Buying Beads for Jewelry Making

First time buying beads to make jewelry? Find out how to buy beads at
bead wholesalers and bead shops from a fellow beader.

About Purchasing Beads

When you enter a bead store, you'll find trays or baskets to use as a shopping cart.

You'll find beads on strands hanging from the walls or racks. Individual beads are found in cups, trays, on counters, behind counters, everywhere.

Bead Pricing

For strands of strung beads, prices are usually attached somehow to the strand. At retail bead shops, the price is as marked.

At bead wholesalers, the price is usually 50% or more off of the price you see. If you do not see a large sign in the store that states the percentage off, just ask. (Yes, they may know its your first time in the store, but its okay, you're not the only one.)

How to Purchase Beads

Buying Beads

Usually, bead trays or baskets are provided for you to place your beads in and carry with you while you shop.

Prices for individual beads are marked on a label on the container in which you find the beads. Usually, there is no percentage off of the price. You'll find small plastic baggies and pens.

Place the beads you plan to purchase inside the baggie and seal it. Use the marker to write the price on the outside of the baggie. If you're buying 5 beads at a cost of $1.89 each, write on the bag 5 X $1.89. The cashier will total all of your purchases.

When buying beads from a bead vendor at a bead show or a bead wholesaler's store, if the price is not attached to or marked on the bead strand. You must ask the vendor or sales person. Don't be shy, they're used to it.

Buying Beads at a Bead Wholesaler

Bead wholesalers can be found online, at bead shows or in the jewelry district of some major metropolitan areas like Los Angeles.

To find a wholesaler in your area, search your local phone directory or the internet. Look for terms like "beads", "bead supplier" or "jewelry making supplies".

Buy Beads Wholesale When...

  • You need to buy in bulk.
  • A bead supplier offers wholesale prices to the public
  • You can't find the beads anywhere else.
  • You attend a bead show.

The major advantages of buying beads at wholesale is that you can...

  • Buy in bulk for less.
  • Sometimes have a greater selection.
  • Buy from all over the world easily.

With the exception of some online bead suppliers, most wholesale bead suppliers do not offer refunds. Some will allow you to make an exchange within a certain time frame.

Buying Beads at Retail Bead Shop

Bead retailers are bead shops, bead stores and craft or hobby retailers.

General shopping rules apply (but of course you'll ignore them all from time to time).

Buy Beads at Retail When...

  • You need to buy a few beads at a time.
  • You're taking a class at the shop and need them to complete the class project.
  • The retailer is having a fantastic sale!
  • You're in love and just can't do without those beautiful beads!

The major advantages of buying beads at retail is that you can...

  • Buy just a few beads at a time.
  • See and touch before you buy.
  • Buy local and support your community.

Most national retailers will allow you to exchange or get a refund. Small, privately owned bead shops may not.

You may pay more for beads at retail, but you can make one project and not worry about where to store all of those left over beads.

Bead Grades or Bead Quality

The quality grading system for opaque (just means you can't see through the bead) stones is not too rigid. It's based on a letter grading system ranging from a bead grade (highest to lowest) of AAA, AA, A, B, C or D.

Sometimes, a grade is not referred to at all. Then, all you have to go on is what you see or the beads description as its been described by the bead vendor.

Bead grade may become important when...

  • Buying manmade beads
  • Buying beads sight unseen based on a picture or just a description

When we buy online all we have to go on is the picture, so a grade helps us to make the buy or not to buy decision.

For example, I will buy Grade A catÂ’s eye beads online but not another grade. The Grade A assures me that the "cat's eye" runs down the middle of say 99% of the beads on the strand.

With the lesser grades of manmade beads, I like to actually see the beads first to check their quality before I buy.

Just like clothing manufacturers produce seconds, so do bead manufacturers.

For natural-of-origin beads, their "flaws" are sometimes what makes them beautiful and definitely unique. So their grades are not as important to me. Usually, I can only tell the difference when comparing two grades side by side. Then, I buy the one I like the most.

Bottom Line...

  • The higher the grade the more expensive the beads.
  • Buy what appeals to you.
  • Check that you can return beads you don't like.

General Advice on Buying Beads

  • Know your needs and set a spending limit.

  • Always check the supplier's buying policy before you buy. It is usually clearly posted. If you do not see a posted buying policy, ask.

  • Buy beads that you like from wherever you see them, but not just because they may be a bargain. Later (once the rush is gone), you may wonder why you bought them.

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