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Metal Beads Can Be Striking Accents In Your Jewelry
Metal beads come in a huge variation of metals, sizes, shapes and quality. If you want to add metal beads to your jewelry designs, you should have no problem finding something that will fit perfectly with your piece of jewelry. The problem may be that there are SO much to choose from, that it gets a bit overwhelming.
And, how do you know that what you buy is what it is said to be? Is a silver bead really a silver bead, and what on earth is Vermeil or Filigree?
Buying beads of metal online, can be overwhelming, and also a bit difficult, since the photos may distort the feeling of how big or small the beads are, although the size is written in the description. It will also not show the quality of the beads, something you would be able to determine better if you could hold them in your hands and watch them at a closer range. Luckily there are some guidelines you can use to make sure you get what you want.
Machine made and hand made metal beads:
The main difference between machine and hand made metal beads is that a hand made bead is one of its kind, not two beads are alike. They are made by hand by artisans, with their unique fingerprints and techniques. Machine made beads come in batches where all the beads are exactly alike.
What to choose depends on what you are making. If you want a uniform look, where you want the same metal spacers throughout the length of a necklace, machine made beads may be what suits your need the most. If you on the other hand are looking for a particular and original accent or focal bead, a handmade one may be the best option.
Handmade metal beads are usually more expensive than machine made ones. But the prize is influenced by the quality of the hand work and the metals used. Cheaper handmade beads are plenty, usual from India and China, but also from other countries where labors are cheap.
Quality handmade beads are usually known by specific names, like Bali silver, Hill tribe silver and Tibetan or Nepalese silver, or the name of the artisan that made the beads.
The XXX-like beads:
Looking at the descriptions of metal beads online, you have probably noticed that lots of suppliers offers Bali-style or Hill tribe silver-style beads. There is nothing wrong with buying these beads. Many of them are very nice indeed, but they are not the real Bali or Hill tribes silver beads. They are beads that resemble them, but are not made on Bali or in Thailand. Often these beads come from India or China and are look-alike beads.
What to be aware of when it comes to these beads are that they may not be as pure as the real Bali silver or Hill tribe silver. The original ones are made with 97-99% silver, and are purer than Sterling silver. The XXX-like or XXX-style beads are mostly made of alloys with less silver than sterling. Some actually does not contain silver at all, which brings us to the next ting to be aware of when buying metal beads.
Silver is silver, right?
Everything that glimmer is not gold, and what is called silver is often not silver at all.
When you read something like: Bali-style silver bead, you now know that it is not a genuine Bali bead. But it is silver, isn't it? The answer to that is sadly no! Silver is just a word that describes the color of the metal bead, in this case a silver colored one.
In some cases these beads are plated with the metal from which its color has gotten its name. That means that the base metal- the metal the bead is actually made of, is a cheaper metal, often copper or brass. This metal is plated or has a coating of metal on top, to make it appear like silver, gold or whatever. They may also be pewter, nickel or aluminum.
Real silver will be labeled sterling silver, or 925 silver, and gold will be labeled with the karat, like 24 karat or 18 karat. And if it is plated or gold filled, that should be stated in the description of the bead.
The nice part is that most suppliers do explain what the metal beads are really made of, although that is mostly done on a second page, not in the first description under the photo of the bead. Therefor, click on the -read more button- next to the initiate description of the bead. The second page should describe what the bead is made of, if it contains lead or nickel, and where it is made.
Always check the suppliers return policy if you buy precious metal beads. If they don't have a good return policy, that may be a sign on how serious they are about what they sell. Don't buy from them. Find a serious dealer with good descriptions of their products and a good return policy.
So, buying online, can be easy, if you know what to look for and what to avoid. It may be a bit more tricky if you are buying in a souk, a market or from a road stand. In those cases you should use your good sense and judgment. If the price is very low, it is probably not silver or gold, and you get what you pay for, so to speak.
That someone would sell real silver or gold from a road stand or on a market is not very likely. In a souk that do happen. They have whole areas in a souk that sell only gold, silver or other kinds of jewelry, where you actually can get a good bargain. But then you are in the gold souk or jewelry souk, not just a market.
Choose beads according to the type of jewelry you make:
If you make jewelry that is meant to be frequently worn, plated metal beads are not the best to use. Metal plating is only a thin layer of the precious metal over a base metal bead core. The plating will wear off with frequent use.
Plated metal do not fare well with anti tarnish cleaning solutions either. These solutions may actually remove the layer of precious metal.
You can of course have the metal beads re-plated if you take them to a jewelry store, but that means that you have to take the piece apart, and it is most likely that that will not be done. Instead the jewelry will be put away, not to be worn again.
Normally when we dress up to look ravishing gorgeous, like when going to a party, a wedding or any dress up event, we wear our best jewelry. That is when our real gold and silver are put on display. That is when we use the metals that are the most durable of them all, the real stuff.
Our everyday jewelry are the cheaper versions with silver or gold plating or pewter. It really should be the other way around, shouldn't it? For everyday, frequent use, gold and silver would be much, much more suitable than the cheaper plated versions.
Of course the price of the jewelry is the main course for this. You simply don't wear your most expensive jewelry on daily basis, but when it comes to quality and withstanding wear and tear, that is what we should have done.
