Gemstone Beads / Hardness and Grade Scale?

by N.B.

Gemstone Beads / Hardness and Grade Scale?  - Discussion on Jewelry Making Journal

For those of you that use natural gemstones – what hardness do you use?

According to the research a hardness of 7 or higher is preferred for everyday wear.

Have you used different hardness scales without a problem or customer complaints?

Also what grading do you often buy? Does grading matter in handcrafted jewelry?

A-grade and B-grade jewelry is the highest quality plus more costly, so it’s often used in fine jewelry.

Although I am offering handcrafted jewelry, I want it to be just as good as fine jewelry.

I also want people to want my handcrafted jewelry (we all do) without thinking it’s inferior to fine jewelry.

Am I thinking too much and going overboard?


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  • Hi, N.B. No, you’re not thinking too much. You’re planning ahead to position yourself in a very competitive market.

    Let me share a few things I’ve learned over the past four years selling gemstone beads. Hardness is definitely something you want to consider when designing jewelry. You wouldn’t want to make a bracelet with fluorite, for example, because it’s so soft it could scratch and break upon impact, but it would be a fine stone for making a necklace or earrings.

    You also have to take “tenacity” into consideration. A diamond is the hardest gemstone, but its tenacity is brittle, meaning one strike at the right angle and you can break it. Kyanite has directional hardness, meaning it is pretty hard along one axis but much softer along the other. Lapis has a Mohs hardness rating of 5 to 5.5, which is pretty soft. But lapis is an incredibly beautiful and popular rock.

    So you have to know the hardness and tenacity of your gemstones when designing. You wouldn’t want to string a faceted hard stone against a smooth softer stone, because the angles in the facets could scratch the other stone. Obviously, you also want to be careful storing stones.

    Don’t rule out a stone just because it’s soft. Work with that softness by choosing appropriate stones and protecting them in your designs.

    As for grading, there is no grading standard for gemstone beads. Everybody makes it up. Some companies have three grades, five grades, nine grades. These are my grades: B, A, AA, AAA, AAAA, AAAAA, and Top. I sell mostly round beads, so my grade B would be beads that may be off round, have faulty drill holes, poor coloring, etc. Grade A beads are well shaped, drilled, and polished with good color. I never buy grade B, but I always end up getting it.

    Then the higher grades are usually graded by color and transparency. Low-grade lapis would have considerable pyrite and calcite and the blue of the lapis would be compromised by all those inclusions. Higher grade would have richer color with less pyrite and calcite. Low-quality labradorite will have little flash, while high-quality will dance with colors. The best and finest gem-grade lapis is usually not cut into beads but reserved for cabochons and sold for a lot of $ per gram.

    One thing to consider when selling jewelry for a living is that everybody and their sister is buying cheap beads for the lowest price possible and competing in an overly saturated market. You can buy a thousand picture jasper necklaces, but how many necklaces using high-end lapis are for sale? You can distance yourself from the pack by offering a better gemstone, but only if your craftsmanship is up to the task.

    Also consider the profit. You will work the same amount of time to string a wholesale necklace of jasper ($4) or high-quality kyanite ($264). You should always make profit on the materials. If you double the cost of the beads, for example, your sale price on the jasper will be $8 (with a profit of $4), while the sale price of the kyanite could be $528, with a profit of $264. Or if you just marked them up $100, you’re profit is $96 higher than the jasper necklace for the same amount of time spent. The high quality beads will also make your jewelry stand out from the crowd of cheap stones.

    I started my bead business with cheap beads because I had only $480 to invest. And I kept reinvesting in cheap beads. But processing them was so much work because I’m very picky, and I was competing against all the Chinese wholesalers on eBay who don’t give a damn about you. So when I was able, I went high end.

    And then I had to deal with my poverty mentality. Because I was broke, I assumed everybody else was and no one would buy my beads. But it turns out I’m making as much money with the high end beads as the low end while cutting my labor by over 90 percent.

    So you can spend all day cranking out cheap necklaces, which take more space to store, and more time and money to photograph, list, sell, ship, provide after-sales service, etc., or you can create one exquisite piece that you labor over with your heart and soul.

  • Joanne, thank you so much for this fantastic and detailed response to N.B.’s question! I learned a lot from your reply here. Thanks for sharing your expertise! 🙂

  • You’re so welcome, Rena. I’m happy to help, because I enjoy teaching way more than I enjoy selling beads. LOL.

  • N.B. says:

    Thank You for your response Joanne, I truly appreciate it. I am experiencing that poverty mentality that you spoke of, which is why I shunned away from starting my jewelry business. But I am at the point where its start the business now or never do it, which is why I asked the questions. Thanks, Have a Great and Prosperous New Year.

  • Dana C Smith says:

    Joanne, you are sooo spot on! Always, always, always choose quality over quantity; different over common-denominator; and trend-set, not trend-follow!
    I have enjoyed you weighing in on LinkedIn too! Hard-won wisdom that is shared generously!

  • Kim says:

    What a helpful post and response from Joanne! I needed to hear this at the point I am in my business. Thank you so much!!

  • Carol Wilson says:

    Wonderful information and advice, Joanne! I find myself in the “poverty” mentality at times. And it’s not just the gemstones and materials – it’s the cost of having a booth at a venue. You can spend $35 for a booth at a craft show or spend $150 or more for a better organized, more publicized, better attended show. This is where I find myself. I’m plagued with self-doubt! What if I spend the big bucks and don’t even make booth rent?

  • Carol, you know you have to believe in yourself before anyone else will. There’s nobody on the planet like you who can create what you create. You deserve to enjoy life and be respected and wanted. Do you think all those successful jewelry makers are smarter than you? Nope. They just believe in themselves.

    If you haven’t been to any shows yet, I think the $35 show would be a great way to wet your feet and streamline your booth. But if you go for the $150 show, you can look at it as investing in a $150 class to teach you about working a show. That way, if you don’t make money, you won’t feel as bad. But you will get a lot of information with which to make future choices. It’s a small price to pay for such a valuable education.

    I read a book in August that had a big impact on me. It’s called Worthy: Boost Your Self-Worth to Grow Your Net Worth. After reading it, I realized that the core message I received growing up was, “Nobody wants you,” which also means nobody wants what I have to offer. I took that sucker by the horns, baby, and shortly after I ended a 15-year friendship with someone who always invalidated everything I said. I finally stood up for myself and said, “No more.” My review of the book is here:

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