Resources for Pearl and Bead Stringers

As the holidays approach, clients may ask you advice about pearls and/or gemstones. And, although professional pearl and bead stringers typically can answer most general questions, occasionally we can be stumped. Here is a list of web resources you might be interested in that provide serious and substantive information on a variety of jewelry related topics. (Note: I’m not affiliated with any of these organizations.)

In addition, I’m making my book “Fast Facts about Pearls” free on Kindle this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, December 13 and 14. While not as technical as some guides, it’s a handy and general reference. So, download it for free one of those days.

Here is a good starting list. I’ll be adding to it as I find more resources and if there is one I’ve missed, let me know. Once I’m satisfied with the list, I’ll post it permanently on this website.

  • http://www.pearl-guide.com – A professional resource, however, not restricted. Offers very solid and up-to-date information on pearls. An excellent discussion forum.
  • www.antiquejewelryuniversity.org – A rich, marvelous site dedicated to antique jewelry. Includes articles, videos, reference sites, images, etc., etc. A go-to site for questions about antique jewelry.
  • http://www.jic.org/ – The website for retail jewelers. Offers a number of buying tips and general information on finished goods. Tilted commercially, but worth looking at.
  • http://center4jewelrystudies.org – Antique jewelry. Site contains an excellent glossary of terms and a list of reference sites.
  • http://www.ganoksin.com/ – Founded by Charles Lawton-Brain, a jewelry artist who invented fold forming, the ganoksin project is dedicated to professional jewelers and hobbyists. This rich site contains articles and videos from some of the most well regarded jewelry makers in the world. In addition, numerous forums are available for questions and answers. Maintains jewelry galleries which are worth browsing.
  • http://www.allaboutgemstones.com – “Bridges” the gap between the layman and the professional. Only real issue I have with it is that it presents gemstones as “precious” and “semi-precious,” a misleading distinction.

There are many other fine jewelry-related sites. This is just a start, but I think a good one. I’ll be adding to it and if you have one you like, please use the contact form to send it along to me.

 

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You’re a Designer? Show them!

One of the Google alerts I’ve set for my g-mail account is “designer jewelry.” Frankly, I don’t pore over these entries, but there are a few design contests I look at and occasionally, a headline will capture my attention. Today was one of those days where a couple of headlines prompted me to click the link to learn more about the designer.

The links took me to news stories where the designer was allowed to wax on about his or her inspirations, the techniques, gemstones and materials he or she used. But there were no pictures of the jewelry.

Annoying, to say the least.

Having looked at a couple of these stories in succession, I realized they were part of a pattern…that pictures of the jewelry were deliberately omitted from the stories.

Why?

This is easy. The designers don’t want to show their designs because they’re afraid they’ll be copied.

This is an issue I ran into all the time when I ran the gallery. The fear of copycat designers. It may be one you’ve grappled with.

While it’s a legitimate issue to the extent that a brilliant, innovative designer can come up with unique designs people copy, to be honest, most designers aren’t in this category. Moreover, if people don’t see the jewelry, however beautifully designed, they don’t buy it, talk about it or show it to other people. A decision to limit exposure of your designs is a decision to limit the growth of your reputation and consequent acknowledgement of your achievements.

I know and admire a pearl and bead stringer whose designs are stunningly beautiful. (I won’t use her name.) She used to show with me and currently shows at exclusive galleries around the country. She never allowed her jewelry to be photographed for fear it would be copied. But she failed to realize that her designs are instantly recognizable as hers. They’re unmistakable.

She’s older now and not producing as much. Because she’s not leaving a legacy of photographs (as far as I know) her overall contribution to the art of jewelry making will be limited and I believe will be eventually forgotten sooner rather than later. It’s too bad.

The basis of this fear is of course insecurity. But, really, without sounding harsh, my advice is to get over it. Let people see your designs and evaluate them. It’s the only way to build a reputation and gain real and sustained exposure.

 

 

Posted in Jewelry Design | Tagged , , ,

Price and Value Tension

beading, necklace, jewelry, wearable art, beaders(Note: Yesterday I rather casually tossed off a suggestion to beaders that was criticized by one artist. In the following, I hope to clarity my thinking and meaning.)

Beading, the technique of using complex stitches and tiny seed beads to create jewelry, often in complex designs, became popular a couple of decades ago. Since then a number of artists, primarily women, have produced stunning, jaw dropping work and pushed the limits of the medium to produce beaded sculpture, book covers, quilts and other work.

The achievements have been recognized by other artists, craft museums, galleries and publishers, including Lark Publishing, a leader in providing exposure for craft artists.

