Alternatives to Using Crystal Beads In Your Beading Projects

Apr 26, 2013

What I'm about to tell you is something that I've never before declared publicly. You may be shocked. You may be appalled. You may even urge me to seek counseling. But it needs to be said, so here it goes:

I designed this necklace using just vintage glass stones and vintage glass pearls. No crystals needed for some serious bling!
I've never particularly liked using crystal beads.

Now, it's not that I don't enjoy using a crystal bead or stone in my work from time to time. They're pretty, they sparkle, and crystal beads are available in a huge range of colors, finishes, and shapes. But still, I sometimes feel like their sparkle can be a distraction from the beadwork itself. Being kind of a bead maven for the last ten years or so, I've always tried to keep an open mind about the materials that I used in my bead-weaving and jewelry making projects, but if you took a good look at my enormous bead stash, you'd notice a distinct lack of one particular type of bead: crystals.

And, really, I've never seen myself as a sparkly-kinda-gal. Maybe it was because I was more of a tomboy growing up, or maybe it was because I've always felt drawn to natural gemstones for my beading projects.

So whenever I've come across a beading project that calls for crystal beads or stones, I turn to my enormous bead stash to see what I can come up with to substitute for the crystals called for in the materials. Chances are, you probably have a lot of these in your stash, too!

Czech Glass Beads As Substitutes for Crystals

Ever since I was a baby beader, I've been drawn to the amazing range of colors and shapes of Czech glass beads available in bead shops and online. The last few years have been very exciting for me as a beader as I've watched new shapes, styles, and colors of Czech glass beads hitting the market.

My favorite type of Czech glass bead to use as a substitute for crystals is the round glass druk. With all the colors and finishes available, I can easily stock up on these beautiful glass beads for use in all of my beading projects. Another good option is to use a fire polished bead, with an AB coating for extra pizazz, if that's what you want.

Czech glass bicones may not work in a beading project that calls for crystal bicones, since their shape is often a bit "fatter" than than the crystal beads. But if you feel comfortable making a few adjustments to your project instructions, you can discover new ways to include these beautiful beads in your jewelry-making projects.

Gemstones As a Substitute for Crystals

Instead of using crystal drops, you could easily substitute gemstone briolettes in Marcia DeCoster's Little Black Dress Earrings.
If you want to give your crystal beading project an earthier look, there's no better bead to use than a gemstone bead. Gemstone beads are available in an incredible array of shapes, sizes, and materials these days, and given the choice, I'll splurge on a strand of tiny 3mm gemstone rounds over a packet of crystal beads.

Briolette cut gemstones are more popular than ever these days, and they can be substituted very easily for a crystal briolette or crystal drop bead in most beading projects.

Keep in mind that some gemstone beads can be heavier than crystals, so you may want to or need to reinforce your beadwork with extra thread paths to make sure it holds up well.

Vintage Czech Glass Stones As a Substitute for Crystal Stones

Vintage Czech glass stones work just as well as crystal stones for many beading projects.
Sure, crystal stones like Rivolis are sparkly and all that, but something about them just leaves me cold. If a beading project calls for a crystal stone, I'm more likely to turn to my extensive collection of vintage Czech glass stones as a substitute.

I can't remember where I bought my first vintage Czech glass stone, but it was most likely at a trunk show at my local bead shop. Since then, I've found a few great sources for finding these little glass treasures, mostly on eBay and Etsy. Other great sources include A Grain of Sand, Beadin' Path, and Earthly Adornments.

What I love about the Czech glass stones as a substitute for crystal stones is their subtlety. They're clear and sparkling and beautiful in their own right, without all the flash of a crystal stone, allowing the beadwork to take center stage.

When using vintage Czech glass stones in your beading projects, be mindful that some of them can be fragile and chip easily.

Why Use Something Besides Crystal Beads?

There are lots of reasons why I can think of to substitute gemstones or glass for crystal beads. If you use a slightly different type of bead in a beading project, you give that project an entirely new look -- which can be a good thing. You may find a color of glass bead or a particular gemstone that speaks to you, and substituting that type of bead for a crystal bead is a great way to express your own individuality through your beading projects.

Cost may or may not be a factor when considering a substitute for crystal beads. Some gemstone beads can cost just as much or more than their crystal bead counterparts, so really think about making substitutes for your crystal beads more about a way of expressing your own personality than about saving money when it comes to your beading projects.

If you're looking for more ways to express yourself through your jewelry-making projects, you won't want to miss Beads, Baubles, and Jewels Series 1800. Each of thirteen episodes in Series 1800 is full of great jewelry-making tutorials, tips, and ideas from some of today's top jewelry artists. Whether you're an experienced jewelry artist or just a beginner looking for new ways to get creative with jewelry, make sure you pre-order your copy of Beads, Baubles, and Jewels Series 1800 on DVD.

