To fast-track decorators, they are the room accessories of the moment. To New Age enthusiasts, these same objects are tools to help heal the body, mind and spirit. And to hobbyists, they are materials to be collected, polished, sculpted and carved--or just put on the shelf and stared at.
What we're talking about here is rocks. Slabs and chips and chunks from the earth that have become the stuff of big business in recent years.
Today and Sunday, for instance, about 5,000 people are expected to fill the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium for the Red Carpet Show, an annual exhibit and sale of rocks and gems, which is sponsored by the Santa Monica Gemological Society, the Westside Mineralogical Society and the Los Angeles Lapidary Society.
Crowds Are Up
"I would say it (crowd-size at such shows) started increasing in the last six years," says Gary Ferguson, director of the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, which presented four gem and mineral shows during 1987.
"The crowd sizes are increasing steadily. They're just about to the maximum. Booth spaces are at a premium. In fact, the building is a little small for most of these shows. They all use every inch of space we have."
Dealers say two groups--New Agers who use stones for healing and interior decorators who like the sparkle and drama in this most enduring form of nature--have contributed to a boom in the mining and sales of many types of minerals in the last seven or eight years.
Shops catering to such buyers have been increasingly springing up in both large and small communities, even appearing in such high-rent, ultra-trendy areas as Los Angeles' Melrose Avenue (where you'll find a shop called Minerale), Beverly Hills' Rodeo Drive (home of Isis) and Santa Monica's Main Street (location of Nature's Own).
Rocks even made the cover of Time magazine this week. Actress Shirley MacLaine posed holding a quartz crystal cluster in the palm of her hand to illustrate the magazine's story on the rapidly expanding New Age.
While large gem and mineral shows (which spotlight vast numbers of rock dealers and exhibitors) once appeared infrequently, they are now regular events. In Southern California, there is a weekend gem and mineral show nearly every month, usually at one of the Southland's major exhibition centers such as the Pasadena Center, the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, the Los Angeles Convention Center and the Long Beach Convention Center.
Ronnie Davis, a Tucson-based miner and mineral dealer who travels around the country and who displayed his finds at the International Gem & Jewelry Show last month at the Los Angeles Convention Center, reports that interest in minerals has been steadily increasing for the last eight years--and skyrocketing in the last six months.
"Mineral specimens were on their way out about eight years ago," he recalls. "There wasn't much of a living in it back then."
Those were the days when most people interested in minerals were referred to as "rock hounds"--because they often found or mined rocks themselves and then turned them into jewelry or other decorative objects.
"It used to be we could go out and search though the hills and find lots of jasper and other stones," says Wilbur Dutton, president of the Santa Monica Gemological Society. "But they're becoming harder and harder to find. Some people are putting mining claims on them (mines) and closing them. And other sources are becoming depleted."
Increasing depletion as well as growing demand has had a marked effect on prices for certain minerals (usually those in the quartz family, which are favored by healers).
Says Davis: "The price of clear quartz in the last three years has gone from $4 to $50 a pound. And in the last six months, interest in mineral items is probably ten times what it was."
Orders From Interior Designers
Davis and many dealers credit New Agers, who claim that stones and crystals can assist humans in amplifying and balancing their energies, with being the initial force behind the renaissance in minerals. More recently, the sellers say, they have received growing numbers of orders from interior designers whose clients have requested that large geodes or clusters of crystals be incorporated in their decor.
"In the last six to nine months, many of the showrooms in the Pacific Design Center and many of the showrooms on Robertson Boulevard and Melrose Avenue have all of a sudden introduced crystals or amethyst geodes or other minerals in their displays," says Los Angeles interior designer Nancy Bohnett.
"The minerals make very good accent pieces," she says. "You used to see a lot of unusual vases but not anymore. A lot of people don't understand the metaphysical uses of crystals, including myself, but sometimes that is very intriguing to clients."