Sliders: Whats in a Name?

by Scott Stepanski 

Barbara Minor and Christopher Hentz's multi cable and bead necklace in silver and gold tones
Barbara Minor and Christopher Hentz's multi cable and bead necklace in silver and gold tones.

Note: In the October, 2010, issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist, Scott Stepanski focuses on sliders and other hanging devices for beads. While researching that, he decided to look into the beads you might put on sliders, and here is what he uncovered.  

What is there to say about slider beads? When I first looked into writing about slider beads, it all seemed very straightforward-oh so easy. Define a slider bead, outline the various styles and types, and talk to the users and sellers for some good advice. Easy. That cheery assessment soon changed.

Was I on Mission Impossible?

 What in the world was a slider bead? It is a sort of term everyone throws around without much definition.

Speaking to jewelry makers and jewelry sellers initially did little to clear up the problem. The question "How would you define a slider bead?" was greeted by counter battery fire such as, "What's a slider bead?" or "Have you Googled it?" or a protracted silence followed by rapid typing as the person on the other end of the line tried to Google it for themselves.

There seemed to be no clear consensus as to just what a slider bead is. No specific type, use or material neatly categorized the term. Making things worse, two of the leading candidates for the title — which we will get to in a moment — were as taxonomically different as penguins and piranha. Why had I ever gone down this route? I wondered, and should I just abandon the course? But no. I persisted.

Joke's on Me
So what is a slider? "It is a very tiny sandwich," offered Leslie Mangine of The Bead Garden in Haverford, PA. This was the most certain thing about sliders that turned up so far. Using the same logic it is also a Nokia phone, a type of turtle, and a tricky pitch in a baseball game. None of this was very helpful.

A Strand Spacer
After having her fun, Mangine then offered something a bit more on topic. "When I think of a slider bead, I think of a bead with more than one hole. Kind of a bead that serves as a bridge between two or more stands." This is variety number one of the disparate slider bead family. You can decide for yourself whether it represents the penguin or the piranha of the group. Slider beads like these are a large bead that maintains the space between strands by passing two or three strands parallel through the bead. The two-hole slide is more common variety.

Barbara Minor and Christopher Hentz's egg spheres on multi cables in shades of blue and tan
Barbara Minor and Christopher Hentz's egg spheres on multi cables in shades of blue and tan.

Any Material
Materials for these beads can be as diverse as the imagination. Almost any material that holds a shape can be used including glass, metal, leather, wood, bone, stone, resin, polymer clay, and metal clay. According to Leslie Mangine, the most common and popular at the moment is probably a metal variety with rhinestone, gem or other decoration chiefly on one side. The cost of the two-hole spacer beads can be anywhere from $2-$5 or more depending the material and craftsmanship.

For Changeable Findings
The other taxon of slider beads is altogether different from the first. These sliders usually sport a single hole with a larger diameter. Sliders are used to decorate interchangeable earring, pin and pendant findings such as those from Change-A-Bead© brand setups.

Bracelets and necklaces use slider beads too. On the popular market, they are sold under brand names such as Troll Beads and Pandora, according to Cathy Dailey of Cathy Dailey LLC. Pandora and Troll have a rope type bracelet where one end screws off to allow the beads to slide on and off or a thick leather cord that can hold three or four beads. The result from these slider beads is an attractive bracelet or necklace created and customized by the user, but with less effort than might be needed for a more traditional beading project.

Mix and Match
"We make all of our beads with Sterling Silver," says Dailey. Just as for the two-hole sliders, there is also a wide variety of materials to choose from including lampwork and furnace glass beads, cast metal, wood and more. The choice of material depends on the individuals taste and the effect they are trying to achieve. 

 "I look for a pattern in the beads that will play off each other. You would not mix hearts and leaves for instance. I want the pattern of each bead to blend with the others," says Dailey.

Decorative pinch bails are one way to display treasured pendants or large holed beads
Decorative pinch bails are one way to display treasured pendants or large holed beads.

 The number of beads you want to use is also a factor. "If you use leather, you can only place a few bead,s and that may not work for a chain."

Choosing the right diameter hole is an important consideration that is often overlooked. "You want to make sure that the holes fit the bracelet nicely so that the bead is not dropping down [on the chain]. You can be creative — place beads on either side to balance large-holed beads."

According to Dailey, "Mass-produced versions have a classic or refined look, but ours is a more simplistic and rustic look which is very popular. Our beads are hand-carved from wax and produced through the time-honored art of lost wax casting." Of particular note at the Florida company is something Cathy Dailey LLC calls the "Slider Bail Bead" which has a small loop on it so an additional charm can be attached to the slider bead itself, giving the finished piece a distinctive whimsy.

Excellent for Enamels
Enamel beads are another option. Barbara Minor produces dazzling enamel beads at her company, Barbara Minor Enamel Beads. Minor has a metalsmithing background and her enamel beads are hollow copper with enamel applied to the outside and a silver insert in the center to pass the chain through. The beads can slide easily on and off, but there were a few problems to address first.

 "When you put a group of enamel beads together on a chain, they tend to clump together and look ugly," says Barbara Minor. The inherent properties of the chain work against the weight of the large enamel beads and pull the chain into an unattractive "V" shape.

Chris Hentz arrived at a solution for Minor's enamel beads and began producing a novel cable design to support them. "The cable type did not exist in this country before Chris started making them and introduced them at the Philadelphia Craft show in 1990. The cable has a flexible core material that has a memory," says Minor, "so it will hold its shape and will drape nicely around the neck and curve gracefully" with the use the use of spacer beads. The cable has a small end rather than a large jump ring like a chain to allow the bead to slip on.

Hentz, who is Professor of Jewelry and Metalsmithing at Louisiana State University, originally only made the cables for Minor and a few other artists, but as the idea grew, Chris's Cables was born. Today Chris's Cables are made entirely in the USA and Hentz inspects each cable before shipment. The company makes a range of precious metals and cable diameters from 1.3mmm to 1.8mm, but the most popular is the midrange 1.5mm diameter.

 But which one to pick and what do you put on them?

 "I think customers focus on several things," says Minor. "In general people are very aware of color and size relative to their own likes and dislikes. Ease of use — flexibility, interchanging parts. Preciousness of the material and price is an issue. Relative to Chris's cables, they understand the quality level is very high and it will hang very nicely on their body."

 "Cheap is not good and good is not cheap," Hentz quickly chips in.

 For the beads themselves, people are looking for things that are different. "Color is really important," says Barbara Minor. "It makes them happy. I think they are looking for something unique. Something that has a background so they can be part of the jewelry making story without doing it themselves. The story behind the jewelry pieces. They like to know that they bought it from the artist who created it."

SCOTT STEPANSKI is the co-author of Gem Trails of Pennsylvania and New Jersey and author of numerous articles on geology, science and travel. He's a freelance writer living in New Jersey and is at work on a new book having little or nothing to do with the previously mentioned topics. His feature "Hang It All" describes bead and other hangers currently on the market in the October 2010 issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist. 

Find them
Barbara Minor Enamel Beads ●
The Bead Garden, Havertown, PA ●
Chris's Cables ●

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