Weekly Briefing: All That Glitters Proves Alluring to Shopkeeper

In the mid 1970s, when gold was selling for $150 per ounce, Robin Banchik thought she could strike it rich designing gold and diamond fashion jewelry, which she would then sell to high-end retail stores. But as the price of gold jumped to $800 an ounce several years later, overhead costs got out of hand. So she sold off the prototypes and got out of the business. After several years of freelance design work, Banchik, 48, turned to her passion for crystals and gems and opened up Crystalarium. The West Hollywood store turns 15 this summer.

"I have a graduate gemologist degree from the Gemological Institute of America. I have always loved gemstones and minerals, and all of a sudden the marketplace was booming (in the mid-1980s). The crystals on the market were broken, junky little stuff for a lot of money. People were charging $25 to $30 for a piece that should have cost $5. I thought it was kind of exploitation. I knew there was a lot finer material available and I knew how to get it.

"I deal directly with mines and people who buy crystals to cut gem stones. I sell higher-end goods. We have merchandise in my store from $9 for a single crystal to tens of thousands of dollars for emerald, ruby and tanzanite crystals. I get things from every continent on the planet.

"We also design and manufacture them into fine pendants, earrings, and rings. I have four employees: a full-time jeweler and three women who do sales and shipping, because we do some wholesale as well. Our clients are the studios, interior designers, collectors and people who use crystals for metaphysical purposes meditation and healing.

"Our busiest times are just when I've gotten back from a large buying trip because collectors are anxious to see what's new and available. They are regular customers who know I usually do two major trips a year to trade shows one in the winter and one at the end of summer. People collect crystals the way some people collect China or books.

"We've sold or rented merchandise for 'Man on the Moon,' 'Out of Sight,' 'Star Trek: The Next Generation,' and one of the Batman movies. There's no logic to my business. I can have three people walk in and have a wonderful day. Or I can have 30 people walk in and have just a ho-hum day. We've broadened our Web site to make more merchandise available. Last year, we did about $700,000 in revenues. We hope to match it this year."

David Greenberg

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