Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Even Though it Looks, Sounds and Walks Like a Duck—it Might Be a Dog

You look at the title of this post and think, “What the heck is she talking about this time?”  Stick with me.
This month’s Boot Camp is about Fine Finishings—the little things that make your work really stand out.  While this is not my Boot Camp post, (that will be on the 28th), the entire topic has me thinking of so many different things we encounter as we progress as designers and artists.  The highs and lows, the mistakes, the successes, and the LEARNING CURVE.
With that in mind, I wanted to touch on a subject that I am personally acquainted with—getting suckered into buying bad beads.  Early in my designing career, I was a gemmy girl. I just LOVED gemstone beads.  Still do, but on a totally different level.  Back then, I was woefully under-educated about gemstones and beads in general, but that didn’t stop me from going to bead shows and dropping a ton of money on what I thought were quality gemstone beads.  One particular example comes to mind that encapsulates the point of this post.  I once (many moons ago) purchased what I was assured was genuine sapphire and ruby beads.  Gorgeous, faceted deep blue and blood-red stones.  I was at a huge commercial bead show held in a local convention center.  Aisle after aisle of sparkly beads and stones.  I was in newbie bead buying Heaven.

Gem and bead shows can be overwhelming to a newbie....SO MANY THINGS!
I wasn’t very savvy about beads, especially not gemstone beads, and believed what the dealer told me.  The price was so wonderful!  I felt so lucky to have found this amazing vendor willing to make such a great deal on SAPPHIRES AND RUBIES!!!  I dropped a couple hundred bucks (that I could not really afford), but paid far less than I thought I would for GENUINE SAPPHIRES AND RUBIES.  The bead strands were gorgeous, full of color and BIG.  I was so happy and couldn’t wait to get home and play.
I live in South Florida. My studio space at that time was on my enclosed back porch in all its glorious heat and humidity.  You could basically watch the rust form on all my tools, but that is a story for another day.  Anyway, I stashed my new GENUINE SAPPHIRE AND RUBY beads in my stacked Tupperware bead boxes, imagining all the wonderful things I would make with them.
A couple days later, I finally had time to work on jewelry.  Imagine my SURPRISE when I opened the container housing my NEW BEADS and found them clumped and stuck together, with blue and red color staining the inside of the plastic box I stored them in.  I picked them up and the color CAME OFF ON MY HANDS in a sticky mess.  What the..????  Florida heat and humidity revealed what I should have known—the beads were dyed GARBAGE.  I actually had to wash them off in the sink, where most of the color ran off, ending up with pale, milky quartz beads.  I felt like such an idiot.
Excuse the crappy picture...I actually kept a few of these beads
as a reminder. Yes, they still bleed and are sticky, even after
several years.  AND, notice the blue cord (also sticky), full of dye.
The moral of the story is, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.  Handle the beads you buy.  Look closely at how they are strung.  If the cotton cord the beads are on is the same color as the beads themselves, chances are they are dyed.  Weight also matters.  Real gemstones are heavy, and cool to the touch.  Rub them to make sure no color comes off.  I even carry wet-naps sometimes to wipe on the beads.  Dyed beads can be beautiful and useful, but don’t be fooled into believing what they ARE NOT.  An ethical vendor will tell you exactly what you are looking at and charge accordingly.  If you have the slightest doubt about a bead, DON’T BUY IT.  And, when you find a vendor you trust and like, stick with them!  Commercial bead shows can be wonderful sources for amazing stuff, but also know that many fly-by-night vendors haunt the same spaces.  Ask around and don’t be fooled by low-quality (albeit pretty) stones that are sold for far more than they are worth!!

Now I save my pennies and search for hand-cut, artisan beads for the most part.  If you want to drool all over your keyboard, visit Out of Our Mines.  Gorgeous hand cut cabs and gemstone beads of superior quality.  Someday I will own some of their Peruvian opal beads…sigh.  You don't have to break the bank using only billion dollar beads in your designs.  One focal bead of exceptional quality can make an entire necklace shine.  I hoard favorite beads, like so many of us.  Gary Wilson is my favorite lapidary artist (Google him, he's a bit elusive web-wise, but hits most big bead shows), and he creates breathtaking, unusual beads and cabs.  I've used several of his pendant beads and hoard several more.  I have to get over just keeping them like Gollum and ACTUALLY USE THEM.  My pretties...... 

Gemstone beads from Out of Our Mines...yummy!
A couple of whoppers from Gary Wilson.  Gorgeous ocean jasper
with druzy inclusion, and golden rutilated quartz. 
Another source for good quality, inexpensive beads and cabs is Cool Tools.  I buy all my solder pastes, liver of sulphur, bezel wire, etc. from them, and only recently gave their natural gemstone beads and cabs a try.  I have been pleasantly surprised with the quality!  Especially their Red Creek jasper, a new fav stone of mine.  I made the ring you see here using a Red Creek cab and pink mabe pearl from Cool Tools.  I will be back for more.

Remember, you get what you pay for.  Higher quality beads are more expensive, and worth it.  They will elevate your work, and give you a better appreciation for the artistry of bead making as well as jewelry design.    I always say that life is too short for boring jewelry….same goes for bad beads!


Shel said...

Excellent post!! I too found out the hard way which stones were 'real' and which stones were not. It's sad people can sell gemstones/beads like that and actually get away with it. I love, love, love your mabe pearl and jasper piece - oh my is that stunning!!

Lesley said...

Great post Karen...certainly been somewhere similar in my early beading days and have the boxes of **** beads to prove it...!

Almost Precious said...

Your first experience at a big bead show sounded all too familiar. My first time ended with me purchasing several "gemstone strands" that were in reality manmade quartz - plus I ended up with a bunch of so-call lampwork glass beads that turned out to be garbage. We live and learn but it is sad that so many lessons have to be painful. :)

Artisan Beads Plus said...

Great post! Before making all of my own beads, I did TONS of buying "gemstones". I also learned that most of the great deals I got were junk! Also, a lot of the fakes started to look alike. I am not sure I really knew that they were fakes, but got bored with the same look over and over again. Live and learn.

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