Despite the undeniable quality and beauty of the work, many beaders, including prominent artists, are unable to make a living selling their work. They supplement their income by teaching, running bead stores and by other means.

This is true for many artists and I don’t for a minute suggest it is peculiar to beaders. I do suspect, however, the issue is more acute for beaders.

Why?

There is always a tension between the price of a work of art, especially for emerging artists, and its perceived value. An artist will judge his or her work by the excellence of its design and the skills necessary to produce it. A client looks at the price of the work, its durability and what can be called its inherent value.

Let me explain. Beaded work is primary created from tiny inexpensive seed beads, mostly glass, base metal and crystals. The thread used in the marvelous intricate stitching typically is some form of nylon and, despite the best efforts of manufacturers, over time, nylon stretches and can break. This is an issue for wearable art.

Jewelry artists typically build in some kind of pricing to recoup labor costs in their work. But a complex piece of work can take months.

So, while well-heeled clients who “get” beaded work may be willing to pay design and labor-based prices, less affluent clients shy away. The tension between price and perceived value is too great.

This hurts beaders.

So, how to resolve it?

As with any piece of art, it sells better if the artist takes the time to explain the materials and techniques used to create it and explains the care it will need for maximum longevity. But for beaders, I think this isn’t enough. I’d suggest that beaders begin to incorporate gemstones into their work and learn how to manipulate wire in their patterns. This answers the value equation clients make when evaluating work. Beaders should go to the gem and jewelry shows, learn the properties of various gemstones and price the small diameter beads. They’re often more affordable than many suspect.

Please understand me. I’m a former gallery owner, goldsmith and professional pearl and bead stringer. I love beaded work and believe it’s underexposed and underappreciated. I would also like to see more beaders making a living with their work rather than having their energies drained by constant teaching and retail activities. I make the suggestion in this spirit.

 

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Beading and Value

beading, beader, pearl and bead stringingArtfix Daily has posted a terrific column about the upcoming Fine Craft Show at the Brooklyn Museum, November 22-23. Although the article is ostensibly about the show, its real value is that it briefly reviews the work of some of the 90 jewelry artists showing at the event and then provides links to their websites. If you can’t make the show, browse the work of these marvelous artists.

One of these artists is Elizabeth Farber, whose work is new to me. One of the issues encountered by many beaders, those artists who use tiny beads in intricate designs, is that the jewelry is so labor- intensive, they cannot recover their costs unless their work is very well known.

This is a serious issue. It results in many beaders not making their work available commercially, thereby limiting public exposure of what in many cases are stunning designs. Others abandon the niche entirely.

Elizabeth Farber has come up with an elegant solution. She incorporates gemstones into the designs and, as a result, can recoup some of her labor costs.

gemstones, blue topaz, beading, beadersNow, I’m not saying she made the choice deliberately. That is, I very much doubt she looked at her work in this kind of calculating and cold way. That’s me entirely. Moreover, her designs are stunning.

However, we’re foolish if we overlook “perceived value” in calculating the eventual price of beading and pearl and bead stringing designs. To a customer, pearls have more value than wood or plastic or other faux gemstones, for example. As a gallery owner, I had to decline representing some beaders because I knew that the prices they wanted (and sometimes deserved) for their work were a real barrier to sales. While a gallery owner should make markets in new niches, and I attempted this with various degrees of success, price for design alone could and often was an insurmountable obstacle to sales. However, if the piece was also perceived to have inherent value, that is, if it was constructed with precious metals and gemstones, clients were far less reluctant to buy.

I’ve posted two images of her work. The first, a Deco neckpiece, is handwoven of 18K gold, black spinel and rutilated quartz. As you can see, the design is marvelous. Moreover, it could be executed by using beads alone. But, I suspect she can sell the beautiful piece far more easily because she’s invested in the gold and gemstones.

In the second piece, she’s used blue topaz and sapphires in a simple beaded piece. In this instance the gemstones provide the color component that elevates the piece. That is, the colors of the gemstones are unique to those gemstones. They can be faked, but not convincingly.

I hope you’re not offended by this frank evaluation of what in any circumstance is stunningly beautiful work. I believe I owe it to you to give you my best advice…even if it’s a little cold. Please consider what I call “perceived value” in determining the components you use in your work.

 

 

 

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Udemy Course Special Discount

Professional Pearl and Bead Stringing jewelry making course

Udemy cover image for Professional Pearl and Bead Stringing jewelry making course.

Not too long ago, I developed the Professional Pearl and Bead stringing course for Udemy Academy. The material in course is very similar to that taught in the DVDs, although the bonus instruction is not included.

Udemy, however, is really an exceptional site, with thousands of instructors offering serious and substantive courses on a variety of subjects. If you haven’t visited the site yet, you owe it to yourself to take a look.

