As makers and sellers of glass beads, we hear it all the time...Why are glass beads so expensive? Well, I'm glad you asked!
Let's take a look at why:
- Torch - While a beginner torch costs as little as $50... most glassers quickly move on from the hothead as it's loud and the ability to control the oxy flow is intimidating! Oxygen flow is used to develop colors in pricey silver laden glass and controlling that on a hot head involved grabbing the head of the torch with expensive welding gloves!
The next torch up is $188... but depending on model and features (heat and the ability to control it from big and bushy to pin point accuracy), the price can go into the thousands!
- Cost of Glass - The average big hole donut weighs about a gram. Some larger focals, such as a 1.3" lentil, can weigh 36 grams. The cheapest glass is around 9.60 a pound. 9.60/ 453(grams / pound) = .02 per gram. Add in the breakage / popping to be generous and for a single big hole donut, our beadmaker has invested about .03...in glass.
But...that's plain glass. Did you know that most glass gets it's color from some type of metal? The price of gold, silver and copper has been on a steady increase for years. And premium glass that we all find so mesmerizing... costs $80 to $100 a pound! So that same one gram donut made out of premium glass is now around .33... in glass.
- Kiln Cost - So many don't even calculate this in...but they should! A small 6 x 6 kiln uses 1.4 kilowatts / hour and runs for 12 hour cycle for a total of 16.8 kilowatts. Your electric bill tells you the cost of kilowatts...Mine is 13.3 cents per kilowatt hour + a 10% surcharge from my city. That come so 14.63 cents x 16.8 kilowatts = $2.46 per session to run the kiln.
- Fuel Costs - Most of us use propane and oxygen mix torches. A tank of propane can last from a few weeks to a few months depending on output. Prices vary per state but can run from $16 to $26 per five gallon tank.
Oxygen comes in the form of an oxygen concentrator or in a tank. A small oxy con burns about .46 kilowatts an hour. So lets say our beadmaker torches a full eight hours / 5 days a week: .46 x 8 x 5 = 18.4 kilowatt hours x 13.3 cents = $2.25 spent every 40 hours on the oxy con... And this is a small one. Many lampworkers use a large one or have two networked ones... Meaning that number could be four times higher for some glassers!
Tanked oxy is $35 per 300 cubic cylinder (about a five foot tall tank) but there are also deposits on tanks ($50) and delivery fees. Again, overall costs vary with size of torch, whether the artist works hot or cold and how many hours a day they work.
- Cleaning: Once cool, the beads are soaked in warm water and cleaned with an electric dremel with a diamond bit. Let's just say the electricity and water cost is negligible.. 2 cents
- Giveaway Money: Etsy takes 20 cents to list plus a percentage. Ebay takes around 10%. Paypal steals 30 cents plus almost 3%. Yes these are the cost of "doing business" but all selling costs must be factored into the price of the bead! And many bead makers often host giveaways and promotions on their fan pages...trying to get your attention!
- Overhead: Yet another thing many artisans never think about.
- Tools... Glass tools are VERY pricey but I'm going with the bare minimum here to make those beads. Granted, they can be used over and over but they still have to be bought and often replaced! Most presses that allow for consistency in sizes start at $55 ... EACH. Bellflower presses are $165
- Protective eyewear to see in the flame... $60 and up
- Mandrels: 1.66 per mandrel. This makes the bead hole and you use one per bead or maybe two beads if you rock your heat control.
- Kiln - digital kilns start at $700
- Tweezers $10 To move glass around when you have a little too much on one side and not enough on the other.
- Special molding tools- $60 each shape Ensures consistency in sets.
- Decent camera - at least $200
- Time: This is my favorite category because so many of us never pay ourselves a decent wage! Let's say we're making a set of five of those big hole beads:
Making the beads 5 x 5 - 7 minutes each. Let's say six. 30 minutes
Cleaning: 8 minutes
Photography: 10 minutes
Editing: 10 minutes
Description Writing: 10 minutes
Promoting: 20 minutes to an hour
That's an hour and eight minutes assuming everything goes according to plan... An hourly wage MUST be attached to this time! And with fast food workers and other unskilled labor demanding $10 an hour, should the time, skill, cost of educating ourselves AND the fact we play with FIRE all demand a decent wage???
And then as a "professional beadmaker" or one who is hoping to make a living selling her art, you have to contend with the "hobby beadmaker." With no commentary on skills or quality here because there are many talented hobbyists out there... but the hobby beadmaker is often content to simply "make enough to buy more glass." But in reality, that hurts the market and lowers the wage of the professional. Just as Chinese glass has hurt the pricing structure so has the hobbyists.
Add in that it is a field dominated by women and, sadly, so many women undervalue their time. There was a time when prices were calculated at $60 / hour of time involved... a buck a minute. Those days are long gone which is another reason there are so many fabulous glass beads out there, longing for homes.
- Pricing: That thing we hate to talk about. But bead makers all need to consider everything above in setting prices! And wholesale... many of us wholesale our beads and that price structure has to be in place before the retail structure!
A good rough formula for any artist is Materials + 25% of Materials costs for Overhead + Labor (for all aspects: making, cleaning, photographing, writing) = WHOLESALE price
Retail is usually double to three times the wholesale price.So while those fabulous beads may seem pricey, they were made by an artist...with some very real and expensive costs to consider.
Ultimately the responsibility of educating our buyers falls to us...and to them as they must educate their customers as to why the glass bead jewelry costs so much more than the other jewelry out there. Jewelry designers, like bead makers, are selling miniature works of art. And educating buyers and building an appreciation for the work is the key!