One of my students asked me an interesting question:
"I will be going to a huge Jewelry and Gem show next month. Any suggestions on how to choose stones and prioritize my inventory?"
Here are a few pointers to help make the best of a bead show without going TOTALLY broke (instead, just making a minor dent in the checking account):
1) Make a list of what you REALLY need. Make a *good* list, go through all your inventory and write down everything you can think of. Then, prioritize the items which you absolutely need and the ones that you can live without. Clasps, findings, metal beads, jumprings, stringing material ALWAYS get the top of the list. If you need any tools, add that to the top of the list too. Print out several copies of the list, because if you go to the show for more than one day, you tend to "loose the list" or misplace it in your anxiety to get to all those “pretties”.
2) Be prepared to walk a lot, where comfortable shoes and take drinking water with you. If you can go two days to the show, then go. A good way to not spend too much money is to walk most of the show area first, just scoping it out and asking prices, and making mental notes of where you saw this or that. Then do a second round and buy the things on the top of the list first. Come back the next day and then work your way to the bottom of the list.
3) When you ask prices, make sure you take into account the number of beads on a strand. Sometimes the strands are deceivingly shorter in one supplier than the other and what seems to be a good deal, could result in a higher price per bead.
4) Make sure you make a mental note of how many beads you will NOT be able to use from the strand, 10, 20 or 30 percent. This increases the average price of each bead.
5) If you can count the beads on a strand, then do it and divide the price of the strand by number of beads. This seems like an impossible task to do at a busy show, but after a while, you get used to it and can do it almost visually. Take notes of your "price per bead tolerance". Once you decide upon a specific maximum threshold price per bead, let's say one or two dollars, then it becomes clear that those expensive gemmy strands are not that expensive after all and will pay themselves on the long run. Most inexpensive stone beads should not be more than one dollar each, sometimes much lower.
6) Allow yourself some splurge money, but determine how much before arriving at the show. After you have done all your priority shopping, then you can just buy what you like, UP TO YOUR PRESET max.
7) When choosing transparent stones, look at the stone against the light. They should look beautiful even if they are faceted or smooth, well made and even if they have inclusions, those should not be cracks or make the stone dull or cloudy. Inclusions should always be interesting and not look like dirt. Cracks are not acceptable, because it means that the stone is about to break or was handled badly.
8) When choosing matte stones, make sure that the polish is not making them dull and there is no white color showing through, especially on the facets. It means the stone was dyed (particularly visible in candy jade). Inclusions should also be interesting and not look like dirt.
9) Beware of stones which are fragile, like apatite or turquoise. If you buy those stones, make sure they are thick and of very good quality. The thin and small ones will break.
10) Colors should always be natural and clean, not dirty looking. Very bright colors are probably artificial, including jade. Some dyes will fade in time.
11) If you have limited money to spend and your current inventory is low, then concentrate first on metals and then on one single color family, such as blue/green, or brown/red. This way you can get a variety of shapes to mix and match. You'll get tired of the color after a while, for sure, but it's better than getting a lot of different colors and then finding that nothing goes together and you don't have the appropriate sizes or shapes to create interesting pieces.
12) If you choose blue/green family, then the following stones are available: green garnets (vansuanite), peridot, aquamarine, peruvian opals, amazonite, kyanite, lapis lazuli, tourmaline, turquoise (can be a bit delicate), apatite (buy only very good quality), topaz in a variety of colors (can get expensive), chalcedony (can fade with time).
If you get brown red, then you can get jasper in a variety of patterns, agate, garnets, whiskey citrines, smokey quartz. This series of colors is usually cheaper than the blue/green.
13) If you can, take a break halfway through the show and evaluate your current purchases. Countless times I forgot to evaluate the inventory halfway the show, only to find that I bought certain items twice, at different vendors.
14) When purchasing, ask the name of the person who is serving you and for their card. Remember, most of the vendors are people who love beads just like you do, and they can become good friends. Later on, if you find yourself buying always from the same suppliers, there is no need to go to shows, you can buy directly from them.
15) Immediately after purchasing (or while you are buying), write the cost of the each strand, the name of the stone/material and the name of the supplier on the bead baggies with a sharpie pen. This helps to: calculate the cost per bead for accurate jewelry pricing; buy more of a specific bead from a supplier in the future; write more accurate descriptions of stones or materials for customers.
16) When arriving home, count the amount of GOOD beads on each strand and divide the cost of the strand per number of beads to find the price per bead. This makes it easier to calculate the price of final pieces. If your beads are pretty regular and tiny, then use the Bead Cost Calculator – free here: http://www.enioken.com/jewelry/beadcost.html. Remember to include the date you are making the purchase.
17) Finally, wash your hands after leaving the show, since beads can leave dark residue on the hands. When leaving, ask for a “return pass” at the exit if you intend to return, most shows allow re-entry the next day.
18) NEW: When buying repeat items, take a sample of the finding or bead and attach it to the list with scotch tape. This way you value the list more (because after all, it's got valuable stuff on it, so you won't loose it) AND you can match the items perfectly. Do not take for granted that the same supplier will have exactly the same item -- jumprings tend to be skinnier, hammered metal tends to have a different finish, stones seem a slightly little different color.
19) NEW: If you plan to buy very little of each item, then bring a friend or two: that way if you see something really PRICEY, you can split a strand. It's also good when negotiating for gold and silver, suppliers tend to give better prices if they know they will sell more quantity. (Suggestion by Karen Hardy). Now, with that said, keep in mind that friends also tend to encourage you to spend more, and to be less focused on what you really need. But it's always fun to compare who got the better loot at the end of the show!
Most of all, remember to have fun… !!!
Oh, almost forgot, when choosing what to wear to the show, you can really go all out in terms of jewelry -- the bigger the better. Most shoppers love to compliment AND receive compliments on jewelry, which is a great way to make new friends.