How to Buy Beads

Buying Beads by Size
Buying beads can be complicated. With hundreds-of-thousands of different materials, sizes, shapes, colors, and prices. Often buyers purchase the wrong size because they don't know millimetres - and purchasing too many beads is a waste of money. However, armed with a little knowledge and common sense, it's not so difficult.

Seed beads
Seed beads range from 1mm to 3mm or size 11/0. The most common seed beads are Chinese, Czech, or Japanese. Traditional Czech beads are sold on hanks, mostly round, but can be uneven. Chinese and Japanese seed beads are more uniform, come in many different colors and are sold loose in bags or tubes.

Remember that 1,000 (or even 4,000) seed beads will come in a little bag - don't expect them larger than they are! However, some of these tiny beads can be tricky to make, so are only a little cheaper than bigger beads.

Large beads
Larger beads are sold either loose or in strands. Buy beads in strands if you want the best quality and uniformity of holes - they will hang better on a necklace. However, loose beads are great if you want a lot cheaply for a large project or for many different works. Beads over 14mm get heavy, so expect to pay more shipping.

Measuring Beads
I often get letters telling me the 8mm beads we mailed are not 8mm. Some people say our 4mm beads look bigger on the picture! Others insist we've sent them the wrong size strand of pearls because most are smaller than listed. Size of beads can either be exact or approximate depending on the type of bead:

  • Simple round bead sizes should be exact: 4mm, 6mm, 8mm, 10mm etc.
  • Chip beads, being varying size, will not be exactly the size quoted - some will be longer, but most will be shorter.
  • Bead sellers usually quote the largest size in the strand. This is especially true with natural pearls - where less than 25% in a strand may be the full size quoted.
  • A Choker necklace measures 16-inches, a Princess necklace 18-inches long, a Matinee necklace 24-inches, and an Opera necklace 32-inch.
  • A bracelet is usually 7-inches - and an anklet 9-inches.

Bead Measure
Invest in a bead measure, as it's easy to overestimate bead sizes. Most good bead stores sell them.

How Many Beads Will I Need?
If buying by the strand, just divide the length by the bead size to tell how many there will be.

For example a (16-inch) 400mm strand will have about 50 beads of 8mm - 400 divided by 8.

Strands can be different lengths, but there is a general rule:

  • Usually each strand measures 16-inches = 400mm.
  • A necklace will need at least 75 x 6mm beads, allowing it to hang 9-inchs, 18-inches in all.
  • If you're making a bracelet, you need about 26 x 8mm beads on average.

Choosing Beads by Material

Know what you're buying
Semi-precious stone beads should be studied before purchasing. Search online or get a book on minerals and gemstones.

Beads can be compared as to their treatment. Some enrichment is perfectly acceptable such as heating the stone to boost its color. Turquoise varies dramatically in price depending on its treatment. Advance study and a reputable dealer are your best insurance. Dying of pearls, coral and jade is usual. The color shouldn't come off.

Pearls are usually freshwater and cultured, unless they cost over $100 a strand. Except for plastic and faux pearls, which look perfectly round without any grooves. Cultured means they are 100% natural, but are farmed with the help of man, rather than growing in the sea. Expect to find irregular sizes, shapes, and grooving in these pearls.

Other pearls that don't fit these descriptions are fake, unless very expensive. Size quoted by the seller is always the largest in the strand - this means that only a few will be that big. More on pearls later.

Metal beads
Metal beads come in all shapes and sizes - silver, gold, copper, round, square, etc. Common metal beads include Bali Beads, usually made from sterling silver, gold or gold plated sterling. Also popular are "liquid silver" and "liquid gold" beads: tiny tubes made of metal, usually strung together which drape beautifully.

Lampwork beads make great jewelry centerpieces. These were traditionally crafted with a torch by expert glassmakers, although most are mass produced today. Judge the price of lampwork according to the complexity of the finished bead. More on lampwork later.

Knowing how many beads to buy can be a problem. If you purchase too many, you'll waste money with leftovers. Yet purchase too few, and you may not have enough to finish a project. Also buy all you think needed in one go - otherwise the seller may not have any more of the same batch to match at a later date.



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