Bead Identities: How do I find them?

by Gail.
(Tennessee USA)

When I started collecting beads and gemstones I knew nothing about jewelry, wasn’t even making jewelry.

Gail: Bead Identities: How do I find them?

I simply bought what pleased my eye. So I have beads/gemstones I don’t have names for. Now that I know more and am creating jewelry, I want to open an Etsy store to sell my pieces.

But I feel like I am in a jam as I see most jewelry sellers, in their descriptions, tell their customers what kind of beads/gemstones are in a piece of jewelry.

I’ve tried looking up gemstones by picture but the variety is so overwhelming and I’m not getting anywhere. Now that I know better I of course know to find out more about what I purchase.

But I’m looking for any suggestions for a way to describe a piece of jewelry if I can not put a name to the bead/gemstone.

Is this going to hurt me in regards to sales? Any help would be so appreciated. Thank you.

Shabby Cottage Studio

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  1. Gail, I had the same problem when I first started making jewelry. I would go to bead shows, buy what I liked and by the time I got home I would have forgotten the names of unfamiliar stones.

    Now I know better and I ask the vendors to write the names of everything I buy on the bags, or to include a card with the name of each stone even now that I’m familiar with most stones available.

    Back when I had this same problem I found a site,, where you can search by color and it did make it easier to find beads I could not name.

    I’ve never purchased anything from them so I’m not endorsing them as a supplier, but the site is a great resource for finding bead names by color or shape.

    JMJ Content & Social Media

  2. Thank you Alicia for your input! I will definitely go check out Lima beads and see if I can cross reference by color. In the meantime maybe someone will come along and give me a suggestion as how to describe a piece of jewelry when the bead names remain unknown. Next time I hit a bead show I will be having the vendors write the names on the bags for me. 🙂

  3. Rings and Things publishes their own identification book that I’ve found really useful. I think it’s maybe $20. There’s a section of stones listed by color that’s really helpful if you really have NO idea what the stone is.
    I’ve also just taken strands of beads into a local bead store and asked for help identifying a stone. There’s usually someone who can help.

  4. Ha ha. I did the same thing when I started. I put all my beads in a fishing tackle box with little pieces of paper with the name of the bead in the compartment. Then over time those pieces of paper moved around into the other compartments. Doh!

    Experience will be your best teacher. You’ll learn the various stones over time. If you’d like, you can send me a closeup and I’ll try to identify your stones for you. sales at nelsongemstones dot com. You could also check the pictures on my site of my beads.

    In the meanwhile, just be honest. Tell a story about why you picked a certain gemstone, like, “I saw these nuggets (gemstone unknown) and loved the pale green color combined with the rough, natural look of unpolished stone.”

    This isn’t the ideal situation, but it’s the truth. Next time, take a felt-tip marker with you and write the gemstone name on the bag.

    And Rain had a great idea to take them to a local bead store for identification. I can’t imagine someone not wanting to help you identify them. It will be in your best interest to know what you’re selling.

  5. One option might be to describe your jewelry as consisting of ‘semi-precious stones.’ In fact, there are Etsy sellers who NEVER specify the type of beads or other materials they use in their work, and I’ve come to the conclusion that this reluctance to divulge is a direct result of having seen their work copied; they’ve learned the hard way and now are just none too eager to provide the sort of detailed information that ultimately will be exploited to duplicate their work. Rather than get specific as to the nature of the materials they use, they instead will use phrases such as “I use only top quality semi-precious stones and premium glass beads in my work.”

    So, if all else fails, remain vague as to the exact nature of the beads you use in your jewelry! I suspect that, with the exception of people who are paying large sums of money for high-end jewelry, most customers don’t care so much about precisely which stones are used in the pieces they buy. All they’re really looking for is a splendid handmade piece of jewelry that they will love to wear.

  6. Wow you guys are great and I thank you so much., You have given me good ideas to consider! I was talking to another Etsy seller and she did say that most folks aren’t doing an Etsy search necessarily for a particular gemstone type of jewelry except maybe high end buyers (and I will not be a high end seller lol) so what you said Lisa makes sense. Nelson Jewelry & Gemstones that is a generous offer and very kind of you, I may be in touch with some photos. But first I will look around your site and see if I see if that helps. And Rain going to a bead shop is something I had considered but didn’t know if that was “kosher” so thanks for letting me know it is ok to ask.
    You guys rock! And from now on I ask and write down names! 🙂

  7. Gail, it’s always problematic identifying a bead by pictures. The chips in the middle look like Multi-Picasso jasper. The middle blue beads look like sodalite. The bottom beads could be Chinese amazonite or aquamarine (aquamarine is much more expensive). The red beads could be crab (crackle?) fire agate or carnelian. The coin beads look like some sort of jasper. Jasper will be opaque while agate will be semi-opaque to translucent.

