Smart Jewelry Shopper

How to Buy Jewelry & Gemstones With Confidence


Guide to Buying Bead Jewelry

There is an overwhelming selection of bead varieties to select when purchasing or making jewelry. Understanding or having a guide to buying bead jewelry is a helpful place to start when making a determination.

There are many forms from expensive to cheap in this category so knowing the level of quality and craftsmanship is useful as beads are made in several different ways with varying types of materials.

Base Metals and Precious Metals

These are beads made from iron, nickel, copper, zinc or lead. They are considered to be non-precious metals. Most often these beads are plated to resemble a precious metal such as silver or gold in an effort to give them durability so they won’t corrode as easily. Some beads are often antiqued or finished to appear like a vintage or antiqued item.

Thus an antiqued gold or silver is simply a finish of that particular hue but not necessarily a true precious metal. An established and reputable jeweler can establish the difference. These beads are popular because they retain the appearance of a precious metal but are relatively inexpensive. They also come in many forms and textures.

Gold and Silver beads can also be found and are especially elegant in jewelry. Gold is more expensive than silver. These beautiful beads in gold come in 9-14 karats. Another method is utilizing a mix of binder with water into the gold or silver. This creates a clay-like material which is pliable and can be fired, glazed or colored. Gemstones can also be added increasing the value.

Bone Beads

These beads derived from the Native Americans were made from animal bones and used in tribes to enhance authority or showcase esteem. The most common animals used were bears, snakes, cows and buffalo. The beads are usually bleached and then hand painted with wax.

The beads are then dyed and the wax design remains free of the dye allowing for a beautiful pattern. African tribes used this process and the term was referred to as “mud” beads. These are a popular choice if you want to celebrate a tribal heritage or have an appreciation for the technique implemented to create these beads.


A guide to buying bead jewelry could exist all by itself to encompass crystal beads. These are a more refined version of glass beads and considered to be a step up on the jewelry ladder. Crystal beads contain a lead content which allows them to retain an especially sparkly appearance. They also come in various sizes and cuts which help contribute to their multi-faceted sparkle.

They are generally more expensive than glass beads since they offer brilliant flashes of light and you can also find them in the chandelier industry as they make lovely statements in the home. Czech and Swarovski crystal are among the most popular and prestigious of these beads. Known for their fine craftsmanship and technology, they outshine other beads in this category.


Since glass is a raw material that is fairly accessible and easy to use, this is a commonly used material for beaded jewelry. Glass beads can be mixed with colors, other materials and therefore offer a wide selection of designs. Many artists hand paint beads and use a kiln to fuse the beads while others are crafted by machine. Another popular trend is the lampworking technique which twists the hot glass around a mandrel.

There are also mosaic style glass beads, multi faceted beads which are designed to mimic crystal and glass pearl beads. Since these beads come with such variety they are relatively inexpensive unless you are purchasing a significant “piece” handcrafted by an artist, in which case your jewelry will be one of a kind and worth the expense.

Semi Precious

These are a favorite among jewelry makers because of the color variations. The list of these types of stones is quite long. Since rubies, diamonds, emeralds and other precious stones are so costly, semi precious stones are used much more frequently. Agate, Amethyst, Garnet, Jade, Lapis, Onyx, Opal and Turquoise are some of the most popular semi-precious beads used.

Using this guide to buying bead jewelry should help you better understand how jewelry is made and the popularity of the beads vs. the value. Most often hand crafted beads are the most expensive as well as certain crystals and semi-precious stones.