5 Tips on Today’s Affordable Semiprecious Stones

Aug 18, 2008

The Magic of Stones

by Marlene Blessing

There’s magic in stones, and I’m not just talking about some of their mystical properties. (Certain of them are supposed to be good for everything from courage, to protection, love, and foretelling the future.)  When Jamie Hogsett and I recently produced our latest book, Create Jewelry: Stones, I was fascinated to research the origins, history, and properties of some of the most beautiful—and affordable—gemstones in the market today.

The stones we buy at bead stores and bead shows, as well as online, come from sources around the world, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. Garnets are still primarily from India, for example, while peridot comes almost exclusively from mines in Arizona. And while you may have a very favorite stone that you always want to design with, it can pay to be open to new discoveries. I’m always drawn to green stones, especially rich, olive-colored peridot. But lately I’ve been looking at amethyst, thinking it’s about time I played with purples.

Stone merchants are on the frontline of finding good deals for you. They know when sources for a particular stone are drying up and track opportunities for new stones or stones mined in very different locales, often with different qualities (deeper colors, mineral inclusions, etc.). You can definitely save money without sacrificing the excitement of gemstones. Here are just a few helpful tips to help you add stones to your stash.

  • Choose widely available stones: Quartz, jade, jasper, agate, and serpentine are great first-stop stones because they are plentiful and they come in loads of colors—especially quartz.
  • Look for specials: Whether you’re looking at stones in person or online, be sure to check out the discounted and discontinued stones first. Try to resist gravitating  to the fanciest stones on display and see if the bargain stones have cool design possibilities instead.
  • Savor rough-cut gems: Guess what?! You can buy rubies and sapphires, oh my. That is, if you’re open to earthy-looking, rough-cut options. Jamie Hogsett designed a great necklace with rough-cut sapphires in Create Jewelry: Stones, accenting them with raku ceramic flowers.
  • Make the most of a few good stones: You can make as few as three to five individual stones the stars of your design. They can become dangles suspended from a circle in the center of a necklace. Or sprinkle them here and there among some inexpensive freshwater pearls as accents.
  • Explore inexpensive alternatives: Think color instead of specific type of stone. That way instead of buying turquoise, you might pick amazonite and save some money. 

We beaders are so lucky to have an enormous range of types of stones to use in our jewelry designs—stones that always make our work even more special.

Marlene Blessing is the editor in chief of Beadwork magazine and co-author of Create Jewelry: PearlsCreate Jewelry: Crystals, and Create Jewelry: Stones.

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BillieS@4 wrote
on Aug 18, 2008 1:38 PM

I say use what ever you like. My tastes run from AAA to D grade depending on the piece I am creating. I buy and use the stone I like.

JanG@25 wrote
on Aug 18, 2008 3:57 PM

Other ways to find inexpensive stones: check online sources that sell a range of beads and/or have frequent sales, such as Fire Mountain Gems, Duaion Beads, and Lima Beads, for just three examples.  Look for ads in Interweave magazines, then take some time to surf sites.  Also, don't leave out eBay and other auction sites.

If you live in a large city, bead stores may be more competetive, too.  Bead shows are another source of stones that often sell for less than retail, even if you are not a wholesale buyer.

DebWAZ wrote
on Aug 18, 2008 5:58 PM

To expand on JanG's comments:

When shopping online, be sure to deal with a reputable vendor and watch for things like quotes in a name, such as red "malachite". If the name is in "quotes", it means the stone resembles the quoted stone, not that it IS that stone.

As with gem shows, do your homework and learn as much as you can about the stones you like. For example, if you love turquoise, learn the differences between dyed, stabilized, color enhanced, block, chalk and the makey-uppy names of "White Buffalo" or "Sacred Horse" turquoise.  

And - when shopping with any online vendor (especially eBay), you will be a smart shopper if you learn how many beads of the different sizes are in a strand - whether 8", 12" or 16". If it's loose beads, be sure you know how many beads will make 12" or 16" or whatever size you are using. For example, "30 4mm beads for $3 plus shipping, isn't a bargain if you can buy a 16" strand (about 3x as many as many) for $6 with no shipping.  

