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Bali silver and gemstones


I am new to this group and have not searched through all of the
archives yet so please forgive me if I am asking a question that has
already been answered at some point in the past.

I am new to the world of jewelry making - I have been doing beadwork
for the past few months, using semi-precious freshwater
and shell pearls, and bali silver (I am totally obsessed! I love it,
and have signed up for a course in Basic Metals, wanting to expand
my horizons) The owner of a very nice gallery saw my work last
week and asked if he could show it in his gallery (as you can
imagine, I was surprised and thrilled - and a little nervous as
well!) If all goes well, I’ll be making more pieces and am more
concerned than ever with the costs of goods.

So, I have a question that concerns this issue: I am guessing that
buying my pearls, and silver through my local retail bead
store is not the most economical way to go about this, even though
my local shop does offer a 20% discount to those with a tax ID.
There are tons of websites I could order materials from but I have
tried this and, more often than not, am disappointed when I receive
the item (it never looks as good as it does in the photographs and
is often smaller than I thought it would be based on the
description). So, how do the professionals go about buying their
materials? Do they buy in bulk at bead shows( do bead show vendors
generally offer better prices than retail stores do?) Do they go
through specific vendors that sell to jewelers? If there are
specific vendors that sell to jewelers, how does one go about
finding them?

Thanks so much! Any advice is much appreciated!!!


So, how do the professionals go about buying their materials?  Do
they buy in bulk at bead shows( do bead show  vendors generally
offer better prices than retail stores do?)

Yup. I typically buy only at gem shows. I just got back from
Tucson, where I bought most of my stock for the year. I also travel
to one or two other gem shows in the Southeast, where I live. You
typically can’t make any profit margin if you are buying at retail
and then trying to resell at retail.

And yes, in most cases, your dealers will offer a much better
price than a retail store.

Blue Piranha Jewelry
e-mail: @Blue_Piranha_Jewelry
or visit at:

So, how do the professionals go about  buying their materials?

Hi, Leslie,

I started off with beads, just like yourself, and am now into
metalsmithing and cold connections. I also do a lot of fine silver
fusing that I studied with a local instructor. I love Orchid and
learn so much, even when the topics don’t relate to what I am doing
at the moment.

I am in the Bay Area and do a lot of my shopping at the gem shows.
They have a wholesale only areas in the back that requires a resale
license (go get one at your local branch of your state
government…they are free to acquire and will open up your
opportunities). There, you get a 50% discount, no tax and you can
pick up, handle and examine to your hearts content.

Another option is to take that resale license to a wholesale design
center. We have the Jewelry Mart and the Design Center here in San
Francisco. A number of gem show participants have permanent homes

I found some really unusual things when SNAG had their conference
here (also got to see Catalog in Motion…dangerous for the
pocketbook, but the coolest tools!).

Tucson is absolutely the best place ever to shop for components and
I go every other year, but it is an investment of several thousands
of dollars for me and I have to make sure that I can turn that

As you buy, you will develop relationships with specific vendors and
find various things that one person or group does better than
another. The vendors listed at the bottom of the Orchid Digest are
very reliable and I suggest getting their catalogues.

One of the most important thing that I have done regarding shopping
is to educate myself on metals and their properties and on
gemstones…many people mislead, even unintentionally, and you need
to understand exactly what you are buying so that you can make
informed decisions.

Best of luck to you in your work and happy shopping!

Nan Kroupa

Hi Leslie,

You are about where I was with my wirework (although I had a couple
more years of experience) when I was delighted, bemused, and made a
little nervous by being offered an opportunity to sell. IMHO, whether
or not it’s worthwhile to buy things through a supplier depends on
your volume and how much of any one item you use, as well as what
kind of variety and quality your local bead store carries.

Except for small spacers, I have used Bali silver almost exclusively
for commissions and gifts, not for production. However, I do
recommend that you check out Rishashay, if only because they are Fair
Trade certified and will send you pictures of their happy workers
(you never know about the stuff in the bead stores–it might not even
come from Bali). They will also send you a print catalog, with items
shown pretty much true to size, as well as samples of many items,
which means you don’t have to commit to a full bag of e.g. bead caps
and then be disappointed. I highly recommend that you try this–most
of their stuff is fabulous, but I have been happier since I started
to get samples. They do require a minimum order, and a lot of items
come bagged, but larger beads are sold singly. You will probably
save money over your local bead store, but you need to do
comparisons, figuring in things like your time, shipping costs,
gasoline, relative quality of goods, whether you will actually use
your minimums, etc.

If you are just stringing, tools aren’t an issue but, as you move
beyond that, check the archives for recommendations. It’s especially
important to get high quality pliers and cutters. I buy mostly from
Otto Frei and Rio Grande. They can also make trustworthy
recommendations (unless you get the new kid on the phone–ask for
someone knowledgeable). The Rio catalogs are an education in
themselves, so, if you’ve been bitten by the jewelry bug, you will
feel like a kid in a candy store. I highly recommend getting all of
them, including display and packaging (very inspiring). Both these
suppliers are supporters of Orchid, too–Otto Frei has a link in the
Digest and Rio has been extremely generous in many ways (thanks to

As for I don’t use that many and other people will have
more advice to offer. I almost never buy online and I too find it
more satisfying to buy from a bead store. The satisfaction is often
worth the price, especially if you stay aware of sales. I have bought
from the Rio and Fire Mountain catalogs and have been sometimes happy
and sometimes disappointed with both (happier with cabs/faceted, less
often happy with beads). I went to one commercial gem show and I
found it overwhelming and confusing–too much input for me when I was
starting out. If you can find someone who knows the ropes to go with
you, you are much less likely to buy things that seem like huge
bargains but will still be in a box five years from now. You will
also have someone to recommend reputable suppliers. You might want
to give us your location and ask if one of our more experienced
members lives near you. I doubt that, at this point, you would find
it economical to go to an out-of-town show.

Welcome to Orchid! Good luck!

Lisa Orlando
Aphrodite’s Ornaments
Elk, CA