April 26, 2014
Posted in JEWELRY
“Where Do You Find Your Beads?” Well, let me tell you…
Bead strands in my collection, ready to be turned into new jewelry designs!
It’s one of the most common questions I get asked when I’m working a craft show or jewelry market:
“Where do you get your beads?”
Shoppers (and other jewelry makers, too!) are often impressed by not just the quality of the materials and unique stones I use, but the prices at which I’m able to sell my final products.
Honestly, there is no “secret” to my methods and sources – I’ve just spent years in this business/craft hunting down the best suppliers for the different materials I use. And since I’ve been asked about this so many times, I thought I should finally put together a little guide to how I find the suppliers I use, and share some tips and recommendations for others. What I’ve found is that you just can’t rely on one store, vendor or online marketplace for everything you need to make your jewelry. You have to know where you can find the best materials at the best prices, and always be on the lookout for new ones. I’ll review a few of the major online suppliers as well as give hints on where else you need to be looking for your supplies.
First things first: Do you have a sales tax license?
Being able to buy wholesale makes a big difference
If you are making jewelry as even a part-time business, such as selling at craft shows, holiday gift shows, or online via a store front, you should know your local regulations regarding sales tax collection and whether you need to register for a sales tax license (typically, you will, at least once you are operating on any larger scale than the occasional Christmas church bazaar.) Having a sales tax license will allow you to purchase beads and other jewelry supplies at wholesale prices and in wholesale-only storefronts – something not typically available to a hobbyist.
That’s not to say you can’t find good deals as a retail customer – you certainly can, and I’ll share some tips on that here – but if you really want to be able to produce a high volume of jewelry and sell it at prices where you can genuinely profit, you’re going to need to start buying supplies wholesale.
Your best bet if you’re just getting started in the jewelry “business” is to become familiar with your local state regulations regarding registering your business and getting a sales tax license. Wikipedia’s Sales taxes in the United States page has a comprehensive breakdown of state-by-state taxes and resources on where to learn more.
Wholesale markets in the United States
Places to buy wholesale beads and jewelry supplies in person
If you live in or near a major metropolitan city, there may be wholesale jewelry suppliers you can shop from in person (provided you have a sales tax license and will meet the store’s minimum order amount – often in the $50 – $200 range.) New York City is one of the best places to do this kind of shopping – I often would make day trips from Philly to shop their Wholesale Fashion District, which is centered in the area from 21st to 34th St, 6th to 8th Ave. There are numerous suppliers there not just of finished fashion and fine jewelry but gemstones, semi-precious stones, and jewelry findings. One of my favorites in the area is Lita Trading which features exceptional pearls, turquoise, coral and other stone beads.
Jewelers Row in Philadelphia is another example – I still visit regularly to buy sterling silver and gold-filled findings at great prices, particularly from Hagstoz. Whenever I visit San Francisco I try to stop by their GiftCenter & JewelryMart which features several importers of quality, unusual stones and beads from Asia. Shopping in person at these markets gives me a chance to see what new styles and stones are available and inspect stones and beads first-hand before buying. Some of these businesses offer mail-order delivery as well, if you can’t shop in person.
Bead shows and expos
One of the best ways to find high quality gemstones and semi-precious stones
So, maybe you don’t live near a city with a centered wholesale/jewelry district or market. But don’t despair – there are bead shows and expos that travel the entire country and are great places to find exceptional beads, typically at reduced retail and/or wholesale prices. There might be a small entrance fee to the event (perhaps $5-10) but for the price you get access to a tremendous variety of merchants and vendors – and you don’t have to make a “minimum purchase” from each – just buy a strand or two here and there as you find beads that catch your eye!
The Intergem International Gem & Jewelry Show is one such event; they have shows around the country just about every weekend, from locations like San Antonio to Pasadena. I regularly attend their Philadelphia-area shows and they’ve become my primary source for semi-precious stones, pearls, and unique beads these days. Some of their larger shows have both wholesale-only and open-to-the-public sections. There’s also the Intergalactic Bead & Jewelry Show, The Best Bead Show, and many others small and large. JustBeads maintains a running list of upcoming bead shows, so you might want to bookmark them to keep informed on bead shows in your area.
Some of these shows also offer special events like beading tutorials and fashion shows, so you can learn new techniques or get previews of upcoming fashion trends.
Pro-tip: Be sure to save all your receipts and get business cards from vendors you like at bead shows! If you’re like me, you’ll often go home and wish you’d bought more of a particular type of bead and stone. If you save business cards you can check if the vendor has a website, or can just ship you more of a particular material if you phone in an order.
My tip: Buy gemstone and semi-precious stones in person, not via mail order!
