Buying and stringing vintage beads
December 15, 2017 8:11 AM   Subscribe

Lately I've been wearing long colorful strings of vintage beads as my go-to work accessories, and I was excited by the variety available on Etsy. However, some purchases have not been good ones, as the necklaces have been strung on flimsy thread or thin nylon and the last two necklaces I bought have literally broken within hours on the first wearing. I'd still like to acquire beads, but now I have questions. (newbie jewellery questions follow.)

The two broken necklaces were both bought from reputable Etsy shops with many good reviews. I would have expected the good reviews would mean I would have a reasonable chance to not get poor quality merchandise. Apparently that isn't the case. What questions should I be asking sellers to ascertain the quality of the stringing?

With the broken necklaces, I have been given the option to return them. I'm considering to instead get them restrung, since I still really like the beads themselves. If I take them to a jeweller, with what should I ask them to restring? Will they just know?

Is it normal that Etsy sellers for these kind of beads string the necklace on cheap cotton? One of the sellers implied I was strange for expecting it to be any different. However, both necklaces were sold *as* necklaces (with clasps and all) so I would really have expected them to be more durable. Is this a reasonable expectation?

Are there Etsy sellers (or others) who you can recommend if what I like are long necklaces with colorful sparkly glass beads? Which don't break on the first wearing?
posted by frumiousb to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: 1. You can ask about the material used to string the beads, but old necklaces were fairly commonly strung on heavy cotton thread, so if it's vintage, it may be standard quality and not the seller being cheap or sneaky.

2. Yes, you can work with jewelers to restring necklaces, or go to a craft store and get the materials yourself. You might even find necklace-making classes promoted at local craft stores.

3. See the link in #1 - it's a question from someone who bought an old turquoise necklace, and the blog writer responds about some options for restringing necklaces. In short, durability is not to be expected, as vintage necklaces may be flimsy due to age and materials.

4. I can't help you there, sorry.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:25 AM on December 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Regarding the restringing, you can also look for bead stores specifically in addition to jewelers, who will definitely do restringing. (I have one in my family and if you're local in NJ, I can send you the name privately..)

Whether you're doing it yourself or not, the best thing to string them on is flex wire (soft flex is the name that I know, although there may be others), which is a bunch of braided strands of wire, in a clear or color coating. It's very flexible (not like old tiger tail which kinks) and very strong. With flex wire, the ends are crimped onto a clasp. Stringing and finishing a necklace using flex wire is pretty simple and a bead store or craft store can definitely give you instructions to do it yourself if you're so inclined.

It sounds like you don't have any pearls or semi-precious stones, but in those cases, people usually opt to have them strung on silk thread. This is also stronger than plain string. If you do this route, it is usually knotted between each bead. The knots look nice and also provide strength and a safety mechanism - if it breaks, only one bead will fall.

I agree that if they're selling them as-is from an estate sale or something, this type of stringing isn't odd. If the sellers made them themselves, I would be disappointed in the quality.
posted by moogs at 9:11 AM on December 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

I use either silk thread or heavy-duty poly/cotton quilting thread. The silk is very strong - I can't break it with my bare hands (granted, my hands are weaker than most people's).
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:31 AM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Echoing the bead store recommendations. Re-stringing is dead simple and the employees (or even other customers) will usually be happy to provide pointers. Who knows, you might get into jewelry-making yourself!
posted by orrnyereg at 9:57 AM on December 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

Is it possible you're buying beads that are meant as supplies, rather than finished jewelry? Beads are often sold by the strand and come strung on cheap thread, since they'll immediately be disassembled to make new stuff.
posted by yeahlikethat at 11:07 AM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Whoops, just saw #3. Personally, I do not think cotton thread is acceptable for finished jewelry, but I'm not sure what the general standards for beaded jewelry are either.
posted by yeahlikethat at 11:18 AM on December 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you can't find anything locally, try Fire Mountain Gems online. To restring you might try either Purely Silk beading cord, or if they are heavier beads some Fire Line in Smoke. Fire Line, if I remember correctly was originally a fishing line known for it's strength but beaders discovered it. I used to do a lot of bead weaving and bead embroidery and found the Smoke color just blended with everything.
posted by porkygrrl at 10:54 AM on December 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Hi all-- thanks so much for the advice. I decided to keep the beads and have them restrung. I found a place this weekend which can do it for me here in Central Hong Kong.
posted by frumiousb at 3:20 AM on December 17, 2017

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