Thursday, November 29, 2007

Swarovski Beads in Opaque Colors: A Rare Find

Written by Heather DeSimone
Lucille Ball's Opaque White BeadsSwarovski Beads in Opaque Colors:
A Rare Find

For years and years, while we’d comb for beads, we’d come across loads, and I mean LOADS of opaque colored glass beads. It was kind of like a treasure hunt when someone had beaten you to the treasure. Or like on the Charlie Brown “Great Pumpkin” Halloween special: all the kids are lined up to get tricks and treats dropped into their bag and as the candies are doled out down the line you see yummy treats. But when you get to Charlie Brown they plop in what looks like a piece of coal and he says “I got a rock.” Anyway, it was same sort of let down. Opaque beads, especially opaque white, were passe’. Just non-desirable. We’d leave them behind. Our vendors at the joblot warehouses would send us offers “1940’s Opaque white glass beads for $5 a LB!!!!” and we’d say “no thanks.”

Lucille Ball's Opaque White BeadsIt’s funny how everything, even in the bead world, goes in very cyclic trends. Those opaque white beads that for so many years we passed over were really a hot ticket in the era of Lucille Ball. Remember her crisp strand of opaque white beads that were as essential to her as her apron? She’d wear her fire-engine red lipstick and her understated beady elegance in each and every crazy situation that she & Ethel got themselves involved in. In fact as an aside, Miriam Haskell adorned Ms. Lucy episode by episode and she used many an opaque bead to do so. During my 15 years in the business we’ve been waiting and waiting for these opaque beads to come back in vogue. And guess what… they have!

Actually this article is a couple of years too late. These beads really came back in style a year or two back, but they’re still going strong. They’ve become just an every-day part of our bead palette. Where before, we’d only be drawn to a transparent sapphire with loads of sparkle, we now swoon for a true navy blue. That brings us to the mac-Daddy of the opaque bead keepers: the Swarovski opaque crystal. With their 30% lead Swarovski 5110 Opaque Rosecontent and highly glistening facets, Swarovski did these opaque beads better than anyone else. Dense, rich, non-transparent tones take on a whole different light when they’re machine cut. They reflect and refract the light all around them. They don’t change the color of the bead as you’ll find in many transparent beads or chatoant colors. But they make that one true color just gleam to its fullest potential.

And speaking of these Swarovski opaque colors: have you ever seen them? You’re probably thinking to yourself… “Ok, what is she talking aboutSwarovski 5110 Opaque Turquoise?” Because they are rare! Even though I turned my nose up at them for years, some others evidently did not, because I don’t find them very often anymore. We were fortunate to buy out a job lot (ie job lot = designer’s overstock or closeout) several years back and at a really good price. The lot included many Article 5110’s and 5105’s (the vintage flower bead and emerald cut crystals) in loads of opaque colors. In fact, I can remember thinking to myself at the time (it was probably 1998), “These are SO UGLY, but the price is right…” It’s so funny how that works. Now I think they’re some of the rarest treasures we possess at & I happen to have in my own private jewelry stash a necklace I made with the darling little green flower beads.

Let’s spotlight the colors which is much easier to do here than in my never ended glass bead finish glossary (see the last blog). There is Opaque Green which is a yummy Swarovski 5110 Opaque Ivorymilky almost Kelly green with a marbleized opacity. This is not to be confused with Swarovski’s Apple Green, a much darker and denser opaque green. Unfortunately we don’t have any stock in this color right now. But keep looking wherever you can and when you find it, or any of these colors, hoard it. It’s worth it. And you never know what we’ll come across. And then we have the Opaque Rose which is a delicate and almost ‘antique’ pink. Mixed with Opaque Green, you would make a real preppy statement or if you’re in “Old Florida” you’ll fit right in mixing these two colors on a simple bracelet. We also have Ivory which is the most elegant color for bridal jewelry you’ll find. It seems Swarovski has tried to come up with that hot bridal tone in recent years with the introduction of White Opal, White Opal Sky Blue, and White Alabaster. But they forgot about one of their old classics and should seriously consider bringing it back. These beads evoke rich tones of a royal wedding, a color for the most elegant brides (OK, I wore regular old white at my wedding too).

