites only from dealers who I’ve bought from at least twice before. The only site I’ll openly vouch for is AsherGems, which is where I purchase bulk accent gemstones, but they’re mainly aimed at people producing jewelry instead of collectors.
With that said, there are people out to rip off others constantly on the internet. Be alert for scams, and know that if something looks too good to be true… it probably is.
In-Person-Shops and Shows
Shops and shows are the two main places you’ll find people selling stones in person. Occasionally there’s a crusty old rockhound selling off pounds of rough through local classifieds, but they’re few and far between.
There are a lot of advantages to buying your stones this way:
- You can see them before you buy
- You can ask questions about them
- You may be able to talk someone down on pricing
The latter doesn’t necessarily apply everywhere but I’ve pulled it off at shows a few times.
Gem and Mineral Shows
Gem and Mineral shows are your best bet. They’re seasonal, there may not be any local to your area, and they can cost money to get into.
They’re also the best way to buy gemstones and minerals in person. Shows will often have hundreds of vendors all forced to compete in the same area, which also helps you to save some money. Things will generally only be overpriced if you’re looking for something that very few people have.
They’re also a lot of fun, in my experience. Looking at rare stones, even the ones you can’t afford just doesn’t hit the same when you’re looking at a screen.
If that sounds attractive to you, check out this list of rock and gem shows in the United States. Just click on your state and it’ll bring up a list for you to take a look at.
Rock shops are a bit different. The main thing that I’ve found to be the case is that they’re expensive in areas that lack competition. Where I grew up, for instance, there was only one shop in the entire Southern half of the county. Everything there was incredibly expensive, especially compared to online prices.
You’ll have better luck, price-wise at least, with shops in places like Quartzite, Arizona where there are a ton of different shops competing.
The nice thing about stores is that they’re always open, as opposed to just being around for a few days like the majority of shows. It’s also helpful to support the local economy, as long as you can fit the extra expense into your budget.
There is one last place to talk about: flea markets or swap meets. Not all of these will have rock and mineral vendors, but when you do find them it can lead to great deals. You may even know more about what you’re looking at than the person you’re buying from!
Buying in person is generally a far safer bet than buying online. Scams are less likely when you meet the person face-to-face and shops/shows have a reputation to uphold. It’s hard to leave someone holding the bag when they can just walk in the front door or make a phone call and have their complaints taken seriously.
Tips for Avoiding Scams and Fakes
Buying stones gets tricky, and it’s trickier the more money that is involved. There’s a reason I’m very wary about where I’ll purchase precious stones but I don’t mind flopping down $20 with a new vendor to see if they’re telling the truth.
Keep in mind that not every fake is a vendor scam. Vendors get scammed too, especially when they’re new to the business. This is how I’ve acquired the few fake stones I have over the years.
Here are some general guidelines:
1. Check Product Reviews
Minor complaints, like slight saturation or hue differences, can be taken on a case-by-case basis. Occasionally someone will call out a seller with evidence, which means you can keep scrolling by.
2. Is The Focus on Metaphysical Properties?
SEO optimization often means that sellers will discuss metaphysical properties in their descriptions. In my experience, however, shops that focus on this or make it a central point of their marketing often don’t know enough to even be able to tell you if they’re getting scammed if they’re not outright scammers themselves.
3. The Clear Obsidian Test
There is no “green obsidian”, “red obsidian”, or “whatever color obsidian” that looks like clear, pure glass with color added. If someone is selling this, they’re either ignorant or a scammer and it’s one of the first things I look for in a new shop.
4. Selling Andara Crystals? Walk Away.
Anyone selling Andara Crystals is a scammer. Full stop. These “crystals” are just slag glass or art glass solidified and broken into pieces to sell at ridiculous prices.
5. Compare and Contrast Prices
If a seller seems very low for the market then reach out to them to ask about the product, they may have a good reason (ie: they’re local miners) but often it’s because the material is fake.
6. Educate Yourself on Fakes
Have a good idea of the possible fakes that are in the market for the mineral or gem that you’re looking for. Precious gemstones are particularly tricky since synthetic (not simulant) material is identical to natural material on a chemical basis. Read more about synthetic gemstones here.
Always ask questions if you’re wary.
Examine pictures carefully. Vision alone won’t tell you what a stone is, but if you know the stone’s quirks it can help you figure things out.
Keep in mind the above, and test your stones on arrival, and you’ll most likely be safe in the long run. The worst scams usually occur at impulse buy price points, since a single fake emerald or ruby can destroy a dealer’s reputation permanently.