Do you have a suggestion for swapping out crystal beads with another type of bead? What's worked for you, and more importantly, what hasn't worked? Leave a comment here on the Beading Daily blog and share your experiences with us!

Bead Happy,


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JanG@25 wrote
on Apr 26, 2013 7:57 AM

OK, this has to be said: I don't like this stress on stitching and weaving.  It isn't anything I want to learn, or can do anymore because of a disability, so this column has turned into a waste of time for me.  That's sad, as it began as something that explored more kinds of work -- including stitching and weaving -- but not so relentlessly.  Yes, there's a bit of lip service paid to other forms of jewelry making, but the basic tenet seems to be to force feed us seed beads.  Please count the rest of us in!  Thanks!

enjay2 wrote
on Apr 26, 2013 8:18 AM

Finally!  I've long thought that I must be the only one who just doesn't find crystal beads appealing.  Too glitzy, just not my style.  I also love things that are more earthy.  Unfaceted glass and natural gemstone beads are beautiful and you can actually enjoy the the colors and the design without all the flash.  Thank you for this column in a forum that sometimes seems to be overwhelmingly into the crystals.

DellaMae wrote
on Apr 26, 2013 9:08 AM

THANK YOU!  I don't feel alone anymore!   I love all sorts of beadwork, but sometimes while a piece is lovely, I think it is too "over the top" to actually be worn.  I want to wear the pieces I make and frankly too much bling is not appropriate for most occasions, including the workplace.   I like to incorporate faceted, natural stones when possible.  They make the finished project feel more earthy and organic.  

on Apr 26, 2013 9:36 AM

I just had the best chuckle with my morning coffee about this article.  I'm such a bling girl that most of the time it doesn't even occur to me that others aren't.  Thanks for the reminder.   I love the wonderful earthy stones, but just can't resist adding a sparkly spacer mostly crystal or a highly faceted glass rondelle or bead.

magpiet wrote
on Apr 26, 2013 10:20 AM

Thanks for this musing on crystals versus Other Stuff.  I've felt that my disinterest in working with crystals is almost heresy in this age of glitter.  The least interesting articles for me in bead magazines are those that use only crystals and a few supporting seed beads for construction.  Like you, I've found that the glass beads offer me a more satisfying approach to texture and color, and the newer shapes as well as the extraordinary colors and finishes coming out in pressed glass spur my creativity.  And semi-precious gemstones....I can never have enough.

  I think that marketing suggests that if we choose less expensive glass beads over the crystals available on the market, we're choosing second-class stock for less interesting creations. I am glad to have someone recognize this as a marketing suggestion rather than a way to value what we're creating.  There is room in this art form for the use of all kinds of materials.  So thanks for the affirmation.  

Gloria E wrote
on Apr 26, 2013 10:32 AM

Great info!  I often prefer other beads/stones to crystals too.  So far, I have only subbed a crystal with a briolette in a pair of earrings, and I used some glass round beads in place of crystal for a bracelet.  I really liked the look of those finished pieces, so I plan to sub more stones for crystals in future projects.  I will still use a crystal or two in more dressy jewelry pieces, but not in every pattern that calls for them.  Kind of a relief to read your article too...nice to know that others often prefer to use stones over crystal too.  

on Apr 26, 2013 10:34 AM

Thank you for your "confession" regarding crystals.  They are lovely and have their places; but sometimes they are overused.  I have been very fortunate to grow a large bead collection, which includes some crystals.  Most patterns seem to call for large numbers of crystals, which I never have enough of the color or size called for.  So, I began substituting other bead types such as Czech beads, pearls, and gemstones in the suggested sizes.  These pieces have turned out to be fun to make and richer in appearance.  I still use crystals as accent beads, once in a while.

LaurieBr wrote
on Apr 26, 2013 11:44 AM

I can't afford crystals most times, so I usually end up using glass pearls in their place. The sizes work perfectly. The entire 'feel' of the project is changed, of course- sparkle gives way to softness. Sometimes it doesn't work- sometimes I swear pearls and seed beads end up looking cheap for some reason- but most of the time it works just fine.

psimons wrote
on Apr 26, 2013 1:27 PM

I need to say thank-you for the affirmation that you don't always have to use crystals in order to have beautiful and expensive looking handmade jewelry.  I absolutely love bead weaving and stitching, and some would say I was crazy for having the ridiculous amount of beads that I do.  I have all sorts , including crystals in all price groups, (and vintage), but my favorites are my 4 and 6mm size semi-precious gemstones that I can substitute instead of the crystals.  They just seem to work better for me and my style.  

