LOS ANGELES — Back in junior high school, I fell in love with bohemian turquoise jewelry and started frequenting bead stores, amassing stones and beads to make necklaces that looked cheaply boho chic.
Decades later, my passion for jewelry-making remains, but now I not only scour bead stores and crafts fairs, but also web retailers for deals.
From stringing together beads of all kinds — dyed blue jade, cool to the touch, and black lava — to buying materials in bulk online, creating jewelry on a budget is easy and fun. Hollywood starlets may glitter in jewels worth millions of dollars, but you can sparkle like an Oscar winner too, for much less.
“We get a lot of customers who want to make jewelry for loved ones and friends, and they don’t want to spend too much,” said Caroline Atamian, 34, who works for Southern California bead-store chain the Bead Source.
Inside the company’s store in the LA hipster neighborhood of Silver Lake, Atamian stood surrounded by spools of chain, silk cord and strands of glass and stone beads, ranging from roughly $6 to $52 per strand, in a rainbow of colors. Dozens of containers brimmed with individual wooden, metalized plastic and metal beads in various shapes — stars, hearts, circles — priced as low as 5 cents per bead. Atamian noted that making a spiffy necklace can cost as little as $5, and take five minutes.
“You can buy a piece of chain — sterling, gold-filled or metal, but metal chains are always less expensive — and pick out a cute charm, or a pendant, for a few dollars, and hang it off the chain,” Atamian said. “For people who don’t know how to make jewelry, it’s easy for them to do.”
A metal jump ring — a small, round wire ring — would need to be attached to one side of the chain, in the back, and another jump ring would need to be added to the other side of the chain and attached to a clasp.
For a simple bracelet, beads can be strung on an elastic cord with the ends tied together. An over-the-head necklace without a clasp can be made out of two strands of beads strung on a silk cord, retailing at $1.89 for 6 feet of string.
“For basically $20, you can make a long necklace,” Atamian said, pointing to two strands of sunny yellow round beads at $10 per strand.
Semi-precious stones such as jade and dark green malachite cost more.
Necessary jewelry tools include chain nose pliers, round nose pliers and cutters, all for twisting wires, said Atamian. The store sold a set of all three for $15.95.
For Melissa Campbell of Cambridge, Massachusetts, jewelry-making has gone from a hobby to a business. She launched her Etsy.com store “little pancakes” in 2009 to relieve stress from her then-job in early education, but has concentrated on it full-time for the past three years.
Mixing metal with natural materials, opals and gemstones, her minimal pieces range from a $30 bronze cuff stamped with the words “Treat Yo Self” to $10 gold-plated tiny stud earrings shaped like stars.
“I started with some chains, some pliers, some jump rings, and went from there,” she said.
Campbell suggested that novices take a basic jewelry-making class to learn about working with jump rings and about techniques such as wire wrapping.
Flea markets and vintage stores are also great places to get affordable supplies.
“You find a vintage necklace with several charms on it and you can make earrings from the charms,” Campbell said.
As for pulling together a good, working collection of beads and tools, she recommended turning to Etsy or other online marketplaces.
“You get the personal connection with the seller, and people will want to work with you, so you can customize your orders,” she said.
Atamian, on the other hand, says that buying in person is a better way to know whether you’re getting what you pay for.
“People say, ‘Well, I can find that cheaper online!'” Atamian said. “Of course you can find everything cheaper online, but you don’t really get to see what you’re buying beforehand. The size may be wrong. The color, not great. This way, when you come in here, you can see the materials first, and touch them, feel them.”