Are You a Bead Snob?

Mix It Up

I met a well-known jewelry designer last year who confessed that she sometimes enjoyed mixing high- and low-end components together–beads from her local craft store with some high-end silver or handcrafted art beads or findings.  I admitted to her that I did this, too.  Looking back, it's funny how we furtively looked around as we talked in hushed tones, as if we feared we would be found out by the bead police and dragged away.

This week's free project with inexpensive craft wire with pricey Thai silver and opals reminded me of this unspoken taboo. Here are three reasons you might combine low- and high-end components:

1. To Get the Right Look

I love the vintage look of brass findings and chain and often mix it with more expensive handcrafted pendants.  Using more expensive bright silver or gold wouldn't give me the same old-fashioned look.  Recently, I bought a $2 strand of wooden beads that perfectly matches the color and texture of an expensive handcrafted pendant.  If something matches my design, I'll buy it.  I'm definitely not a bead snob! 

2.  To Keep Costs Down

Most of us can't afford to use only high-end beads and findings.  Mixing in some less expensive beads helps you stay within your budget.  Know the difference between a cheap bead–one of poor quality–and an inexpensive bead that costs less because of its material type or the way it's produced.

3.  To Surprise or Shock

A couple of years ago I saw a photo in a high-end jewelry magazine of a Hello Kitty pendant rendered in diamonds. It was odd to see an icon I associate with inexpensive trinkets in a glamorous setting.  But it was precisely that contrast that made the design so memorable. It can be fun to deliberately mix low- and high- end materials just for the suprise factor.  Put together industrial chain from the hardware store with delicate, expensive pearls.  Mix gemstones with felt beads.  Create a sterling silver pendant filled with gummi bears.

Reasons Not to Mix It Up

Of course, there are good reasons not to mix materials:

1.  To Ensure Uniformity

 When I was working on a small square stitch piece last year, I decided at the last minute to change my bead color.  Unfortunately, the new (and cheap) seed beads I grabbed weren't uniform and looked awful mixed in with the precise (and more expensive) Delicas.  I ended up tearing out those rows and redoing them with Delicas so that the rows would all be uniform and my design would not be distorted. 

2.  To Save Time

With less expensive materials, you may need to do more culling, weeding out beads with scratches or other imperfections.  If are you designing single pieces, this might not bother you much, but if you are doing production work, it may cost you a lot of time to sort through your beads.  It can also be an added expense, if there are many beads that aren't usable.

3.  To Meet Customer Expectations

If you are selling high-end jewelry or are making heirloom-quality pieces, you'll likely want to use only high-end components that will stand the test of time.  By the same token, if you are designing something deliberately low-end–such as stretchy bracelets for a child's birthday party–it wouldn't be worthwhile to include high-end beads, since the bracelets would be likely to be lost or broken before the party is even over.  Think about your customer and her expectations.  Reader Jsmaz said it best in the forums: "The key is to use the best materials you can afford and be honest with your clients."

What do you think?  Do you ever mix high- and low-end beads and findings?  Do you consider yourself a bead snob?  Why or why not?  Share your thoughts on the website–and don't worry, no one will turn you into the bead police either way! 

New Free Project

Loaves and Fishes
by Jean Campbell 

Combine several strands of craft wire (light green, light blue, blue, and navy) with Thai silver fish beads, silver basket cones, a silver basket pendant, Peruvian opal rondelles, and a fish toggle clasp for this special design that will delight fisher folk everywhere.  This design from the Stringing archives will be free for a limited time. 

Check out Stringing Style 2 by Jean Campbell.  This best-selling book is full of unexpected combinations of materials–leather cord and sterling silver, freshwater pearls and black chain, seed beads and handmade art beads, banana leaf rounds and brass milagros. Inside you'll find 58 step-by-step necklace and bracelet designs, plus a gallery of 48 bracelet designs and 76 earrings.  That's a lot of inspiration!

New Reader Poll:   I came dangerously close to beading my car key last weekend.  (In my defense, it has a really cool beveled edge.)  What is the oddest thing you've ever beaded?  Whether you covered an object in beads, made beads out of unusual materials, or beaded something unique, I want to hear from you!  Responses will be shared in a future Beading DailyAnswer This Poll

Semiprecious Beads Design Challenge:  Combine 3 different types of semiprecious beads in a necklace or bracelet.  Challenge ends March 31.  Contest details.  

Michelle Mach shares free projects every Friday on Beading Daily. If you have comments or questions for Michelle, please post them on the website.

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