P.S.I will be moving across the country (USA) in a few months.  You should have seen my husband's face when he actually went into my craft room and assessed what would have to be moved.........PRICELESS!!! :)

EllenaA wrote
on Apr 26, 2013 1:33 PM

Hi, so sorry to read the negative feedback from JanG@25; she may like other newsletters like beadstyle, jewelry making daily, or stringing. For me, the more seed beads the better, as they're the bulk of my work. It's good to read this piece on crystal aversion as, like others, I felt so alone. Crystals seemed to rule the jewelry-making world. I've used all these subs and more. There are even glass pearls now!

WIlaker wrote
on Apr 26, 2013 3:24 PM

Nice blog, Jennifer. Sorry all, but I love crystal beads for their sparkle and upping the resale value of my work. Cubic Zirconia is the next best thing to real gemstones when it come to selling. Nothing wrong with other materials, as well-articulated in the passage. I just prefer creating something that looks as much like the real thing as possible. That is also the reason I use sterling and gold-filled (NEVER plated) components.  Crystallized Gems

2Tabbies wrote
on Apr 26, 2013 4:53 PM

I thought it was just me! Since there are so many crystal projects in the beading magazines, I figured everyone else loved them. Thank you for coming out of the closet on this subject. A few crystals as accents are great, but I don't want an entire necklace full of them. And rivolis? Meh.

BeadPassions wrote
on Apr 26, 2013 8:36 PM

I have not read through many of the posts yet, but I do have a comment for JanG, who is unimpressed with all the seed bead and weaving discussions on this blog.  I am primarily a beadweaver, and have always felt Beadwork Magazine, and more recently Beading Daily, have been the most interesting for MY style. There are several great magazines out there that have blogs that might be more appealing to you -- Bead Style and Bead Stringing come to mind.  There is so much great free information out there for every style of beading! Don't be discouraged. Look around, and you might find just the right thing for YOU.

Gwyn5 wrote
on Apr 27, 2013 2:21 AM

I too feel I am not alone.  It is not that I don't like the manufactured crystals, I just think they are overpriced.  I personally prefer crystals that have been made by mother Earth than made in some factory.  I live in South Africa where there are so many beautiful Earth Made crystals.

phatkhat wrote
on Apr 27, 2013 3:05 AM

Oh, yay! I'm not alone! I really don't like crystals, and have virtually none in my very extensive collection of beads! I like earthy, colorful, and ethnic/boho styles, and I often feel like no one else does! I much prefer handmade glass and semi-precious gemstones!

I'm also not much into stitching and weaving - I can't see so well anymore. But I'm learning to do some simple stitches. I much prefer stringing and wirework, but I don't want to be too limited.

DreamBird wrote
on Apr 27, 2013 4:19 AM

I was sooo happy to read your "confession"!  I rarely use crystals in my beadwork designs, and when I do, it's sparingly.  Even though I spend most of my time doing bead embroidery, I've never used a single rivoli!  After seeing page after page (after page after page) of crystal projects in every beading magazine, month after month, I was pretty sure there must be something wrong with me.  Now I know better.  I'm a huge fan of your work, Jennifer, and if you don't need to use crystals, well then neither do I.  Thank you!!!

beadinstyle wrote
on Apr 27, 2013 4:53 AM

Why was it a deep dark secret? My particular passion is to match beads and beaded jewellery to the personality of my customers, and there are many times when crystals don't feature in the picture. Natural personalities prefer gemstones and beads from nature, often also preferring earthier warmer colours, as well as shades from the sky and sea. That's the way they are. It may only be a source of conflict if the designer has to step away from their own personality, and look through the eyes of another's, to make a customised piece.

Otherwise, feel free to be true to your personality!

vleeme wrote
on Apr 27, 2013 9:51 AM

look...I've got to be honest. I do a lot of bead stitching and weaving, and I love it. It gives me a chance to meditate and think on things. but I gotta admit, some of the crystal bicones are sooo eye-catching in so many different colors. unfortunately, i just can't AFFORD those pretty little bling things, and it seems that the more interesting the color...the more expensive they are. By the same token though, gemstones have been getting pretty rare and expensive too. I just look at it as a challenge to be more creative to find a way around the high cost. there. I said it. I have a budget to consider, so please don't think badly of me.  : D

on Apr 29, 2013 2:08 AM

I am new to beading & just starting my collection and I gravitate toward everything EXCEPT crystals!  :-) it is SUCH a relief though to know that my plans &I ideas to substitute others beads/stones is ok. Crystals, one can be expensive but second thy just don't don't appeal to me. If I am gonna pay out a little more I would much rather spend it on natural gemstone,  which I collect in jewelry form already,  that's what attracted me to beading in first place.  So Jennifer,  great blog thanks for sharing & letting us know we are in this together! ! :-),

ChiaraKW wrote
on May 11, 2013 5:43 AM

So happy that I seem to be in good company...great article.