Added Value: Using Gemstone Beads
Gemstones are an easy, ideal way to add color, value, and even a bit of sparkle to your designs. I can’t think of many gemstones that aren’t also available as gemstone beads. Even diamonds are sold in twinkling strands for the most decadent beaded designs. They’re often lower-quality diamonds, but I have strands of “lesser-quality” faceted diamond beads in yellow, black, and white, and they’re fah-bu-lous!
ABOVE: Clockwise from top left: chrysocolla, tourmaline, pearl, fluorite, and coral beads.
Gemstones are one of my favorite topics, and I freely admit to being a gem geek. I’ve studied and collected them for years, so I was excited to learn that we had a new gemmy book, Gemstones: A Jewelry Maker’s Guide to Identifying and Using Beautiful Rocks by Judith Crowe. It’s full of easily understandable information, and it’s one of few gem books I’ve seen that’s written for jewelry makers.
Let’s enjoy a little gem bead eye candy and learn about some stones perfect for beading and stringing.
Choosing Gemstone Beads
Many sources will tell you that lesser-quality gemstones are turned into beads (among other things, like carvings, cabochons, and industrial products). That might be true—but remember that the idea of quality can be subjective (like my diamond beads, above). After years of shopping at the Tucson gem and bead shows, I have seen some amazing gemstone beads. You’ll find many, especially at the high- end shows, that are as good quality as faceted gemstones, with a hole for stringing. So don’t be dissuaded if you see gemstone beads referred to as less. Quartzes like amethyst and citrine can be found in high-quality, clean beads. And if there’s one thing I know you have, it’s the ability to see the beauty of a bead!
That being said, the “lesser” quality can certainly get you some bargains, as the prices are often less, too. Sure, some gem beads are cloudy or opaque, but they can still have beautiful color, texture, or other features.
Gemstone Beads in Beaded Jewelry
Here’s a handful of the gem-bead designs I wanted to share with you from the book. As you enjoy them, imagine using gemstone beads in so many colors, shapes, and sizes in your designs.
Spinel is one of my top five favorite gems, particularly in this rosy color (though it comes in many colors). I have a few strands of spinel beads similar to the ones on the right. I hung a large pearl drop on one of my strands and voila! It was an instant beauty. In the earrings above, you can see the impact gemstone beads can have in clusters on head pins without even being strung.
Along with pearls (don’t get me started!) and spinel above, rubellite (ruby red, like the ones on the bottom right) and indicolite (blue with just a drop of green, like those two beauties near the top) varieties of tourmaline are my favorite gemstones. Tourmaline provides a range of gem colors so pretty, they always look to me like they’d smell like flowers. And no “lesser” here–tourmaline gemstone beads are often readily available in very good quality.
Amethyst, Ametrine, and Citrine Beads
If you’ve ever been to a gem show, you’ve probably seen a strand similar to this one. Amethyst, citrine, and ametrine (a combination of the two) are readily available in clean, affordable beads, and often in large sizes. What might lack in these beads is rich, saturated color, but don’t tell that to these lovelies from Brazil.
Hematite, Banded Agate, and Smoky Quartz Beads
These faceted hematite beads (left) and hand-cut smoky quartz beads (right) show just two of the seemingly endless cuts available on gemstone beads. While these aren’t very vivid colors, they make up for it in interesting shapes. In the center, a necklace of translucent banded agate beads dating to the Victorian era makes up for less color with eye-catching bands.
Gemstone Beads in Fine Jewelry
Remember when I mentioned lesser quality gem beads above? Well, this emerald and diamond beaded tassel necklace by fine jewelry house Graff is proof that’s not always the case. “An impressive example of fine jewelry, with a staggering 156.53ct of vivid deep green Colombian emerald and 184.51ct of diamond cut as beads and gems,” Crowe writes of this necklace. The beads “appear to be effortlessly sewn and woven together in a complex and graceful arrangement. This necklace showcases Graff’s ability to set and display gemstones.”
Being a metalsmith, I couldn’t resist a little crossover with these citrine beads filling out the negative space of a metal necklace. This is just a reminder to myself and an idea for you—filling negative space in jewelry components with gem beads can be a great way to use gems in your designs.
Once again, there’s nothing “lesser” about these beads in this “stunning four-row necklace of faceted blue moonstone beads with an 18kt white gold clasp. The cutting and gem material are first-class—the beads are all in a uniform shape and the blue schiller is intense,” Crowe writes. You’ll learn what schiller is in the book!
Learn All About Gems
At the end of Gemstones, Crowe writes, “This comprehensive guide to identifying, buying, using, and caring for a dazzling array of jewels and gems is a complete reference for goldsmiths, jewelers, and jewelry makers. Charts, timelines, illustrations, and photography help you to identify different gemstones and how they can be used in different designs and settings.” Plus, you don’t have to know metalsmithing techniques or understand gem science to use this book.
Plus, talk about eye candy! There’s at least one stunning stone or jewelry design on each of the 194 inspiring pages. This book is a treat for everyone interested in using gems or gemstone beads in their work. Plus, it’s beautiful enough to be an enjoyable coffee-table book for anyone.