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How to Buy Beads Online: Tips for Getting Quality Beads at Low Prices

The convenience when you buy beads online is unmatched. Many jewelry makers don't have access to local outlets to get good wholesale prices on semi-precious gemstone beads or pearls. If they can't get to a gem show or jewelry supply store, they lack the selection of, say, lampwork or artisan glass beads (such as the exquisite vintage Japanese millefiori glass beads I snagged off of eBay years ago) and the variety of wooden, shell, bone, and seed beads available when you buy beads online.

Yet a wide variety means that the quality of the beads varies from stellar to very poor. Buying beads online can be incredibly convenient and allow you to get great discounts, but since you are not there to select the strands and specimens yourself, there are a number of things you should watch out for.

  • Not all sellers disclose everything about the beads they're selling in their product descriptions. I've encountered many sellers of beads who don't mention that their turquoise is stabilized, their coral is dyed, their smoky quartz is heat-treated, their gold coral is chemically altered, their silver is plated rather than sterling, their yellow turquoise is really jasper, and their pearls are cultured in freshwater - although they are supposed to. If the wording is vague, assume a lower-end, cheap product rather than a higher-end, expensive product.
  • An expensive price is not necessarily an indicator of quality. Most inexpensive freshwater pearls on the market today have a very thin layer of nacre...and the more expensive Biwa pearls, stick pearls and coin pearls are not necessarily any better. The only way to test the quality and authenticity of some beads (such as amber) is to take a sample and put it through tests.
  • Pay close attention to the number of beads that come in the lot. Most beads are sold in 16" strands, but many are sold in longer or shorter strands. Others offer many beads in exact quantities or, in the case of seed beads, occasionally in weight. When you go to buy beads online and see that great, irresistible deal, make sure it's for the number of beads you think it is. And if you pay a high price for high-end beads, like quality lapis lazuli, then measure the length of the strand that comes - if it's short, then send it back.
  • Know the size of beads you are buying. Photos of beads and jewelry online can be extremely (and unintentionally) deceptive when it comes to size. Small beads may look large; large beads may look small. Bead sizes typically come in millimeters, and there are 25 millimeters, or 2.5 centimeters, per inch.
  • Look for sharp, high-resolution photos. Photos that are blurry, overexposed, or obviously enhanced by photo editing software will often hide surprises such as flaws and enhancements. While it may be worth the risk to buy such beads cheaply - occasionally, I was pleasantly surprised - when they're expensive, it's best to stay away from large purchases if the picture isn't clear.
  • Place a small order as your first order to any new store. That way, you get a good sense of the quality they offer before you take the plunge and place that huge bulk order that may save you money, but leave you disappointed. Once you know what you want and have identified a reliable store, make a bulk or wholesale purchase, if bulk prices are available.
  • Get a business license if you don't have one already. This will enable you to buy beads wholesale from certain online stores that require a wholesale license before they offer wholesale prices.
  • Don't buy all your beads or jewelry supply products from the same online store. This is key, or you'll spend way more than you need to and not get the best quality or selection in everything. I bought beads from 10 to 15 different online sources when I had my online jewelry selling business. You may buy gorgeous Bali silver beads and quality amethyst at one store, a wide variety of Thai silver at another, cheap garnet at another, Swarovski crystal at another, wholesale and bulk pearls at another, the right size of crimp beads at another, super large toggle clasps at another, and natural turquoise at yet another online store. Learn what supplies stores stock great deals for the beads you need.
  • Even in the most reputable jewelry supply stores, there will be some dud products. Check every strand when your order comes. Know the store's return policy before you buy beads online. Don't be afraid to place returns - a reputable store is usually happy to work with you.
  • Finally, choose a reputable jewelry supply store or beading retailer when you buy beads online. I find Amazon.com to be a reliable seller, and many of the links here take you to products there.  I  offer beads in association with Amazon.com through the Ornatia Jewelry-Supply A-Store, which uses many third-party sellers. When I was in the jewelry-selling business, before Amazon started selling beads through their interface, I bought many beads through auction from third-party sellers on eBay. Due to my positive experiences, as well as the fact that I was one, myself, I have a lot of trust in third-party sellers.
It boils down to: Pay attention to the details. Compare prices. Don't hesitate to return items. Get wholesale prices whenever possible. In the end, I found it easier and cheaper to buy beads online than to attend gem shows across the country or buy from overpriced local bead retailers.

Note: The blog owner may be compensated for the content of this article. See the full disclosure statement regarding compensation in compliance with FTC guidelines.


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Here on the Ornatia Blog...

  • Get tips on marketing, selling, and running your small business selling handcrafted jewelry online.
  • Learn where to buy sterling silver and jewelry supplies and get the best wholesale prices for handcrafted beads.
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