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Cultural Differences In Beads
I was all set to write a column on gemstone beads this month when a phone call got me started. A student wanted to know the difference between David Christensen (American) cane glass beads and the Chinese. She wondered how David could compete in the marketplace with prices over 100.00 more a pound. I patiently explained to her that the Chinese did not use as high quality glass as did David, that their caining was nowhere near as sophisticated and that their edges were square while David's were slightly rounded. The slightly rounded edges protect the thread on which the beads are strung. David's beads outsell the Chinese on my site by a long shot. Does that mean there is no place for Chinese cane glass? Of course not. It's a great alternative for a new or young beader, it's great if you want to bead up lots of inexpensive bracelets to sell at the shore, it's great if your customers are looking for a fashionable item at a low price.
That phone call made me think a great deal of the variations between beads at different price points. The Austrian crystal (including Swarovski) contains 24% lead. The Chinese typically do not. I was talking to an experienced Chinese importer about this. I asked what percentage of lead the Chinese carried. He honestly told me he didn't know but not to believe the percentage figures the Chinese gave me. The Japanese also make good leaded crystal beads, but they are not facetted as well as the higher priced Austrian. Again, not a condemnation of the Chinese or Japanese beads or an urge for you to buy Austrian crystal - just an attempt to get you to know the difference.
As I discussed in a previous article on lampworking, the Indians don't make the highest quality lampwork beads on the face of the earth. You have to check their sterling to make sure it is 92.5 and not .88 percent pure. On the other hand, they are quite good gemstone cutters. While Chinese crystal may not stand up to the Austrian, their cloisonne beads are beautiful. And they can carve Jade like no other culture that I'm aware of.
There may be individual artists throughout the world turning out to die for cloisonne, but those artists typically make very few beads and are relatively unknown. Their prices are also extremely high.
Very few artisans are able to mass produce their beads. When they are, they can command a high price. The David Christensen cane glass beads and Laura Radke dichroic glass are two exceptions. They have turned their businesses into factories while still staying hands on. In much the same way, Japanese Delica's and Swarovski crystal are recognized names of high end, high quality beads. There are other recognized names in the world that stand for quality as a lesser price point - the Czech fire polish for one. Their fire polish are much nicer than the Indian or Chinese.
We all know how much money we want to wear around our wrist in a bracelet, how much money our customers are willing to spend. And, speaking strictly for me, I sometimes fall in love with inexpensive beads - e.g cloisonne. These factors all go into what you want to spend on your beads.
As I write my monthly columns on different types of beads, I try to give you an idea of what to expect from different brands or makes of that beads. Learning the history and culture of each bead is important (and a lot of fun) to me. But it's more important to know what to expect when I buy my beads over the internet. And an awful lot of beaders buy their beads from pictures - either over the net or from a mail order catalog. Don't be afraid to call your potential vendors and ask them why one bead costs more than the other or to ask for information about the beads. It's all part of any bead peddler's job!
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