I find it critical to be able to inspect gemstone strands in person and not trust website photographs or catalog descriptions. That way you can ensure the beads are of the consistency, quality and exact color that you want or need for your project. Some stones are very fragile, too, and easily damaged during shipping!
Fire Mountain Gems
Good source for some findings and basic materials – IF you buy in bulk
Fire Mountain Gems catalog. Photo by sockii.
Fire Mountain Gems is one of the biggest online and mail order suppliers of beading materials out there today – just about every jeweler I’ve talked to knows about them. Fire Mountain is a retail supplier, so you do not need a sales tax license to buy from them. They do, however, offer discount pricing when you “buy in bulk”: most items are eligible for assortable pricing discounts so that you can mix-and-match from every category and the price goes down whether you are buying 1-14 items, 15-49 items, 50-199 items or more than 200 items at once. The price reduction can be upwards of almost 50% on some items when bought in high quantities, so it’s a good place to shop when you know you need to get a LOT of stuff at once!
I do use Fire Mountain for some of my standard supplies that I’m always in need of regularly: bead wire, suede cord, pewter spacer beads, Czech glass, standard plated metal findings, etc. I’ll buy from them once or twice a year so I can get good discount prices – and it means I get their annual huge catalog which is great for seeing a lot of new beads available and getting design ideas from their featured jewelry.
What I will caution, however, is that I personally do not find Fire Mountain a good source for high quality semi-precious stones. In the past I have been disappointed in the quality of stones received (color, shape, uniformity) as compared to the photographed versions in their catalogs and websites. Again, if you want the best quality stones, shop for them in person only!
Ebay for beads and findings
Sometimes a good source…if you’re not in a hurry
Jewelry findings I’ve purchased on eBay.
I’ve recently started buying some of my jewelry findings such as sterling silver crimp beads, earwire and head pins on eBay, when I can find a good price on a large lot of the pieces I need. Many of these auctions or “Buy it Now” listings are coming directly from manufacturers in Hong Kong, China and India, so they may have thousands of listings running at any given time – and great prices can be had!
The one downside is you may have a long wait for materials to arrive via economy shipping – 2 to 4 weeks is not out of the ordinary. So if you need something quick before a show, this may not be a good supply source for you.
Flea Markets and Thrift Shops
Sometimes a great place to find cheap, unique vintage beads
If you like working with vintage beads and findings, you might want to spend some time browsing through flea markets, yard sales, and thrift shops. You may find some old pieces of jewelry that aren’t in the best shape but that you can break apart to “remake” into a new design of your own: a pendant from here, a clasp from there, a selection of sterling beads that just need a polish to look good as “new”.
The one downside to this approach is you really need a good eye to tell the “junk” from the “good stuff”. A strand of pearls may look real but in fact just be good quality imitations; it can be difficult to know what type of metal a piece is made from as well unless stamped with a fine metal designator. Still, vintage elements and beads can add a really unique look to your designs and be a great way to add variety at bargain prices.
What about Amazon?
Yes, you can get beads and findings on Amazon too, but…
…overall, I don’t find the pricing of most jewelry supplies on Amazon to be competitive as compared to more specialized marketplaces – especially those where you can buy in bulk. And again if buying semi-precious stones on Amazon, you are dealing with stone photos that may not exactly match or show the stones you will get.
The only plus side to Amazon as a supply source may be if you are an Amazon Prime member, so you can get items with free, quick shipping. I have on a few occasions ordered bead wire and other basic necessities when in a time crunch and got them at a reasonable price – sometimes even by the very next day!
That said, Amazon can be a good source for other beading supplies like storage bins and boxes, books and DVD tutorials on beading, and jewelry making tools. Just shop around first and compare your prices with other sources first.
Other Sources to Consider
More online retailers with different specialties
- Shipwreck Beads — Depending on the kind of jewelry you make, you might find a great variety of supplies at Shipwreck Beads. They have an extensive collection of pewter beads and charms, for instance, and superior quality Czech glass seed beads.
- Rio Grande Jewelry Making Supplies — If you do metalworking or higher-end jewelry, you will find lots of higher-end tools here for setting stones, polishing, soldering and fine gem stones.
- Rings & Things — Supplier for making many different styles of fashion jewelry.
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sockii is just your typical Jane-of-All-Trades who never has enough time in her day for all of her projects. She has written for many websites online including Squidoo, Zujava, Yahoo! Contributors Network, HubPages and Wizzley. She has been attending and vending at science fiction and media conventions for over 15 years, and for several years ran an art gallery and jewelry store in Philadelphia. Today she is happy to be living in South Jersey with her partner David and their 6 cats. Sockii is a member of several affiliate sales programs including Amazon Associates and Viglink. Products from these services may be advertised on her posts and pages to generate sales commissions.