Synthesis and utilization of nanocrystals are highly active fields of current research, but they require a thorough understanding of the underlying crystal surfaces. In this Minireview, we span the arc from surfaces to free nanocrystals, and onward to their chemical synthesis, using as examples lead selenide (PbSe), tin telluride (SnTe), and their direct chemical relatives. Besides experimental insights, we highlight the increasingly influential role played by quantum-chemical simulations of surfaces and nanocrystals. What can theory do today, or possibly tomorrow; where are its limits? Answering these questions, and skillfully linking them to experiments, could open up new atomistically (that is, chemically) guided perspectives for nanosynthesis.