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Can You Make Money With Your Rock Collection?
While some people just like to collect rocks, others are left wondering if they can make money with them. After all, among some of our favorites are gemstones, agates, and other high dollar specimens. If you’re wondering what you can do to make money with your rock collection then read on, and I’ll give you some ideas and walk you through the various ways to do it.
Without further ado, let’s dig in.
I’ve been in and out of selling specimens, cabochons, and carvings for over a decade. While I’ve never made a full-time living at it, I’ve never really tried to either. Scaling up is more demanding as a single lapidary, but some people manage to turn it into a full-time job.
What you get out of your rocks will depend on what you put in. There’s a lot of hard work involved unless you’re just going to resale what you have.
I’ve done every bit myself, from prospecting to final polishing at times, other times I’ve bought stones to work with and sold the pieces as time went on.
You can make money from your rock collection. But how much you make and how long it takes to make it will depend on what you’re able to put into it. That said, whether it’s as a hobby or as a real business it’s a great way to enjoy Mother Nature’s work up close and personal.
What Do you Have?
Where we start begins with what you have, and what you have access too. A larger collection will give you a better place to start.
Stones and minerals can be bought in a wide variety of different forms. You just need to find the one that’s right for you in order to move forward.
You should be familiar with the following before any attempts to sell:
- Mineral Specimens- Whether it’s a quartz point or a rare, transparent sphalerite formation, untouched minerals that will remain untouched are usually called mineral specimens.
- Rough Stone- Rough stone is any stone that’s going to be cut into cabochons or carving. Rough is generally sold by the pound rather than by the stone.
- Rough Gemstones- Rough gemstones are meant to be cut into faceted gems. These range from quartz to ruby. In most cases, they’ll be sold by the carat.
- Slabs- Slabs of stone are usually destined to be sold to lapidaries. Think slices of jasper or rhodocrosite. Standard sizes are ⅛” and ¼” and slabs are usually sold individually.
- Cabochons– Stones cut with a dome, usually meant to be set in jewelry at a later date. Cabochons are the “finished” form of stone in most cases, although they can be carved to work them further. Sold as lots or individually.
- Faceted Gemstones- Stones that have been cut into faceted gemstones for setting in jewelry. There are also samples of very rare, very high-grade versions of minerals meant more for collectors than anything. Stones are sold individually or as lots.
- Carvings- Both soft stone (ie: soapstone) and hard stone (ie: jasper) are sometimes carved and sold. Some are meant as decorative objects while others are meant to be worn or set in jewelry. Generally sold individually.
So you should now look at what you have and are willing to sell. Fit them into the above categories, because that will effect how you sell them and who is looking for them. Unfortunately, we’re still going to have to deal with customers before this is over and the markets can be very different.
You’ll also need to make sure there are no fakes in the ones you’re planning to sell. Any treatments also need to be disclosed, especially dyes. Some faceted stones may not require full disclosure, but you’ll have to look at t
If you have specimens you’re unsure about you may want to spend some time IDing them. Facebook groups and forums are great for this.
Prospecting or Mining Access
If you really want to make this work, you should have somewhere to collect stones. I have hot spots along the local riverbed I know are filled with landscape jasper and brecciated jasp-agate, for instance.
Look through local areas and see if there’s anything interesting. Creeks and riverbeds on public land often house hidden treasures, especially if they’re dry and you can walk a good distance along them. Roadcuts which can be safely accessed are another great spot.
This is also where having friends in the local rock and mineral club can help out. Prospecting on private land without permission is illegal, and landowners will call the police. Areas with publicly known hotspots on private land will usually have owners who are tired of dealing with trespassing rockhounds.
Be responsible when you’re prospecting or mining. Use proper PPE, only take what you’ll use, and remember that it’s your responsibility to know the law where you’ll be hunting.
Adding Value Through Work
Labor vs Time
Here’s the reality of the stone trade: very few people are interested in random, rough stones. At the very least a tumble can turn something borderline worthless into something worth a couple of dollars, at the higher end of things some materials become worth exponentially more the closer they get to finished.
Labor and time are the two factors here, and you have to determine if it’s worth it to you.
For instance: tumbles take a lot of time but require minimal labor. They’re also not going to sell for much unless you’ve got something exotic.
Specimens can sometimes be cleaned up, but you should be careful not to modify them too much. Mineral specimens can be worth a good chunk of change but removing something can remove a lot of the value.
“Window” Rough Stones
For rough stones, I recommend “windowing” them before selling if you have a saw. It won’t take as long as slabbing the whole stone but it gives lapidaries a better look. Polish, or at least sand, this small portion to give a better idea of what’s inside.
This is doubly important for unknown materials. “Some jasper I found” isn’t an exciting proposition on it’s face, but having some idea of what’s inside the stone is important for lapidaries. Known materials and locales can just be sold as-is in most cases.
Slabbing stones is my favorite way to process rough for sale. Slabs give a 100% accurate view of the material you’re working with, making a lapidary’s job much easier. In some cases, you can also end up with slabs that can be polished and put on a stand for sale alone. I usually sell slabs as lots, generally made up of the same individual stone with a few pieces removed for my use.
Cut ¼” slabs for the best results. Thinner slabs are acceptable, but they’re harder to work and some material hates being cut that thin.
Cut en Cabochon
You can also go through the full cabbing process. I’ll often keep my favorite slabs to cut en cabochon later. This adds a lot of value, but it’s a lot of work. A new rockhound is going to spend hours earning pennies, but it speeds up with time. For sales purposes, I recommend a cabbing machine instead of using a rotary tool or other improvised methods.