  8. Yes Nelson Jewelry & Gemstones I would have to agree with you, which is why I myself was having issues with trying to figure them out through pictures online. I so appreciate you taking a second look at the photo. Thank you! I do know the red ones are carnelian…that was about the only name I remembered. lol As I’ve sat thinking about it today after reading everyone’s comments I think I am probably best off going Lisa’s suggested route for what those I already have that are nameless. And learning from this valuable lesson.

  9. I often buy jewelry at yard sales and thrift stores because I like the beads or components. I then take them apart and reuse the various pieces so I almost NEVER know what beads I am using!

  10. Judith says:

    Try going into the forums on Etsy and posting “please help me identify this stone” questions with closeup pix of one strand at a time. You will get some expert opinions. The second strand from the top might be blue lace agate. The tiny gray ones look like freshwater button pearls. The little flat round (coin) ones could possibly be lepidolite if they are actually purple. But it is very hard to tell from your photo. Be aware that many dealers sell fakes and describe as “natural” stones that are heat-treated, stabilized and dyed. Some sell poor quality stones that don’t match the photos on the websites. You may or may not care about this, and likewise some jewelry buyers care, some don’t, but it is a big part of the reality of the gemstone market today, whether you are buying on Etsy or at the local jeweler. Just browsing at length on Etsy and Ebay, searching for one stone at a time and seeing all the different qualities, shapes, descriptions, and prices that come up, is very educational – like going to an online gem show – and you can always write to the sellers there with any questions you may have.

  11. gailll says:

    Thank you Kathy and Judy! I knew coming here on my quest would be helpful. I’m really glad I found Rena and all the wonderful folks who contribute to making this such a great informative and knowledge based site!

  12. A couple of years ago I bought the ‘stash’ from a lady who was going out of business. Some of the beads are packaged in a way that make it easier to determine. For example, amethysts were still strung with spacers between them. Judging from the color, cut and the way they were strung, I was pretty sure I knew what I had. I did go on line to another group to ask about testing methods. I was told that amethyst is from the Quartz family and is harder than glass. So if the stone scratched glass, it was not glass. To test color, soak the stones in water overnight and see if the color changer or fades. Heat is another way to test. Some stones change color, some might crack or break. With heat, you do risk ruining the stone. Hope this helps. You’ve received some great info!

  13. Thank you for sharing that information Carol. And you’re right, I have received some great info from everyone and am grateful!

  14. This is such a tricky business. Bear in mind that a lot of the quartz beads for sale are synthetic, because there’s just not enough occurring naturally to meet demand. Synthetic means that it’s true quartz but grown in a lab. Imitation means it could be anything.

    Rock crystal is most certainly synthetic. Citrine is usually just heated amethyst. It is estimated that half of the higher grade amethyst in the market is synthetic. Aquamarine is usually always heated to get the blue coloration. Carnelian is typically heated to darken the orange. Black onyx is just dyed gray agate. Chinese amazonite is most likely dyed quartz. And so on.

    If you go to a site and see a bead described as synthetic and then go to another site where the seller describes it as natural at around the same price point, where do you think you’re going to go? To the seller who misrepresents their product, right? Why would you buy synthetic smoky quartz from me for, say, $12, when you can get natural smoky quartz for $14 from someone else? A gemologist sent me a picture of a strand of natural faceted smoky quartz up for auction in England that was estimated to fetch $1400 after all fees.

    So it will pay for us as jewelry designers to learn as much as we can about gemstone identification. Antoinette Matlins wrote a great book called Gem Identification Made Easy for those willing to buy gemological equipment and learn how to use it. A good reference book is Gemstones of the World by Walter Schumann.

    Frankly, as a bead seller, I worry about how much business I’m losing by being honest about treatments, so I understand why a lot of companies withhold information. FYI: I rephotograph every new batch of beads I get. I do care that my customers get exactly what they see on my site.

  15. Very good information Nelson Jewelry! So much to learn!

  16. I am a beginner beader and have the same problem with id’g beads. I am familiar with Lima and I think on one of the sites, if not that one, there is a chart with stones and names of stones. Another suggestion is to join a bead chat. I see posts with pixs and the knowledgeable nice folks help you.

  17. Gayle Wheaton says:

    Lots of terrific ideas here! One reason why I eagerly look forward to these newsletters… Just as an FYI, I have purchased numerous times from & have never had a problem with them or the products. In fact, I’ve just recently purchased their ‘half strand’ of Larimar nuggets (I’m addicted – my parents were in the Dominican Republic in the early 90’s & bought me a Larimar knotted stone necklace with 68 center drilled square beads that I’m afraid to wear since it’s so heavy [160 gr.] and I don’t trust the clasp) and have been able to make several small pendant necklaces from the beads. also lists gems by name and includes things such as cleaning instructions & Mohs scale hardness.

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