You know, I really dislike having to express disagreeable opinions. However, sometimes it’s warranted. Or understandable, at least. Right now, what I’m thinking of is Swarovski’s exit from selling beads to the general craft community. Because of the way this has been accomplished, there seems to be a general feeling of upset or ill will. With Swarovski exiting the craft community supposedly to improve its own “exclusive” brand image, that’s…that’s unfortunate.
I can’t be positive of customer morale: at this point, I am not a bead retailer, and so I haven’t had the opportunity to actually speak with beaders on a large scale about this. The most I’ve gotten is what I’ve read on bead stores’ pages, and have observed within the online beading community — and from Swarovski.
However, it shows the extent to which some of us have depended on certain companies. What happens to all the designers who made and distributed patterns specifically to be worked up with Swarovski-cut beads? What happens to the bead stores which made most of their income by selling Swarovski-branded products? This doesn’t even get into all the beaders who now have to find alternatives to the brand.
In a sense, maybe this is a good thing for the bead ecosystem: if so many of us were so highly dependent on one company, maybe it actually is of wide-ranging economic benefit, for us to find other products. So that, you know; what happened, can’t happen again.
To be sure, there are still ways to obtain Swarovski products, but you have to sign up and be approved, first, and you’re subject to contractual obligations. I’m not going to get into it. Let’s just say that Swarovski is exercising more control over who they sell to.
Last night, I was writing to myself about how to increase value in what I make, by using higher-quality components. I’ve seen a lot of people do this by using crystal beads and components (such as loose stones and items like mounted chatons). I would refer to these as “lead-crystal” beads and components; however, Swarovski eliminated lead from their formulations, quite a while (years) ago. Right now, however, we are left with several options as regards the preservation (or introduction) of sparkle.
For new makers: please note that all crystal beads I have known have a tendency to cut normal beading thread. Because of this, strong polyethylene threads, such as FireLine or WildFire, are recommended.
In this, I actually went and — well, at the moment, I believe I’m sitting next to the totality of crystal beads I own. I did an in-depth survey on what I have, today, which is easier to do by sight than by looking through my records. I’m also looking back at that buying rush that began late last year, on Swarovski beads and components. What I have amounts to little more than an in-depth sampler pack, of items which may no longer be produced. That is pretty sad, because a lot of these beads are very pretty.
I’m given to wonder what, exactly, the value of these are; if I cannot design items and then sell the patterns, knowing that others will be able to reproduce my forms. It’s rare that I have more than a small quantity of each color/finish/size combination, as well, so it’s not like I can produce a lot of jewelry from them without frequently changing my colorways. Those of you who are heavily into beading, know that frequent changes of colorway often equate to buying small amounts of various required beads — and that can get expensive. Not to mention that Swarovski crystal, at core, is expensive.
What I can do is practice designing and producing small amounts of jewelry, much of which will likely go to my own trial collections. I paid full tax on these, meaning that I can use them without selling them to myself, first (or whatever it is you do when you want to wear jewelry you made on a tax-deferred purchase, for which Federal, State, and Local governments want their share of sales and income tax). At least that’s skill gained, you know? Even if it’s skill that has a “practice” label on it.
As a note, I haven’t been compensated by any of the vendors I’m about to name, nor have I been presently (as of October 4, 2021) compensated by Swarovski or any other crystal producer which I have mentioned, or will mention, in this article.
Alternatives to Swarovski
As a note, in the below I have predominantly been looking for the presence of crystal rounds, bicones, and fancy stones. There are five vendors I’m about to name which trade in crystal beads — and not all of them are Austrian crystal. Many of the same outlets which stock Swarovski beads did, at least, stock other items from the same manufacturer (such as Swarovski faux pearls), but as these have not figured heavily into my own work (even Swarovski faux pearls were not all the time great), I’ve only looked for the cut crystals.
Preciosa is the most prevalent competitor to Swarovski on the current market, at least in the United States. Before Swarovski started limiting their output, Preciosa was still available, and at a much lower price-point to Swarovski. Where I did not see Preciosa attempting to compete was in the variety and quality of cuts that I found in Swarovski, and in the color range and differing specialty and hybrid finishes that Swarovski offered which were hard to find, otherwise.
In my experience, Preciosa has had a slight less bit of color saturation (a.k.a. intensity) than Swarovski, and just a hair less of a bright polish or fire — I can’t at this point be sure which, or even if it’s both. For example, for bicone beads, Preciosa doesn’t use Swarovski’s Xilion cut; the latter of which seems to be designed to reflect as much fire, or internal flash, as possible. If you’re okay with slightly less sparkle, Preciosa may be a good bet.
Both Preciosa and some Swarovski (the latter of which, under the name “Crystal Passions”) can be found at Fire Mountain Gems & Beads, as well as an option to buy Swarovski wholesale. Fire Mountain also stocks Celestial Crystal, though it cautions that cutting can be irregular on Celestial Crystal. A note about Fire Mountain: they actually carry more than what would be apparent from the drop-down menus. They also carry, for example, Celestial Crystal Fancy Stones, although Celestial Crystal has no option for this if you’re searching only via the menus.
You can also find Preciosa at Shipwreck Beads. For a time they did have, “Brand Redacted Crystal Beads,” which appear to have at one time been Swarovski; however, they are nearly out. In addition, Eureka Crystal Beads still stocks Preciosa and Swarovski, although as regards the latter, they are now limited to current stock on hand.
As of September 2021, I’ve read, Swarovski stopped supplying regular (unauthorized) bead retailers. Fire Mountain is the only one of these I can be positive, actually still is an authorized Swarovski retailer, for now.
As for other producers, the next one I’ll note is Potomac Crystal, made (I believe in China, at this point, but am not positive if that’s so for the entire line) for the company, Potomac Beads. To find these without using my link, navigate to “Potomac Exclusives” in the header bar and look under the menu, there.
There is a review of Chinese crystal (unknown vendor, unknown brand) versus Swarovski fancy stones on YouTube, though I’m not sure I found the correct file (the concept of alternatives to Swarovski has come up repeatedly, over years. You’ll notice that the date on Bronzepony Beaded Jewelry‘s upload is from over two years ago). I am not certain of the state of this at present, but Chinese crystal stones (like Potomac’s crystal stones), at least in my experience, have tended to be thinner than Swarovski. There’s also the issue that I am uncertain as to whether Swarovski fancy stones (also sometimes called, “Embellishments”) are the same depth now as they were before.
Aura Crystals has a brand they’ve named “TRUE CRYSTAL” (all caps as in source). I’ll leave it up to you as to what you think these are, though they seem to have a cut paralleling Xilion, for the bicones.
Eureka Crystal Beads is the last of these sellers I’ve found today, which I know to have a good reputation. As stated above, they are selling Preciosa and Swarovski, plus a lot of Krakovski Crystal loose fancy stones (and some chaton montees, at last note), and Chinese crystal from multiple sources, meaning that their exact size and cut may vary. At this moment, I believe the variation is due to differing manufacturers, not necessarily differing cuts from the same manufacturer, but I can’t be certain. If you’re wondering why, review the note above on Celestial Crystal beads. If you really want to know, I’d ask them. Maybe they’ll even write a blog post about it.
There are a number of other sites I’ve found in conducting searches for crystal beads, but as I cannot vouch for them at all (some I have just heard of, today — even though they may obviously state they’ve been around for over two decades), I am opting not to list them. With the current rush on Swarovski due to limited supply, shady dealings may be more likely than usual.
Also, be aware that just because I have reviewed a site, that does not necessarily mean I have or have not ordered from them, or can endorse them.