People often ask me where I get my beads. They are my favorite part of all of it, and yes at times I am addicted to buying them, but I do have to restrain myself! I have a few favorite places to buy. I hope this little guide will help you if you too are addicted:
I love to buy new beads but I also buy old pieces which...are not so stylish these days. With these pieces I cut them up and either use the beads in a variety of projects, or using them all together in a new more stylish fashion!
My favorite online retailer is Fire Mountain Gems! They are super affordable and have great stuff. It is definitely a shop where you need to take your time however. Personally I wait for my catalog, and take some time looking through it, marking items that look good. I then go online and check out any new specials or sales. My favorite things on this website are the "assortments." You can get great assortments of strands: multiple strands of gemstones for a very reasonable price. The best thing however is the assortment pricing, If you buy 1-14 items (anything on the site) you get the basic price. The Price drops if you buy 15-49 items, 50-199 items, and prices are lowest when you buy 200+ items. I have never gotten past the second level, but if i someday own a bead store (I wish!) I will make it all the way to level 4!!!
hey also have promo beads at Fire Mountain Gems! These are large lots of gemstones which are not of the highest quality but still are great! They are not all uniform in color or shape sometimes but for projects like mine they still look great, at a fraction of the price!
Another great place to shop is Rio Grande. When I started ordering from them I had to buy a catalog, with which I received a gift card equalling what I paid for the catalog. I shopped via catalog only, and still do. Apparently you can now order online though which is exciting. They have a truly helpful customer service department though and have always had my questions asked perfectly when calling, so I may continue to order that way. Mostly I just buy my wire from Rio Grande, but have ordered some beautiful beads as well.
So what about local bead shops? Personally, although I want to own one, find most of them extremely overpriced compared to websites and catalogs. The major plus though is getting to see and touch all the beads before paying for them. I mostly buy beads for earrings at local bead stores: specialty or kitschy beads which I only want a few of. I also buy beads in person for special orders when someone wants something promptly or wants to shop with me. This way they can show me what they like and we can talk through it before deciding.
My favorite places to get beads however are still unmentioned: garage sales, estate sales, and thrift stores! Be careful here though! It is easy to get ripped off and also easy to accidentally buy crappy beads!!! Be warned! Take your time! At thrift stores ask to see each item when it is behind glass. Check for mardi-gras style beads which are glued on a string, thus you cannot cut them up and re-do them in a stylish way. Another hint is to put beads which look like a gemstone up to your cheek, if they are cold they are really a gemstone! If they are room temperature, they are not. It is always good to look around before buying as well. If I totally fall in love with something and it is a type of bead I have never seen I go for it, because I know vintage pieces sell well. I do not like spending money at thrift stores though because they like to over-charge. The best bet is going on their sale days. One store near me has a different colored tag half off each day, if I love a necklace I will check its tag color and check in to see when that tag is half off and go back then. A similar idea goes for estate sales: ones that are run by companies charge good money for jewelry. The trick is to following the same company if you like their selection, go to each show, Most companies will clean out stock now and then. One time I stumbled upon a sale where they were selling all their jewelry left over from past sales for a dollar each, I got great gemstones and real pearls among other things, it was so exciting! Garage sales are almost opposite however: show up early! People who go early to garage sales know what they are doing and often look for items like costume jewelry! The earlier you show up the better chance you have of getting those items first, and garage sales are always cheap with is awesome!
Lastly, I love stores like Michael's and other craft stores. Some beads are priced well and some are too expensive. The trick here is coupons! A coupon is almost always available online for 30% or 50% off 1 regular priced item. Print out a couple and take friends, five them each an item and some cash and you have it made! The other trick here, at least for me, is restraint! I can go CRAZY in Michael's and definitely have to hold myself back! I walk down those items and see all the possibilities! I just have to remind myself that I also need the sales to fund those possibilities!