You’re sneaking through a ruin, up a tower, in a cave, or around a jarl’s quarters when you spot it for the first time.
It’s not labeled as anything other than “Unusual Gem,” but you pick it up anyway, thinking, “It looks expensive; maybe I can sell it.” Except you get a notification to show it to Vex in the Thieves Guild. Either you know who she is or you’re going to find out, because your next destination is Riften, home of the Thieves Guild. You show it to Vex and she says it’s a Stone of Barenziah, one of 24.
Thus begins one of the longest quests you’ll ever do. It’s not particularly hard to get the stones—it’s just hard to find them. There are no quest markers and Vex is only slightly useful, so really, it’s a matter of stumbling across them in your travels.
Lucky for you, I made a list of their locations for the sole purpose of making your life easier:
• Proudspire Manor—master bedroom • The Blue Palace—Jarl Elisif the Fair’s bedroom • Reeking Cave—on your way out of the Thalmor Embassy, next to a dead dark elf in the frost troll’s cave • The Dainty Sload—on a table in the captain’s quarters with the first mate sitting in front of it • College of Winterhold—archmage’s quarters, near the alchemy table • Yngvild—in the final room, just past the door and to the left, on a dresser • Hob’s Fall Cave—down a side tunnel and down a spiral ramp to an area with a sorcerer and an alchemy table • Markarth Treasury House—way in the back of Thonar Silver-Blood’s bedroom, on a side table • The Dwemer Museum—on a table in the room on the far left side of the main room • Dead Crone Rock—on the table in front of the word wall where the hagraven is lurking • Jorrvaskr—in the bookshelf on the far side of Kodlak Whitemane’s bedroom in the basement • Whiterun Hall of the Dead—go through the door, walk to the left, then down the stairs, and it’s in the far left corner of the bottom “skeleton cubby” right at the bottom of the stairs • Dragonsreach—on the side table on the right side of the jarl’s bed • Rannveig’s Fast—on the table in the room where Sild the Warlock does his thing (when you get to the room with the word wall, you can either take the left passageway and follow it down or fall through the trap door and land in a cage right in front of the guy) • Fellglow Keep—on a table in the room to the right at the top of the stairs in the main/front room (the room I’m referring to as the “main/front room” is the one with two long tables, a large staircase, a big set of doors, and a flame atronach just chilling) • House of Clan Shatter-Shield—on a shelf in the room to the left of the stairs that are to the right of the front door • Palace of the Kings—on the table to the right of the doorway in Wuunferth the Unliving’s room/study • Stony Creek Cave—on the table next to the alchemy table in the room at the end of the side hallway that branches off from the main, watery path • Ansilvund—on a table in the final chamber of the ruin, near the ghosts • Sunderstone Gorge—on the table in front of the word wall (short cut—when you get to the long hallway with the crack in the ceiling make the first right possible, kill the skeever, jump up the pile of rocks on the right and up onto the platform. To get through the bars, activate the alchemy table, and to get through the other set of bars, pull the chain within reach on the far right side. The two mages shouldn’t be too hard to kill and no one come to help them. The other mages in this cave are weirdly powerful) • Dark Brotherhood Sanctuary in Falkreath—you need to join the Dark Brotherhood to get in, but the stone is on the dresser just left of the door to the master bedroom to the left of the table with the map on it • Pinewatch—on the table in the final room, surrounded by treasure • Mistveil Keep—on the table to the side of the bed in the jarl’s quarters • Black-Briar Lodge—on the table to the side of the bed in the master bedroom on the second floor
Once you find all 24, go talk to Vex again and she’ll give you the location of the Crown of Barenziah, which is Tovald’s Crossing.
You might be thinking, “Wait. Couldn’t I get all 24 and then show Vex the stones?”
Yes! You can!
But then you might think, “Can’t I then just go get the crown and bring it to her with the stones?”
No! You can’t! I’ve tried it and the tunnel to the chamber with the crown in it is sealed until you talk to Vex. Which is really annoying. If you want to go through Tovald’s Crossing and clear it so that you don’t have to fight anything when you go to get the crown, you can. It doesn’t save you anything though. I tried that too.
When you do get the crown, though, Vex gives you this nifty perk called “Prowler’s Profit” that make you find more gold and jewels in urns and chests and on draugr.