This topic, I imagine, is close to everyone's heart. In a perfect world amethyst, tourmaline, jasper, emeralds and rubies would be as common as gravel. Since they're not, we have to seek them out, and this usually means paying big bucks for special pieces. But does it really need to be this way? Can you get good quality specimens cheaply or even for free? Also, can you have fun while doing this?
The answer to these questions is a resounding YES! In this article I examine some options I have employed over the years. One or more of these may be of interest to you. If you would like more information than what I present, then just leave me a comment and we'll take it from there. I will discuss a number of options, and the pros and cons and costs of each.
1. Source them yourself
Hopefully you're asking 'Now why didn't I think of that?'. If not, maybe you already source your own. As I said in the intro, crystals and precious gems aren't lying around for you to pick up. How could they be? Well the answer is fossicking!
In just about every state within Australia, and most other countries too, there a free, beautiful specimens just sitting there waiting to be adopted by you and taken home.
The outlay is minimal eg. < $100. This is a cheap option. If you have some good shoes and protective clothing eg. jeans/gloves/sunscreen you are in business. But, and this is a big but, you will usually need to get a license. Depending on where you live, these may not be required, but where required, they can be as little as a few dollars for a single day to $50 to $100 for a year for a family. You need to be very careful to check that you have a valid license for the area you are fossicking in. For example, my Queensland fossicking license is good for use within designated Queensland fossicking areas but a separate license is needed if I venture across the border into New South Wales.
If you don't have a license and you are caught fossicking, the fines can be very steep, and a lot more than that 5ft Brazilian amethyst geode you have been eyeing off and the local gem store!
Now just to be clear, having a license for a state or territory does not necessarily mean you can fossick anywhere. In fact it never will. Here in Australia, the various states have different rules about where you can and can't fossick. There may be designated areas where you cannot. For example, in State Forests and National Parks. Fossicking tourism is big business and the fines for breaking the law are steep. Also make sure you never litter. Some landowners such as farmers may let you fossicking on their property but they often change their mind if mess is left behind. This ruins it for everybody.
To me, beach fossicking in particular is great fun. I have found a lot of chalcedony, jasper and agate walking on the shoreline of beaches in Queensland.
Pros - outdoors activity, good family fun, cheap (free) quality specimens
Cons - licensing restrictions in place, fines for non-compliance, specimens in natural state ie. not cleaned or polished
Summary - A cheap fun activity, but you have to follow the rules or risk big bucks in fines.
2. Make your Own
Now I'm not referring to the 'make your own sugar crystal kits' you can get at the local toy store. But if you have the right tools, you can buy raw materials and even damaged specimens and transform them into that piece you've always wanted, and all for a fraction of the price.
This is very clearly not for everyone. The entry price for this activity can be high as you need the right tools. This could be a tumbler to make tumble stones, a set of wheels for grinding and polishing, and, for the hardcore fans, even a faceting machine. I have the first two but not the latter as I'm not really into creating fine jewelry pieces. The cost of all of these can be high.
The cheapest by far is a tumbler. You can source these from various lapidary supply stores or the likes of ebay for $100-150. You do need various abrasive materials to add into the machine to simulate the natural tumbling process, but this is a good, cheap, entry level tool to own. You can end up taking rough rose quartz, aventurine or just about anything and end up with lovely polished pieces, and lots of them!
Here is a picture of one of my tumblers working away tirelessly. The next set of rough stones are in the foreground!
Having a set of good grinding wheels opens up other avenues for me. My local crystal shop has a discounted section which is a graveyard for slightly damaged specimens which are largely intact, cut and polished, but they may have a slight mark or abrasion. You can, for example, get a $50 smokey quartz pointer for as little as $10. 2-3 minutes on the wheels (or on dremel if you have one), can smooth it out and make it as good as new again. This has given me some pride and joy possessions that were almost giveaway cost.
Here is a photo of my wheels and some of the stones I am working on at the moment.
As for fun factor, this is a very entertaining activity. You can easily lose track of time shaping and polishing your own crystals.
Pros - heaps of fun, creative, good value for money after initial outlay
Cons - initial outlay, safety concerns if you aren't careful, can be messy in some circumstances
Summary - Not entry level and a more expensive activity but heaps of fun
3. Lapidary Clubs
Just about every major city and regional areas too within Australia have a lapidary club of some sort. The name is quite outdated. I expect if they called them 'gemstone clubs' the membership numbers would go through the roof. But anyway, at your disposal, and maybe just around the corner from you, there are people and resources at the ready to give you advice and a helping hand.
As you by now already know, crystal people generally love helping others and sharing knowledge. There are lots of very experienced people within these clubs that have a lifetime of knowledge. Such clubs are usually well equipped with lapidary machines and tools, as well as gemstones, gold, silver and other supplies at wholesale prices. My local lapidary club that I am a member of sources it's sterling silver from the same supplier I use but at about 20% cheaper.
Club memberships may be in the vicinity of $100 - 200 per year depending on the club and what is included, and there may be additional charges for specific classes. For example I did a silver course this year and it was $10 a lesson for about 8 weeks. But this also gave me my supplies to use during the lessons. Please note, the focus of these clubs is more around gemstones and jewelry making. They are not necessarily a fountain of knowledge on the spiritual aspects of gemstones or crystal healing. Some of the old timers will look at you funny if you ask whether a certain crystal is good for balancing your heart chakra!
Many if not all lapidary clubs also run fossicking trips that you can participate in. These are usually well organised and in locations more likely to hit pay dirt compared to trying to find your own locations. They are typically more trusted by farmers than individuals and have access to areas you will not have access to.
Safety within Lapidary Clubs is always taken very seriously, always!
Pros - relatively cheap activity, wealth of information, usually good quality gems and metals, helpful club members in your local community
Cons - less focus on spirituality, some arrogant people (but they are everywhere!)
Summary - a cheap and cheerful option. Can take you on the journey from novice to expert.
So there you have it - I've presented three options that are all fun, and give you an avenue for sourcing crystals beyond your local crystal shop, ebay/alibaba etc, or the local market. Compared to these regular sources, the options discussed will typically be less expensive and not so hit and miss in terms of quality and authenticity.
My personal recommendation will always be try what works for you. For me, I use all three methods, but I started out by joining a local lapidary club and branching out from there. This is a very good first step for beginners or those who may know their stones but not have the skills or tools to craft them for themselves.
As always, happy to take questions or receive feedback. I would love to hear what you prefer or other options you use that I haven't listed here.
Some links that may be useful:
1. Fossicking information for various Australian States -
3. Lortone Tumblers (the rock tumbler brand I use)