Silver, copper and brass beads do tarnish when exposed to air and contamination. That darkens the metal substantially, and it looses it brightness. Sometimes we want this darkening and call it antiqued metals, but not always. Adding beads of these metals means that the overall look of the jewelry will change over time, unless you take actions to prevent it.
The very best treatment of jewelry with beads of metals that tarnish, is to keep them in air tight containers or plastic bags, to keep their exposure to air to a minimum. That does fo course not mean that you shall not wear them. Only that this is the best way to keep them over time, when you don't wear them. Add a strip of anti tarnish paper, and your jewelry will stay shiny for ever. Storing them in zippered plastic bags also prevents them from being scratched by other jewelry.
Use a soft cloth to wipe the metal beads after you have worn them. And if you use perfume, hairspray and body lotion, let them dry completely before you put on your jewelry.
Other preventive actions are not to use your jewelry when you swim or bathe. Keep them out of direct heat and sunlight when you do not wear them. Most metals can be rinsed in lukewarm soap water if you rinse them thoroughly afterward. The cleaning may not go well with other parts of the jewelry, like porous gemstones or pearls, so go easy on the soap, and treat the jewelry according to what kind of beads it's made of. The cleaning will not remove tarnish though, just give you clean jewelry.
If you do not know what sort of metal the beads in your jewelry are or how the rest of the beads should be cleaned, use caution when you rinse them or try to remove the tarnish. If you are unsure, take the jewelry to a jewelry store for advice, or have them clean it for you.
So, what kind of metal beads are there?
As long as there is a metal, there are beads made from that metal, or at least so it seams.
Gold beads are expensive, no doubt about that. Gold is a very soft metal and not suitable for jewelry or beads in its pure form. It is therefor alloyed with other metals to make it more firm. How much gold the alloy contains is measured in Karat. (Not carat which is for diamonds)
You can get solid gold beads, but if you cannot afford that, there are other options like Vermeil, which is gold plated sterling silver, gold filled beads and gold plated beads.
Beads that are genuine silver is Sterling silver beads or beads with higher percentage of silver in their alloys. Silver beads are expensive, but affordable compared to gold. Again if you cannot afford the solid silver beads, you can get silver plated beads, which is a base metal with thin layers of silver on top. The latter should not be used in jewelry that will be frequently worn though, since the plating will wear off.
This is a new type of sterling silver that contains a small amount of additional firescale-free alloys, which give it a better tarnish resistance that standard sterling silver.
Nickle silver or German silver:
Contains no silver at all but is an alloy with nickle as main ingredient. It resemble silver in color, but is more greyish. Should not be used if you have nickle allergy.
Silver beads made on Bali contains more silver than sterling silver. These are usually beautiful beads with granulation and strong contrasts between an antiqued dark base and shiny spheres of patterns on top.
Hill tribe silver:
Made in northern Thailand by ethnic groups settled in the hills. These beads contains between 98-99% silver. The beads and jewelry are handmade and often shaped like plants, animals and geometric designs.
Tibetan or Nepalese silver:
Ethnic, handmade silver, often oversized. When silver is used it is very pure silver and the beads are very expensive. However these beads are mostly not made of silver but an alloy with nickel, or they are made of copper.
The Tibetan beads are often combined with gemstones. Typical beads are gemstone center with metal bead caps. Absolutely beautiful beads, which will give an ethnic aura to your jewelry.
Solid copper beads are both cheap and beautiful. When new, they are very shiny and bright almost pinkish in color. They tarnish over time and get darker, something to consider when using them in your jewelry. Again, although copper beads are fair in price, there are cheaper versions of beads with copper finish or copper plated brass.
Now, this group of metal beads are pure joy. They are lower in price and as rich in patterns and design as other beads of more precious metals. Pewter is wrongly considered to be a cheap substitute for the more expensive metals. I find, however that they fulfill all needs in jewelry making. They do not tarnish, they do not contain nickel, they are easy to clean, and they come in all sorts of shapes and finishes.
The quality of the beads decides the price, and you can get them real cheap and real expensive. The main metal in pewter is tin which actually is the 4th most precious metal after Platinum, gold and silver.
These beads are very light weight. They often have a anodized color coating and you can therefore get them in a variety of metalized colors. The beads are sometimes diamond cut and have beautiful patterns where the aluminum shines bright next to the color of the coating.
You can also get gold- or silver plated aluminum beads in filigree style. I am not sure how durable the color coating is, but believe that it may wear of if used often, like the metal plating. However it may not be so, so try them out before you put them in your best pieces of jewelry.
Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc. They are often hand made and of African origin, as genuine or replicas of trade beads, but also machine made of more modern design. You can get antiqued brass beads, which are almost brown-black in color, or highly polished with a bright golden color. The beads are nickel and lead free.
Rhodium plated beads:
Rhodium is the worlds most expensive precious metal and is used to enhance or strengthen the durability of beads of other precious metals, most often white gold or platinum.
It is also electroplated on sterling silver and also pewter in order to improve their durability and scratch resistance.
Like all plating, Rhodium plating will also wear off with use. When plated onto gold, the golden color will shine through when the plating wears thin. On silver on the other hand, the change will not be so great, as they are almost identical in color.
Well, that's it. Hope you have enjoyed this little trip into the metal beads world, and that it makes it easier for you to find what you seek.
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