I did not intend to become interested in crystals. It happened, as these things often do, during a long drive through the desert.

A chance pass through Quartzite, Ariz., piqued my interest. It corresponded with an annual crystal show where thousands of “rock hounds” convene in the aptly named outpost to sell glittering pillars of rose quartz, regal amethysts, and malachite as swirled and green as the back of an ancient gilded turtle. The RVs and tents parked alongside the highway, Burning Man style, demanded investigation.

I soon found myself haggling over the price of golden-colored citrine with a bolero-wearing man named Brian. Later I forked over a few bucks for a rotund couple of break-at-home geodes (dinosaur eggs, I called them as a child) that came with an oversize nutcracker that looked like it came from a construction site circa 1976. 

Turns out, I am late to develop an appetite for “near-gemstones,” as diamond dealers call this $1 billion-plus industry. Virtually every Los Angeles-based celebrity you’ve heard of keeps them, whether Kate Hudson’s amethyst chunks credited with healing properties for emotional distress and issues with the nervous system, Adele’s performance-anxiety reducing crystals, or Gwyneth Paltrow’s rose quartz, which some believe promotes harmony and love. Victoria Beckham (black obsidian), Bella Hadid (blue celestites), and Kylie Jenner are fans. Kim Kardashian named her perfume collection Crystal Gardenia.

Today, the crystal-collecting set goes beyond the type of people who shop at health-food stores or practice reiki. The Astro Gallery of Gems on Fifth Avenue in New York attracts famous clients with its $30,000 pieces of barite and six-figure specimens of mesolite. (“Letterman was in here last month,” its star saleswoman Ruth told me the last time I was there.) Sotheby’s and Christie’s sell them for tens of thousands of dollars alongside meteorites and fossils. Mardani Fine Minerals reports annual gross sales of $25 million to $40 million, with profit margins varying from 20% to 70%.

The market was strong before Covid-19 and remains unaffected. The coronavirus pandemic is expected to dent the $76 billiondiamond industry (as of 2018) by 20% this year, but the value of near-gemstones such as quartz, amethyst, citrine, and malachite is holding steady.

“Near-gemstones are becoming very attractive,” says Martin Rapaport, chairman of the Rapaport Group and founder of the Rapaport Diamond Report and RapNet online diamond trading network.

The diamond market was already expecting a drop in 2020. Wealthier people are buying fewer, rarer gems, he says while those of more modest means are forgoing jewels and gemstones in favor of crystals.

“The diamond market is going to come down significantly this year, but there’s a lot of demand that has moved down to the lower cusp of [crystals and minerals], which are less expensive,” he says. “The need for emotional gifting is going to be intensified, and quarantining is going to drive more buying in general. Near-gems fall directly into this segment.”

James Hyslop, the head of the science and natural history department at Christie’s, agrees. Coronavirus has only strengthened a market that has been “historically undervalued. The sense that everyone has is that interest in the market for minerals and fossils and meteorites is at an all-time high,” Hyslop said on the phone from London. “It’s extremely healthy at the moment.”

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