Swarovski 5110 Opaque GreenThere are other colors that I once had and still yearn for. There was Opaque Red (Dara: do you still have that package of 14mm 199’s you found in our back room a couple of years ago? I want them back!) And there is Navy Blue. I’ve only ever had these in 8mm 5000’s which seems so unexciting. But these were SO beautiful in a nautical sort of way. I want some.

So if you have a stash of opaque beads and you’re still not into them: hold onto them. They’re truly beautiful and their time will come in your mind if they have not yet. Trends come and go, but color sings no matter what year it is.

Last Updated ( Monday, 12 November 2007 )

Vintage Lucite Beads
Part 2

Written by Heather DeSimone

Warehouse of Vintage BeadsWhere Did you Get those Lucite Beads?
Part 2: Our Lucite Bead History

In my first installment of 'Where did you get all those vintage Lucite beads?' I outlined how we came across our stash of Lucite beads. A guy called us with a warehouse full of old vintage beads and parts and he needed his space back. Well the longer I’m in the business, the more I learn. Even about my own stock.

For the last couple of years, a really fun gal named Danielle has been purchasing lots of our vintage Lucite stock for her very funky & successful line of jewelry. She has a great business and sells her wares mostly over in Europe (smart chic, considering the plight of the US Dollar right now). Anyway, this lady knows her plastics. She was teaching me a thing or two about our very own stock. And as we’d discuss the differences between Lucite and other vintage plastics, she kept using the term ‘Best New England Warehouse of Vintage BeadsPlastics’ to describe where our beads had been made. I kept thinking “What is she talking about?” but I didn’t say anything because I was afraid that maybe she’d misheard something that I said or maybe I’d misheard her. After all: the company we purchased the beads from was called Plastic Development in Warwick, Rhode Island. And Norm, the man who sold them to me had worked for that company for the last 45 years and knew his stuff. He told us all about making the beads himself back in the 70’s and 80’s. So for the first couple of conversations I didn’t say anything to Danielle. Finally, when I KNEW that I had heard her say very clearly “…and the beads that came from Best Plastics in Providence…” I interrupted. “What a sec, WHAT are you talking about? You keep dropping this name and I thought I was hearing things. I’ve never heard this name before. As far as I know, these Lucite beads were made by Plastic Development in Warwick, not Providence.” There’s always this veiled mystery that many vendors like to perpetuate. She was buying a lot of beads from us and I didn’t want her to think I had anything to hide about where they were from and where we got them. Danielle’s answer was “Geez, I don’t know. I thought YOU told me about Best Plastics.” I said “I’d never heard the name until you mentioned it.” And we moved on.

New England Warehouse of Vintage BeadsFast forward a few more weeks. I was at one of our favorite job lot warehouses where I had not been for over 2 years! And evidently I’ve missed out in the last 2 years too because we didn’t find a whole lot. Between being pregnant and having a newborn, it’s hard to travel a few hours each way, dig through dirty boxes that are 15 feet in the air, etc etc to do your buying. So we’ve been doing a lot of buying via our manufacturers overseas lately, because I can simply send an email from home and viola! Beads! Anyway, I was talking to Anthony who has been in business in the Rhode Island area for many, many years and his business was handed down to him from his Father-In-Law so he knows the industry. I mentioned Best Plastics and asked him if he’d heard of it. He said “Yeah, that’s that warehouse you bought out!” I nearly fell on the floor. I said “But that company was called Plastic Development…” And now you’re about to hear a thing of fables… bead myths from years past.

Best Plastics had been manufacturing beads for years, right across the street from Anthony’s warehouse in Rhode Island. In the early 1980’s, Best decided to shift their focus to manufacturing pressed plastic earring cards and other merchandisers. You know the type: when you go into WalMart and you see tacky earrings on a rounder, they’re hanging on these grey plastic earring cards with a patch of velvet on them that read “Fashion New England Warehouse of Vintage BeadsEarrings.” No matter what part of the world you’re in, when you see these, they’re probably made by Plastic Development in Rhode Island. Anyway, when they decided to shift their focus, they moved their company from a warehouse in Providence to a warehouse in Warwick and you guessed it, changed their name to Plastic Development. Anthony said “you know, they offered me that lot of beads and I just had too much plastic.” We purchased over 40,000 lbs so I can only imagine how many thousands of pounds they had offered him.

