Thursday, May 6, 2010

Finding Quality Lampwork Glass Beads on Ebay

As discussed yesterday, finding quality glass beads on ebay is no easy feat! It's a lot easier if you are looking for a particular lampworker, as I was. But, to find unknown talent is difficult but there are a few tricks.

1) Always search for SRA - self representing artist. This is a number assigned by an independent group of glass workers deliberately created to deal with the influx of mass produced beads on ebay. Most artists proudly display their SRA in their listings with their specific SRA number as part of the image. This is mine:
You can also check the SRA site for a massive list of legitimate artists.

2) Numbered beads - while prolific artists such as Lori Robbins & Kim Miles often number their beads, if you REALLY look at the numbers, they are date related - frequently the listing date or "birth" date. Lori's use a letter for the month. E = 5 = May. Kim's numbers are along the lines of 5.01, 5.02. But resellers of imported beads tend to have more generic numbers... no progression, no rhyme or reason. F022, SP1098 are examples.

3) NUMEROUS similar beads: Look around their listings. Do they have literally HUNDREDS of similar beads? If so, they are not artisan beads. The average bead maker takes five minutes to make a simple, small bead. And while someone making the same bead over and over and over can shave a minute or two off of that time, your average artist is NOT going to make hundreds of the same bead because it would make her crazy! I do know folks that can make around 100 of the same but beyond that... it starts to hurt mentally!

4) Number of Listings: Keep in mind we're talking ebay here. Shops like Etsy and Artfire show list dates and don't expire for months on end. But ebay expires in 10 days to a month if you have a store. Unless something unusual is going on...such as an artist raising funds for surgery or a trip to Bead & Button, you will RARELY see more than one page of listings. One of my least favorite resellers currently has 18 (!!) pages of listings! There is no freaking way one person can make that many beads!

5) Studio Names: Ever since that "Texas sounding place" came into ebay sounding like a real person, the resellers have made an attempt to sound legit... but upon closer inspection, they simply can't! They give themselves names that "sound" like a real person - Stephen Armbruster is one example but a quick google search leads to a real person who is into music, not glass. Search for that name and glass and you get ebay or a hinky, multi artist website.

A legit artist will give you all kinds of details: the torch she uses, the kiln, where she / he is located, awards and recognition and even photos of their glass stash and messy work tables. If you take the time to write these fakes on ebay, they can't tell you any of that and will often admit to importing.

6) Multi Artist Websites: You will rarely find more than one artist on a personal site. Noted exceptions are when a bead artist collaborates with an artist from another medium. I know one that gives two of her focals to a wire artist. He wraps them both and returns one to her. They sell the collaborations, one on her site, one on his. One of our Fire Divas actually sells as a team. Two Glassy Ladies is actually a team of three but a quick look around their site clearly divides their duties and skills. But again, this is RARE. It's simply too hard to divide the money!

7) Price: Glass from traditional lampwork sources where the workers are treated with dignity and paid well for their skill costs $8 a pound and goes up to $100 a lb. When you factor in cost of glass, time to make the bead and the supplies such as steel mandrels and bead release, kiln costs / electricity, cleaning time, photography and photo sizing, most glass beads deservedly start at around $4 per bead (with tiny spacers being the exception). When someone is selling for less than that, they are a reseller or they are having a sale. Look around. Are ALL their items cheap? If yes, reseller.

You can also bet the resellers will never use glass that costs very much, often preferring Chinese or Indian glass manufactured in deplorable slave-like conditions! Boutique glass companies such as Double Helix, Remschnieder, TAG, Caliente, etc will not be used by importers.

8) Look at the BEADS!: Yes, they might look pretty but I have actually seen bead release visible in the photos. But a legitimate artist puts skill and artistry into the work. Are the colors flat, i.e. ONE color? Or did they take the time to pull cane?? Are there lots of details going on in the bead?

Let's look at one of Lauren of Maybeads turtles:
This might seem to be a simple bead...but it's not! Look at the body. The core of this turtle is a stand-alone, beautifully made round bead. Then look at the details she added: toes! His smile! That little tail! And check out the layers of glass for the eyes!

True artisans always put a little bit of themselves into their beads and the imported ones are just lacking!

I hope I don't need to remind you that imported beads are not annealed which makes them prone to breakage. They are often not cleaned which makes your jewelry cording prone to breakage. Bottom line, you get what you pay for in more ways than one!


rottrover said...

he's adorable!

Lauren said...

Holly, this is so helpful for buyers of artisan made beads! Thank you for this post, and for using my turtle as an example! :))

Lea Avroch said...

excellent article Holly! I think I am going to share it if you don't mind.

icarusbeads said...

What a great article. Hope you don't mind if I share a link to your blog on my Facebook. I think every bead buyer should read this.

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

I appreciate you guys taking the time to spread the word about FINE lampwork. Educating our customers is a huge part of the job!