Beads are believed to be the earliest of jewels — their simple form could be carved easily out of soft gemstone material. The increase in bead manufacture over recent years has been phenomenal and today the market offers a huge range of styles and qualities. jewelry designers now include bead- based designs in their work alongside traditionally cut stones.

Beads have enormous versatility. Along with faceted briolettes and pendeloques (plain drops), they can be incorporated into most forms of jewelry, including rings and brooches. Their potential for movement and light can provide an added dimension to a design; the reflections produced by a moving cluster of brightly coloured drops can be mesmerizing. The range of bead shapes and sizes is vast. Whether they are used singly or combined with other gemstone material, beads can create a dramatic impact and produce many different looks.

Beads possess a strong tactile quality that combines very effectively with different coloured or textured metals; they look wonderful next to decorative surface finishes such as patination, etching and enamelling. Beads can be reworked into chain designs or threaded onto fine wire that is than twisted and knotted delicately into necklaces or bracelets.

A bead that has an interesting shape or colour can be used as a single focal point. For example, a single beautiful crystal bead could replace a traditionally cut stone and be set into a brooch or ring by an inventive method of fixing. Drilled drops look good as the central focus of a necklace and long slender pendeloques can be entwined with fine gold wire to create unusual earrings. Smaller faceted briolettes can be wired into extravagant clusters as pendants, placed with contrasting beads in a bracelet or even attached to a ring to create a fluid (and noisy) design.

Usage and common problems
Precious beads made of emerald, ruby and sapphire will come in several grades of colour and clarity and a range of calibrated sizes starting from about 2.5 mm in diameter. Typical bead shapes are buttons, rounds and rondelles (plain and faceted). The rows are usually graduated. Wholesale semiprecious beads are sold by gram weight and then priced per strand to buyers. Fine-quality beads are sold by carat weight rather than per row. The length of a row is normally 16 inches (40 cm); briolettes can be found in half-rows.

Cheaper beads come in a huge range of shapes and sizes, but don’t expect a particular design or cut to be available in different sizes. It is possible to find rows of drilled natural crystals, but some will require work to neaten ends or remove traces of matrix rock. This can be done using a diamond needle file or diamond burr on a pendant drill. The quality of beads is variable. The most common problems are damaged material (chips, cracks or scuffing), irregular hole sizes that make beads difficult to string, and uneven drilling that prevents them from lying straight on the row. Holes can be opened up with a diamond-impregnated bead reamer, but this is tricky to use on hard material. Holes in softer gem material can be drilled out. Beads such as rondelles, buttons and rounds should have an even profile of the same thickness and a consistent colour, and should lie straight. It is possible to find beads of high-quality material with a good cut, but they will cost you much more.

Treat soft gemstones such as apatite, rhodochrosite, opal and turquoise with care. Check beads for damage before buying a row, to avoid cracking and breakage when you start to string them. Ideally, fragile stones should be knotted between beads to prevent them from rubbing against each other. Store delicate rows of beads individually in protective wrapping.

Thread used for stringing should be thick enough to fill the bead hole snugly, otherwise the strand can look sloppy and the beads may be damaged. Gimp will protect the ends of the necklace, preventing the metal clasp from wearing through the cord. Cable is a plastic-coated stainless steel cord that comes in many thicknesses – some can be knotted. If you are using metal beads, if the beads are very heavy, or if the gemstone is faceted and sharp, string on cable rather than silk.

Beads and briolettes must be fixed and wired carefully so the piece is durable. Fine wire must not be overtwisted as it can break. If the bead holes are very small, it is better to use platinum wire, which is stronger and more flexible.

For infomration on bead cuts visits Bead Cuts and Shapes

Our favoraite source for beads is the Bead Shop in Australia due to thier huge diverse range and willingness to sell both small, and wholesale size lots

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