I won't even go into areas such as quality or misleading/fraudulent statements such as "comes from a secret mine in Mexico" which turn up with vendors on eBay quite often.

BUT - bead stores aren't just located in large cities, though they are most likely to be found there. My store is one of two LBS in a small town and I have a friend who has a store in the even smaller town of Jerome, AZ, which is probably Arizona's most famous "ghost town".  

The advantage of shopping in LBS or at gem shows is that you can see, and feel the stones AND you get them RIGHT AWAY, instead of waiting for the mailman to deliver them. Beading Daily has a very good guide to LBS, though it's still in Beta version and some of the information might not be valid.


You follow the same philosophy as I do. It doesn't have to be "gem quality" for everything - use what your muse tells you and use the stones that work for your design. There is no "right" or "wrong", though I tend to cringe a little when someone wants to put $50 amethyst with $3 chinese glass! <grin>

Happy beading!

DebraM@44 wrote
on Aug 19, 2008 4:02 PM

I love using stone chips. It's an affordable way to use "real" stones and if you have a local shop, you can pick up a few larger focal stones to use with the chips. I buy most of my chips at Hobby Lobby -- they are pretty good about labeling them as "dyed" or "simulated" and when they run them half off, I stock up.

JanG@25 wrote
on Aug 19, 2008 6:01 PM

Deb, thanks for adding to my quick thoughts.  I also misspelled Fusion Beads (and I'm a freelance editor...).

Also, no criticism implied about small towns and bead stores!  I was merely thinking that the jewelry and bead stores in downtown Los Angeles have lower prices because they compete for the wholesale buyers who buy in quantity.  You do have to know the stores and the owners, however.  I got recommendations from people I trust before making my first trek.

Goddessjoy wrote
on Aug 19, 2008 11:15 PM

I'm a geology nut and am always happy to use stones in my designs. I tend to lean towards rough included pieces that still have that 'fresh from the earth' look to them. Though, I can be enticed by some sparkley Labradorite!

Odd cuts and sizes are also a fun way to mix it up with stones, and are often available on a budget!

DebWAZ wrote
on Aug 20, 2008 4:58 PM


I know you weren't implying any criticism of small town bead stores, I'm sorry if I sounded defensive.

I've been to a few bead stores in the "big cities" and even my changed perspective from "ordinary beader" to bead store owner hasn't changed my impression that LBS often are on the pricey side.

However, I also know a few stores like mine that can match or beat prices from FMG. <except Swarovski, but we're pretty close>  Quite often, we buy from the same people who sell to FMG or Rings N Things. We might not buy the quantity, but because our overhead is far lower, we can do a smaller markup on our purchases and still make a decent profit. Most of the LBS in the Phoenix area have coupons or big sales. My philosophy is - if your goods are priced well, you won't need to have a sale. I will never run coupons or do a sale, though I might reduce prices on some of the "duds" once in a while. <LOL>  

I also know some of the tricks that some stores use to make you think you're getting a bargain or saving money, when you aren't. Same thing with shows - I've seen goods at the shows selling for prices higher than in LBS like mine, but people think it's a bargain because it's at a show and because "LBS are SO expensive"!  So - again - always do your homework before you shop at a gem show!


I like the "earthy" stuff, too. I haven't done much with rough, but nuggets and chips are fun to play with. One of the customers' favorite places in the store are the bins with mixed stone beads and drilled (odd shaped) stone. (Mine, too! <grin> )

Ruhammie wrote
on Aug 20, 2008 10:44 PM

This article arrived at the perfect time!  I just went garnet digging in Idaho and have enough good size ones to cut or cabochon for myself for many projects, either as beading beads or bead embroidery with a cabochon.  There are so many ideas, I especially like the rough cut idea.  I just need a good source for researching the cutting process, I hesitate just sending them to anyone to cut for me.