So, thanks to Danielle, I learned the real name of our beads’ manufacturer. And thanks to Anthony, we have thousands and thousands of pounds of Lucite beads to sell. These are the things that intrigue me still after all these years in this business: the lore of the beads. The history. Sometimes you hear these things from vendors and you think “They must have made that up to get me to buy this strand of beads, but it’s cool.” But the great thing about buying anything vintage, is that it has history. And the most mundane story can seem so riveting when it’s told in the context of something you love. Like beads.

History of our Vintage Lucite Beads...
Part 1

Written by Heather DeSimone

Vintage Lucite BeadsWant to know where our vintage Lucite beads all came from?
One of the most frequently asked questions when a shopper enters our store or shops with us online is “Where did you get all of those fabulous vintage Lucite beads?”

It could be because when one walks into our store at The Beadin’ Path, they’re greeted with a 18 foot wall full of it.  It’s colorized from left to right and spans almost the entire back wall of one room in our store. We try to merchandise our entire store & our website in color blocks so that each room or page is a virtual palette of beads. I think those who ask, expect a quick or secret answer. However, there’s a much longer & more interesting story to how we acquired over 40,000 lbs of vintage Lucite.

Vintage Lucite Flower BeadsWe were approached 2 years ago in the early Summer by the manager of a plastics company in Rhode Island via. email. (You’ve got to love that world-wide-web). They did a search for vintage Lucite & saw on that we stocked and LOVED vintage Lucite beads. They were looking for a buyer to come and clean out a couple of rooms in their very large warehouse. We get approached all the time by exporters, manufacturers or companies that are liquidating jewelry components. Yet this contact really intrigued us. You see this company had not manufactured beads or jewelry components since the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. They simply had a 10,000 + square foot room stocked floor to ceiling with these pesky beads and hoops and cabochons that were just in their way.

Currently the company (Plastic Development) is one of the leaders in the industry for manufacturing earring cards & other plastic-based merchandising for jewelry and accessories. When you order these from many well-known companies that distribute them, chances are they’re made by these folks in R.I. Because they had the need to expand their business and move some of their less physically-able employees to the first floor space, currently housing all of ‘those beads’, they needed them moved out and moved out fast.

Vintage Lucite Flower BeadsMy mother Jan & I decided it would be worth a treck down I-95 South to at least check this stock out. And if it was a wash, we’d head on over to Providence Place & do some shopping (they have an H&M and a Restoration Hardware there!). Well we never made it to the mall! When we met with the manager of the company we learned more about vintage Lucite than we had ever known before. He had worked at the same company for over 30 years and was there when they had actually made these great beads & parts. They had been commissioned by well-known companies such as Avon, Coro, and Trifari to custom-create colors and shapes for their seasonal lines of jewelry. The quality of these ‘plastic’ beads was just unmatched. (Yes, I too used to be a ‘plastic-bead-snob’!) He explained to us a little about the process where the beads are actually made in a relief process or ‘carved’ from a rod or cane of Lucite. They were not press-molded like many plastics that show seams and are lighter-weight. So, when they had overstock, slightly off-color beads from the special order, or simply orders that were not picked up, they stashed them in ‘the bead room’.

After some research and much number crunching and decided to bring a group of helpers down to Rhode Island the following week with 2 20’ UHaul trucks. Wow! We had no idea what we had gotten ourselves into. We worked a 12 hour day with 10 people we brought down as well as many of the warehouse workers who chipped in to help us. Sure there were lots of us ‘bead girls’, but our group also included many big burly guys, all bagging, packing boxes, stacking boxes, wrapping and loading palettes. We finally got the 2 trucks loaded to the ceilings. But we had only packed up about 1/3 of the stock! There was still a whole room of beads & parts: it almost looked as if we hadn’t even been there.

