A Rocky Start, Blog #2: A Noob’s Guide to Buying Beads ‘n’ Things

Okay, so having received the official blessing and some start-up cash from the family coffers and my own Ebay fund, I hit the web, heart a-flutter, finger tensely-sprung in “order” mode and waiting to pounce on a bargain.

I’ll be the first to admit it:  My first few attempts at supply-purchasing were…less than stellar.

Not to be too Eeyore about it:  I did find some gorgeous beads.  Several of the things currently in my shop are still from those first couple of shipments.

Even with $400 or so in my metaphorical pocket, I knew it would go fast, so I bargain-hunted like Scrooge’s bloodhound.  I bought clearance-sale pearls, ebay-lot toggle clasps, and “A-Grade beads at wholesale prices!”  (One of the things in that phrase was not true…can you guess which one?)

So, in an effort to share the wealth with fellow joolrynoobs, here are some of my mistakes, and what I might do differently If I Had Known Then What I Know Now:

Bead-Buying Lesson #1:  You get what you pay for.

That website with A-grade strands at wholesale prices?  Well, their prices are stellar–everything pretty much between $3 and $9 for 15-inch gemstone strands.  It’s the A-grade part that wasn’t quite true.  There were some beauteous beads to be found among those strands, it’s true, but I also had to ditch an uncomfortable number of them into the “wastage” bin–probably 4 to 6 per strand, on average.  Ah, well…live and learn.  In the long run, it may have been a bit better to get cheaper strands of this sort, even with the wastage, in the beginning, because it enabled me to get a greater variety than buying true A-grades would have done, my budget considered.  And speaking of variety….

Bead-Buying Lesson #2:  Do you have an egg fetish, or what?

That particular website mentioned above also hasn’t got a great variety of shapes.  Personally, I’m attracted to ovals and pillows, particularly for swirly/mottled jaspers and such, because it really shows off the patterns in the stones.  Round beads, I think, are better for monochrome or the finely-patterned.  Interestingly-shaped beads good for monochromes in bright colors.  But of course, these were opinions not yet formed when I made my first orders, right?  So ovals and ovals and more ovals, and a few squares.  Yes, I ordered some rounds, and I even got some things absolutely right (Picasso Jasper and Imperial Turquoise require big beads–10mm minimum–to look their best, for instance).  But overall, I had way too many ovals and squares and most definitely not enough of anything else.  As my mother-in-law tactfully put it, “You should try making things with some other beads, if you have them.”  And in the same vein, we have…

Bead-Buying Lesson #3:  Rainbows are Pretty.

Once again, as with shape, I ordered what attracted my own eye rather than my “business acumen” eye (if I indeed have one…I’m working on it) and ended up with a lot of brown and grey.  Brown and grey are nice, but…yeah.  Color.  I forgot to order color.  Oh, and the other problem was–when I did order color….

Bead-Buying Lesson #4:  How can there be so many different shades of green??

…many of them didn’t match anything, and I ended up having to buy more things that matched.  And I also forgot to…

Bead-Buying Lesson #5:  Space it!

What I really wanted, you know, were Bali and Thai spacers, but right off the bat, all I could afford were plated and copper rounds and daisies.  I didn’t want to overuse them, so I barely bought any, and I quickly came to realize that many bead-strings just don’t quite look complete without a little metal tossed in.  So let’s not forget the spacers.  And they really shouldn’t all be rounds, either.  Alas.  Oh, AND…one more really superimportant thing that I forgot?

Bead-Buying Lesson #6:  The Key to Finding(s) Yourself

It’s easy to get so swept up in buying the pretty rocks that you forget you have to have stuff to hold them together.  And even if you do remember, it’s difficult to know how much to buy–very few of the tutorial websites give you much help on this.  I had, of course, ordered some headpins and clasps and such, but I had limited myself to what I could afford, and only small amounts of each, so I naturally ran out pretty quickly.  Clasps, in particular, posed a problem.  They tend to be expensive no matter what you do, and I had thought I could simply limit myself to making mostly earrings.  Not very realistic unless I want earrings to be the main focus of my shop (which I don’t).  So yeah…findings.  Make sure you have plenty.

All of these Rookie Mistakes led to many, many extra orders from various and sundry shops hither & yon–many of which I wouldn’t have had to make if I’d just had a really good plan to begin with.  So here are my suggestions for the Startup Purchase:

-Start with a plan of several real Project Ideas.  Not only does this force you to buy the findings, supplies, and spacers you will actually need rather than whatever happens to be on clearance at Verna and Mo’s Bead Shoppe, but it will also give you a color scheme to follow instead of just buying random Pretty Beads that don’t go together.  I started with my own ideas, but jewelry-making books and magazines (as well as downloadable pdf’s from the web) are good sources of ideas as well.

-Take some time to figure out the requisite basic supply needs.  I thought, for instance, i wouldn’t need headpins longer than 1.5 inches, so that’s all I bought in the beginning.  But when I sat with 25mm oval beads in my hand, wanting to make earrings, I realized (as I have repeatedly realized for the past four months), “I need to make another order, dammit!”  So diversify.  Buy headpins of various size, clasps of various styles, crimp beads and crimp tubes, both open and closed jump rings in many sizes, and mix up your metals.  If you put all your eggs in one basket, you’re going to have a basket full of the same damn eggs over and over again.  Trust me.

-After you’ve laid in your basic tools, supplies, and findings…then, and only then, should you shop for actual beads.  I know–I really, really know–that that’s where you want to start.  But believe me, it only leads down the road of “I Can’t Make That!” and “I Have To Order More ____!”  And one more thing on that same note:

-Order beads as if you were planning a wardrobe.  Make lists or charts of the colors, shapes, sizes and styles you want to buy so that you have as wide–but as complementary–a variety as you can afford.  I personally found that 3mm and 4mm beads (no matter the shape) work nicely as spacers and some of them really do match almost anything.  If you can buy the beads in person, do it, and if you have to buy online, get recommendations for reputable sellers.  I can provide some recs if you e-mail me, though I haven’t used as many different vendors as I’d like…at least, not yet.

A few things, I did get right.  I only bought one strand of each bead in the beginning.  This not only creates a wider variety of combinations for you to build on, but it also ensures that you’re not investing too much in a particular bead-seller until you know whether they provide a good product.  I contained my purchases to sellers in the U.S. and Canada (no matter how tempting those cheap Hong Kong sellers on ebay may seem–it is the land of the pirated product, after all).  I bought as much sterling as I could initially afford (which, admittedly, wasn’t much).  And I found a few ebay sellers who show pictures of the actual bead strand they are selling rather than a “it’s just like this one!” picture.

Nice to know I didn’t screw up completely.  🙂

However, without mistakes, we would never learn, and I have learned much in these past few months.  I hope that my mistakes can be your gain as well.  And if you have any great Rookie Tips or Horror Stories, post them in the comments or pass them along in e-mail and I’ll blog them!  particlesofstone@yahoo.com

Next time:  How to Manage Your Management in Ten Easy Mistakes.  (More or less.)

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2 comments so far

  1. jennifergeldard on

    Wonderful article! Many moons ago, I owned a bead shop, and you’re spot-on about SO many things 🙂
    One of the best things you can do for yourself is to get a resale tax number, and hit the bead shows… like the International Gen and Jewelry shows (www.intergem.com)… you’ll be in heaven. 🙂 Good luck!!

  2. ladyparadox on

    Thanks!! Yes–I’m going to a Treasures of the Earth show in a week and a half. I cannot WAIT. 😀


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