This morning I put the course on special, a 70% discount on the $39 price. That’s $12 for lifetime access to it. If you’d like to take a look, go to https://www.udemy.com/professional-pearl-and-bead-stringing/?couponCode=PPBEAD1717. Be sure to use the coupon code: PPBEAD1717.

The coupon is valid until June 15.

Please enjoy.

 

 

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Destructive Pearl Tests

I’ve been working on another project that involves destructive pearl tests. I thought you might be interested in the results of this test, but I don’t recommend doing it.

Posted in Pearls | Tagged , ,

New Book: How to Tell Whether Pearls are Real or Fake

I released a new book on Kindle the other describing how to determine if your pearls are real or fake. Here is a little preview. If you have any interest, the book is here.

Posted in Pearls, Reference | Tagged , , , ,

Pearls Needing Attention

I’ve been working on a little book that will help enable the reader to use non-destructive at home tests to determine whether their pearls are real or fake.

To illustrate the book, I pulled out some of my round pearls to photograph them. (I actually don’t own many. Earlier on, I gravitated to the wonderful baroque pearls, but I have a few strands.)

The pearls in the image below are part of a long, long strand of Chinese akoya pearls that I made a number of years ago, back when I still wore long ropes. (These days, I tend to prefer choker length necklaces, the bigger the better!)

They’re not especially good pearls. They’re dead white without any overtone and their nacre is thin. Nevertheless, they have presence and in a long rope, have impact.

But, look what I found:

Pearls showing dirt

The thread is obviously dirty and some dirt has accumulated on the surfaces of the pearls. Look at the background and notice the stretching between the first three beads and the fourth.

I don’t know how this happened. Not all the knots show this dirt, but it’s undeniably there. The stretching is less surprising. There are three strands of pearls on this rope, a not inconsiderable weight for any thread. But, it is unsightly.

You’ll see this kind of dirt in pearls sometimes, especially old ones. Be sure to suggest to your clients that the necklace needs restringing and the pearls badly need a bath.

Now, I’m going to take my own advice.

 

Posted in Pearls | Tagged , , ,

Pearl & Bead Stringing Critical Niche in Jewlery Making Industry

I made a brief video outlining my objections to a recent article in an influential trade publication that offered subpar advice to its readership. Pearl and bead stringing is a critical niche in the jewelry making trade, just as stone setting and casting are niches. If bench jewelers don’t know how to string pearls and beads, they should outsource the job and not be content with using crimps.

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Substandard Advice from Influential Jewelry Making Journal

MSJA Jewelery Making JournalMSJA Journal is one of the major go-to journals for bench jewelers. A trade publication, MSJA consistently produces high quality articles on metal techniques and technologies, casting, design and bench work. The magazine also provides its readership with information on industry issues, social media usage and sales and marketing.

However, for me, its real strength lies in the comprehensive information it provides bench jewelers.

So, I was appalled when its February, 2014 edition carried a piece entitled “Basics of Jewelry Stringing” that focused ONLY upon using crimps in jewelry manufacturing.

Bear in mind that MSJA is dedicated to the accomplished bench jeweler. It’s not a stringing or beading magazine for to the amateur or hobbyist. The jewelers who read MSJA design and create high end jewelry. This often involves creating clasps for necklaces and bracelets and pendants hung on gemstones.

I often encourage professional pearl and bead stringers to learn techniques outside the stringing niche in order to support their design vision. Kumihimo and specialty knots are examples of non-torch techniques that can be invaluable to learn. For some, metal smithing is an inevitable next step in education.

For all of us, thinking through the manufacturing challenges involved in making a piece of jewelry always includes pinpointing what we know and just as important what we don’t know. This is true for professional pearl and bead stringers and for metal smiths.

If you make jewelry with gemstone beads, in all probability those gemstones should be knotted. Knots protect the gemstones from rubbing against each other and protect against loss. (That is, if the necklace breaks, the potential loss is only one bead.) When I ran the gallery, I would never, ever show a pendant, for example, hung on gemstones that were secured to the clasp with crimps. Discerning jewelry buyers would identify the issue immediately. More important, I would know I was not providing the buyer with the protection such a piece of jewelry deserves.

Stringing pearls and beads is a crucial skill in making jewelry. It’s a niche, yes, just as stone setting or casting are niches. Like these and other niches, it takes knowledge, skill and practice to master it. If you don’t have the skill or the patience to acquire it, then outsource it. Short-cuts, particularly with high-end, expensive jewelry are just unacceptable.

I was surprised and disappointed MJSA offered this substandard advice to readers. Consider this an open letter to the magazine.

 

 

 

 

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