Vintage Lucite BeadsA week or so later, Jen our store manager came to me and told me that her Uncle was a licensed trucker and could drive a big old, not sure what they’re technically called, ‘semi’ type truck. And her dynamo of a mother Sue, who also worked for us was inspired to ride down there with him and get the semi loaded up if we could get down there in the days before & get the rest of the warehouse packed up. We were so overwhelmed by the first trip that (and I can’t even believe this now) we had been contemplating just leaving the rest of the stock down there and having a rubbish company come & remove it. It was costly to move beads! So with Sue’s encouragement, we made another trip down to RI and packed & boxed & stacked our little hearts out once again. Sue & her brother drove the ‘semi’ down a day later & filled it from front to back!

…and that’s how it all happened. That’s how we acquired over 40,000 lbs of vintage Lucite beads & parts. Surprisingly, two years later we have sold almost half of the stock. When we first brought it home to Maine, I made the comment that I would be that little old lady at 80 years old with a barn full of rotting boxes full of beautiful beads. I guess I was wrong… nah, I’ll be that old lady who dies with the most beads yet.

Last Updated ( Friday, 02 November 2007 )

The Real Mardi Gras Beads!

Written by Heather DeSimone

Vintage Mardi Gras Glass Beads
The REAL Mardi Gras Beads!
OK, so years and years have gone by since I first spied boxes and boxes of these dirty old beads in one of the job lot warehouses we used to visit. I had forgotten about them until randomly the topic of Mardi Gras beads came up in a meeting the other day. Our UPS man often suggests in a helpful tone to our mail order manager “Hey? Why don’t you try to get a contract on Mardi Gras beads? You’d make a million?” What he doesn’t realize is that China has that contract these days, (big surprise). But it used to be Europe where organizers looked for beads to throw, drape and give away in the early days of the celebration. And the beads were not the press-molded plastic on a string. They were glass! Can you imagine, watching the parade and eagerly waiting for some strands of lovelies to be thrown at you, flashing whatever you have to flash in order to get some (OK so they probably didn’t do that bVintage Mardi Gras Glass Beadsack in the 1930’s), only to be hit in the face with strands of heavy GLASS beads!?

Mardi Gras Evolution
Mardi Gras, or what it has come to stand for today, was originally a celebration of the flesh, leading up until the time of lent or sacrifice for Catholics. The practices and traditions of Mardi Gras or Carnival have evolved over the years and with the varying inhabitants of Louisiana. But it was in 1920 that “Rex” King of the Carnival or leader of the parades by day, began the ritual of bestowing beads upon revelers. In that era, Europe was where you found beads, specifically “Bohemia” or the area known as Austria, portions of Germany, and Czechoslovakia.

Vintage Mardi Gras!
So back to the dirty old crates of glass beads: These are uncirculated, old Mardi Gras beads, made in the 1930’s in Czechoslovakia. Research in both books and on the internet, as well as years of dealing in and collecting vintage beads, points to the fact that these are very likely the beaded strands that were commissioned for, made for and intended for Mardi Gras. (However, they of course never made it to Louisiana, which is the only reason why they’re available, in tact with original tags, and in most cases, on original strings today.) I knew all this at the time, but for some reason was not intrigued by them. For one reason, they are opaque glass (see Opaque Bead Blog), and we all know how much I yearned for opaque glass beads in past years. For another reason, the strings were all rotted and the beads were a mixed and dirty mess. When we first spied them, yours truly was the only bead-cleaner, bead-strander, bead-tagger, bead-everything-er. I didn’t have the time or the patience. But when our recent Mardi Gras bead conversation took place the other day, I found myself wondering… could they still be there? I made a phone call. Success!!! And here Vintage Mardi Gras Glass Beadsthey are. And the strings aren’t even as bad as I thought… and most strands still have their original tags. I love it when that happens, and it’s rare. It feels like an archeological dig when we unearth beads that are actually ‘marked’ and back up our ‘vintage’ claims.

All beads have a history and a story to tell. Even uncirculated old beads that have spent their many years in dirty crates in a basement and never actually made it to the parade, stand for an era, an event or a moment in time. And for $8.00, you too could own a 52 inch strand of Mardi Gras history.

