Getting to Know Your Materials

I want to sell first quality jewelry pieces to my customers at affordable prices with no marketing hocus pocus about what’s inside. I tell my customers exactly what is in my jewelry and I always want to be accurate in my descriptions. So before I could begin to make quality jewelry I had to get to know, really know, about the materials used in the trade.

One of the problems with making jewelry from natural, semi-precious materials is that not all suppliers are completely open. The good thing is that most suppliers work hard to maintain good relationships and build trust with their customers so they are willing to answer any questions you ask. But some materials are notoriously tricky in the market today.

In point of fact, I will never make jewelry from jade, not that I don’t love the beautiful green, white or orange colors of natural jade, but real, natural jade is too expensive for me to work with. A real jade bangle costs hundreds or thousands of dollars. Yet you can find a strand of yellow jade, green jade, “candy jade” or “jade” with some other name attached for a few dollars on nearly every bead-selling website.

So what gives? Marketing, that’s what. Many different types of stone are marketed as jade, including serpentine, prehnite, jadeite, nephrite, chrysoprase, aventurine, alabaster, dolomite marble, onyx, bowenite, agate, californite, soapstone, and others. The best resource I’ve found on this topic was last updated in 2009 here, but it is as comprehensive as any other I’ve seen. Some sellers even pass off green glass as jade. Caveat emptor! Buyer beware! A beginning jewelry artist needs to learn as much about the supply market as they do about the techniques of making their art.

Other stones get sold in ways that confuse the novice or casual buyer. Here are some examples of purchases I made as a newbie, then more recent purchases that are the real deal:

These are “amethyst” that turned out to be manmade hydro-quartz. They are too perfect, with completely uniform shape, color and drilling, as if they were made in a factory. Hmmmmm…..

Intealect Blog

Now for some real amethyst beads. Note the slight variations in color saturation, drilling, and faceting:


These “London blue topaz” rondelles I purchased early on seem white at the edges of the facets. Then see how the color seems to pool in the middle of the bead face? It’s like they were dipped in blue dye and the corners wouldn’t hold the color. Well, that’s exactly what happened. When I went to use them the color flaked off and I was left with clear white topaz beads. NOT worth the arm and leg I paid for them.

Intealect Blog Fake London Blue

Here are real London blue topaz I purchased more recently. The color does not seem to lay on top, but runs through the beads. Notice how the light doesn’t just reflect from some of the surfaces, but bounces around inside the beads, sparkling and reflecting through their interiors. These beads are the real deal and worth every penny I paid.

Intealect Blog Real London Blue

A final example are these “chalcedony” beads I, again, paid too much for. Their color varies like true chalcedony and is actually pretty close to the real thing. But, like the hydro-quartz “amethysts” above, these are too uniform in shape, faceting and drilling, and they seem dull with no shine or glow. So newbie me was taken in by low price on these. I paid way less than a pair of natural chalcedony this size would cost, but way more than a manufactured bead product like this should cost.


Intealect Blog Fake Chalcedony

Now, compare these lovely natural chalcedony beads to the ones above. The manufactured pair above match the color pretty well, don’t they? And these natural ones have been cut to near-uniform size, shape and drilling and were priced accordingly. BUT they are definitely not identical, and you can see the glow of the light as it passes through the stone. Now that’s real chalcedony.


Intealect Blog Chalcedony

As I mentioned above, it is the buyer’s responsibility to make sure they know what they are buying and understand the nuances of a seller’s description of an item. In my next post I’ll explain how I go about doing research into materials I am purchasing to make sure I know what I am getting!