I can cut a cabochon from a small rough stone in about two hours with a Dremel (and hundreds of hours of experience), the same stone would take a quarter of that cutting with the right machinery.
Faceting isn’t in my wheelhouse, but it can also add a lot of value. Smaller gems made from high-end stones are what most people think of when they think of facets but there’s a whole other world of them to explore in fantasy cuts.
Fantasy cuts are often done in larger gemstones, especially quartz varieties, and are generally cut with an emphasis on shape rather than light diffraction.
Carving will usually produce the most expensive pieces, but customers who will pay what they’re worth are rare. 3D sculptures can be made, or flatter images cut from slabs or cabochons. I’ve never recovered my time on a carving, but your mileage may vary.
One type of carving which can be done easily is back-cutting gems. A faceted gemstone has its back flattened (or is designed with a flat back) and the image is carved in reverse on the back of the gemstone. This creates an image you can see from the front.
If you’re careful you can also cause the images to reflect in other facets. Doing this requires a steady hand, small diamond bits, and good tooling. A Dremel may cut it for larger designs, but you want a flex shaft or micromotor for most applications.
This, of course, is without getting into some of the more advanced lapidary arts. Things like intaglio, which are cabochons cut from multiple stones and metals after bonding, or inlays generate a lot of value. An inlay project, in particular, uses very little material for an expensive end result.
Learning, and doing, all of this takes time and a lot of effort. The bottom line is that if you’re going to get out what you put in. Slabbing is probably the closest to a “low-effort” way to make money with your rock collection.
Of course, you can go a bit further and start down the road to finished jewelry yourself if you’re inclined. There’s something very satisfying about turning a pile of scrap silver and a rough stone into a finished piece of jewelry.
But once you’re done, you’ll still need customers.
Avenues for Selling Your Rocks and Minerals
These days I’m a much more frequent buyer of stones than a seller, so I’m able to see the issue from both sides. Like any business, you need customers to buy your product.
I’ve used the following channels personally, but you can easily use the same information elsewhere.
Etsy is a great place for someone trying to sell a few samples, or if you want to start a full shop as a side business. The biggest thing is that it’s easy to use. Just post the listings by filling out some basic information and you’ll be good to go.
The first sale can take quite a while on Etsy. The nice thing is that customers looking at stones are generally looking who already want to buy something, and they can search for specific items. You’re in a better spot than many sellers from the beginning, but you need to build a reputation.
One thing that you can do in the beginning is to learn a bit about Etsy SEO and adhere to best practices. This will boost visibility a lot.
From a buyer’s perspective, I use Etsy to buy bulk semi-precious gemstones, designer cabochons, and the occasional tumbled agate. I generally don’t buy high-dollar items off of Etsy unless I trust the seller.
By trusting the seller I mean that I have personally interacted with them in other online spaces, not just that the shop looks legit.
You don’t need a lot to start an Etsy shop and $20 will cover a huge amount of listings. From there it’s on you to advertise, whether through paid channels or free ones. Etsy is a great place to sell finished objects as well if you continue the process after finishing your stones. Here’s an idea of what some folks are selling on Etsy
eBay is a great channel for slabs and rough to be sold, not so much for cabochons and carvings. The site can feel a bit outdated but don’t underestimate the number of buyers looking for things. When I’m actively cutting cabochons eBay is the place I go for any kind of rough or slabbed material I want to work.
eBay is a great place for sellers of materials that don’t have a big name behind them as well.
I don’t use eBay for finished cabochons, but I do occasionally source gemstones, both faceted and rough, from sellers on there. It’s something to keep in mind, especially with semi-precious stones that can be harder to sell on places like GemRockAuctions.
eBay listings are free to set up but they take a chunk of your earnings, so make sure you account for the hit in your math. It’s the place most amateurs will do best, at least without having to build an actual network of people.
Facebook is an incredible resource for selling handmade items and materials. You just need to go a little bit farther than joining a couple of random groups that are for selling crystals. For quality materials, it’s my favorite option, and it’s probably the most “fun” out of everything.
The key is just to become a regular in a few groups and show off your finds. Slabs are usually welcome even in strictly non-lapidary groups, and lapidary groups share everything from finished jewelry to exciting new rough.
You’re networking in this case, rather than trying to directly market.
A good Facebook business page, separate from the account you use to post in the groups, is also a good thing to have. Currently (at the time of this writing) Facebook’s marketplace also doesn’t have any fees, although they’ll be incoming soon enough.
This kind of networking is a great way to build long-term customers, but it’s a lot of work even when run as a side hobby. It’s best for those who already enjoy discussing their stones with others and helping out with questions in information groups.
Local shows are a great resource if you have them. Allowing people to see your stones in person gives you the best chance of selling them in my experience, and it’s also the best way to meet people interested in a better arrangement than purchasing a single lot.
I don’t recommend a hobbyist decide to take a bunch of their self-prospected stones and go rent a booth in Quartzite during the height of show season, but smaller rock and gem shows are a great way to show off your work and materials.
You can also use craft fairs, swap meets, and other places. Be careful with more general swap meets and flea markets. If you go through them a few times you’ll be able to figure out if you’re in the right price bracket for what you’re selling.
It’s worth a look, and if nothing else it’s a good way to kill a lazy weekend day or two.
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