There are a number of different theories about the development of "birthstones" - the association of specific precious and semi-precious stones with particular months of the year - although one of the earliest references to this idea is in the Judaic Exodus wherein a High Priest wears a breastplate with twelve stones, each representing one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. The correlation between these twelve stones and the twelve Egyptian months that were used at the time was probably the foundation in the western world for the idea of birthstones.
Because gemstones have always been associated with mystical powers from the earliest times, it was natural for them to be associated from the formative years of astrology with particular Zodiacal signs. As the dates of the Zodiac signs changed so that the influence runs from the second half of one month across the first half of the next, some associations stayed with the signs while others stayed with the months themselves.
The popular usage of birthstones was reported to start as late as the fifteenth or sixteenth century in Poland, although there is also some suggestion that they were used extensively in the Eastern world long before that. To date, there is little agreement on which stone is definitely associated with each month, although the Jewelers of America set forth a list of modern birthstones in 1912 that is used commonly today, especially in jewelry stores.
If you buy your sterling silver beads in bulk, you're going to need somewhere to store them. Sterling silver can tarnish over time, so there are two things to remember when you store your sterling sliver beads. First, store them separately, even from other silver beads. Second, store them in a soft pouch or in small plastic bags to make sure they are not damaged or scratched. Don't store them with other types of beads unless they are also made of sterling silver. Most dealers carry many storage solutions, including zip bags for your silver beads. If you store your silver beads properly, you won't need to polish them before you use them in a design.
Real Bali beads cost more than fakes and imitations, so price should be your first clue that you're buying a true Bali bead. Of course, unscrupulous dealers can charge high prices for inferior merchandise. So, if you're dealing with a new wholesaler, and the cost of Bali beads seems too good to be true, then it just might be. Other things to look for in real Bali beads are a finish that is sleek and polished, and evenly colored oxidized backgrounds that show off the polished silver. The findings should be good quality sterling silver, and they should all be attached firmly to the bead (like ear posts, they shouldn't be loose). Also feel the bead. Is it too heavy or too light? Then run don't walk to another wholesaler.
Liquid silver beads are quite stunning when they are used properly in designs. Many dealers simply refer to these beads as "tube" beads, but they came into fashion several years ago, often in Native American designs, and have often been called "liquid silver" since then. Strung together in several strands, these tiny tubular beads literally create the effect of molten silver coursing around a neck or wrist. These tubular beads come in straight or twisted designs. Most wholesalers sell these silver beads by weight. Tube beads also come in a dark, oxidized finish, but they don't carry the impact of their glossy liquid cousins.
Asian countries create some of the most beautiful textured silver beads on the market today, and India is no exception. True India silver beads are handmade sterling silver beads with texture and oxidizing to bring out the details in the beads. They are often used as spacers or other accents in a piece. Many dealers will try to sell inferior quality India beads at sterling prices, so make sure you are dealing with a reputable dealer before you buy. Many wholesalers also recommend buying the beads in bulk, because sizes and colors can have some small variations from batch to batch. Don't confuse Bali or Turkish beads with India beads. Once you see them side-by-side you'll see the subtle differences in design and manufacture.
Silver plated beads are cheaper than sterling silver beads, because the base of the bead is a base metal. It has a very thin layer of sterling silver electroplated onto the base metal. The bead looks like silver, but really isn't solid silver. Silver plated beads are wonderful in many projects, but remember the plate can wear off if they are polished to roughly, or they rub against other beads in a design. The depth of the layer of silver is measured in microns, and one micron equals .001 millimeters, so you can get an idea of how thinly the coating is applied. Silver electroplate cannot be sold as sterling silver, and cannot be marked as sterling, either.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|