Crystal Clear Direction

Veteran takes gem of an idea and turns it into a business venture

Courtesy photos Above, Lydia Derrington in front of her Alpine store where she has a variety of gemstones for sale and on display.

While in high school in St. Louis, Missouri, Lydia Derrington was a science minded student, a member of the Grotto Club and went caving, hiking, and map casing the large limestone caves in Missouri. She joined the Navy, and after 10 years of active duty, she attended the Gemological Institute of America and for years worked in the gem and jewelry industry here in San Diego, and lives in Lakeside.

With her passion for gems, crystals, and minerals, she realized that people love all of it for several reasons, she opened her new shop, The Crystal Cottage in Alpine over Labor Day weekend.

“The last place I worked at was with wholesale gemstones,” she said. “As a gemologist, it enabled me to do different jobs, meet many different people. Once I was in that job, it opened my eyes to this other part of the industry, things people like to decorate their homes with.”

Derrington said she worked in a jewelry shop in La Mesa and met a man who collected cabochons. He had lots of turquoise, her “absolutely favorite stone,” and purchased a substantial portion of his collection which motivated her to start showing and the annual gem club shows.

Derrington lives in Lakeside, but said when the pandemic shut down everything, including her ability to attend and sell at local gem and mineral shows.

“I had bought many new and different type of things to bump up my selection and variety,” she said. “COVID has closed many doors for people. Other people realized other opportunities, and that is my story with this shop. We started coming up to Alpine frequently during the pandemic. We enjoyed the atmosphere. It is quiet. It is country. Everybody is super nice. And that is when I saw this shop, all 91-square feet of it, right next to Janet’s Montana Café on Alpine Boulevard. It has great foot traffic. It was empty. One thing led to another, and now, here I am.”

Derrington said not everyone wants to wear a sapphire ring, but just want something affordable that they can wear every day, or something beautiful to display in their homes. So, four years ago, she began selling on her own Etsy store.

“I like to pick unique and pretty things that people may want to first, there are many collectors out there, budding mineral collectors and people just starting on their collecting journey,” she said. “People that are looking for something unusual or something that can be incorporated into a unique piece of jewelry. Many of my online customers do that. They take the items I sell and make them into jewelry.”

Derrington said with here experience in the industry, this store provided many things that she can talk with her customers about because here interests are extremely broad.

“I like the finer things of the gem and jewelry industry,” she said. “That is what GIA teaches. But most of the things, if not all the things that I have her in my shop or sell online are not really addressed by the GIA specifically in any of their courses but are things that I learned about and come to appreciate over the years as a side interest of mine.”

Derrington said her love is in the natural occurrence of something.

“It is the amazing surprise when you have a geode you cut open and it has the cavity, the crystals, all the things that formed in nature,” she said. “I am still astonished at the amazing variety and the things nature has done on its own. Do I have things in my store that have been helped along by man? Of course, I do. But I have a mix of things in their natural forms or have been fashioned. Like towers and hearts. When they are cut and polished into those shapes you can see the beauty of the mineral. Usually, these things do not come out of the ground nice and shiny. Sometimes they do, and that is what makes part of a great mineral specimen.”

Derrington said with her own lapidary equipment and five different saws, cutting into a rock to see inside is a “treasure hunt” for her every single time because she is a collector at heart.

Derrington learned lapidary for cabochons at her local gem and mineral clubs. She is member of the San Diego Gem and Mineral Society, as well at the one in Palomar.

“I learned lapidary for cabochons to be able to create something that someone could turn into a piece of jewelry,” she said. “Lapidary is the art of taking a rough stone and making it into something polished or faceted. Faceted stones are diamonds for example, and the other big facet of lapidary is the making of cabochons, which are domed stones, agates, jaspers, are universally made into cabochons for people to wear. Hobbyist and art jewelers use them all the time and you find much sterling silver jewelry made with agate and jasper cabochons, among other things.”

Although Derrington is a gemologist, she is extremely familiar with the metaphysical side of minerals, crystals and gemstones. She said she is not a crystal healer, ore a reiki healer, but recognizes that there is a need for that.

“I have reference materials here and I have made a chart,” she said. “Most of the people that I have encountered are people that want to learn more. I am upfront with them that I am learning it also. I have light reading items for people so they can maintain their privacy of what they are looking for and I can point them to the right direction. Quite often, they do not know anything. They know it is a blue or green tumbled rock. What they see is how they describe it. I am well versed in what is what, how minerals are related, where things are from, and for the apothecary side, I have reference materials for.”

Derrington said with the apothecary side of the business, she loves learning together with her customers as they go through references, Googling different facets of this side of the business, and together they can “zero in” on what it is they are looking for, would enjoy having, and most pick to what they are drawn.

“Ultimately, that is what it comes down to,” she said. “I try to keep the prettiest version of something that I can find in my store. If it is not pretty, I am betting somebody is not going to be drawn to it. It is subjective, but since I have been doing this for so long. I feel like I have a trained eye on what is appealing. I can also talk to them about rarity factors, value factors. Some of the things on the metaphysical side are maybe not as important to some people, but they are still interested in it.”

Derrington said she sells a couple types of jewelry that she creates but has no desire to be a full-fledged jeweler. But she recognizes that people want to wear many of the items she sells.

“I have stalactite, geode, and crystal clusters that I make into simple pendants. I also have gemstone bracelets, round bead bracelets,” she said. “People like to stack them, so I have different varieties like rose quartz, lapis, tiger’s eye, amethyst. I also have a hobby doing glass art making beads, and I also make glass fish. There are many wonderful glass artists out there, but for me it is just a hobby. If people find something that they want made into jewelry, I send them to Steve (Cope) at Alpine Jewelers.”

Derrington said interacting with her customers has been the most rewarding part of owning a shop dedicated to gems, crystals, and minerals.

“I love talking to people about this,” she said. “There are plenty of folks who share where they have gone rock hunting, what they did when they were kids. That is another thing fun about this. It touches off memories for many people in a lot of diverse ways. People like sharing and I am happy to listen. I someone cannot find something here. I like to tell people that I love to find something specific. I have a lot of stock at home, and if I do not have it, I will do my best to find it. And, I still have all my connections.”