Last Updated ( Saturday, 10 November 2007 )

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Types of Vintage Pendants

Written by Heather DeSimone

Vintage Intaglio Pendant Types of Vintage Pendants
Recently Dara, our West Coast Sales Rep, had a Summer series of vintage bead trunk shows across California. We send Dara the best of our vintage finds for these shows. What is great is that we can send her items that have very much or very little quantity available & her customers enjoy the process of digging for a treasure. Our store is like this too where we can put out items that are special and one of a kind, or items that have sold down to levels where there are only a few scarce pieces left. Online, this is more difficult because we have to weigh out whether it is worthwhile to put an item on our website that we will likely run out of faster. It’s frustrating for the customer for an item to sell out before they get any and before we have time to remove the item. And it’s a lot of work for our staff to be putting items online to only remove them the next day or two.

So Dara wound up her Summer bead show blitz (see Dara’s bead show blogs) and we recently have been combing through what bead stock was sent back to us from her bead show kit. We’ve been finding loads of lovely vintage pendants including some vintage glass lovelies that we haven’t had online in a while because we had thought we sold out, and some we’ve never had online. It made me realize how many unique styles are out there for vintage pendants, particulary vintage pendants made with glass.

Vintage Reverse Painted PendantIntaglio Pressed Glass
Intaglio refers to a piece in which there is a design impressed or cut into a shape. Many times a collector or dealer might refer to this technique as ‘carved’ which is actually inaccurate. The motif may look like it was carved, but this style is manufactured using a press-mold technique and not a carving or removing of the product. We have a great example of an Intaglio Pendant in our store. You can find these often in circulated vintage jewelry. The trend in the 60’s and 70’s was to simply hang them from a plated chain.

Reverse Painted Glass
This technique goes hand in hand with Intaglio pieces. Only the process is taken a step further by coloring the concave motif either by hand or machine. This process was used not only in jewelry components, but you’ll find that there was a trend in the 1940’s – 1970’s where reverse painting was also used in home d├ęcor items such as paper weights and ornaments. This technique was especially popular in Chinese and oriental collectibles from past eras. Here is an example of a darling reverse painted piece made in West Germany ca. 1940’s. I can’t believe we still have any of these left.

Vintage Givre Glass PendantGivre’ Glass
This style of glass is not specific to pendants, however it makes for some of the most alluring color combinations in pendants and beads. Givre’ refers to the style of glass where one color is inside or encased by another. Generally it is a color that is encased in clear, however that isn’t always the case. Swarovski made some truly rare givre’ crystals many years ago (but that is another blog topic) and glass is still produced in many gorgeous givre’ colors. This is a fantastic vintage West German pink and clear givre’ pendant.

Foil Backed Glass
Vintage Pendant - Foil Backed GlassMany beads, pendants, sew-ons and stones are enhanced by coating one surface with a metallic foil. Sometimes this is a layer of actual silver or 24k gold. It caused the front surface to have a glowing quality. The only draw-back is that many times vintage foil-backed pendants will show their Vintage Glass Pendantage with slight scratches or chips to the foil finish. Sometimes they can be re-coated to restore the pendant and other times the scratches do not detract from the piece's quality. Here is a beautiful foil-backed shell pendant to show you an example of a foil-backed glass pendant. Sometimes just a spot of foil is added to highlight the glass, like in this pendant.

Vintage Leaded Glass PendantLeaded Glass Pendants
Crystal is also many times, referred to as ‘leaded glass’. Technically, glass doesn’t achieve ‘crystal’ status unless it contains 30% lead. However there are many beautiful pieces containing a lower lead content that are referred to as leaded glass and then they are machine cut achieving the look and feel of a crystal piece. This leaded glass pendant is an excellent example of such a piece that was made in Czechoslovakia ca. 1940’s.

“Carved” Glass Pendants
Again, this term is generally used in error in referring to press-molded glass pieces. However, it has come to be such a common term in glass that it is widely accepted to describe any bead or pendant that has a relief motif. One of my personal favorites is this vintage Japanese glass pendant in “Jade.” The Japanese glass houses of the 1940s’ often strived to replicate authentic Vintage Reverse Painted Pendantgemstones that were considered high-end jewelry at the time in glass such as Jade, Carnelian, Lapis & Malachite. Here is a great example of a "carved" glass pendant.

I hope you have enjoyed this glossary of glass pendant terminology & these gorgeous examples of collectible vintage glass pendants. Be sure to keep an eye out in your travels for these styles as you can often find them in vintage jewelry. Or take advantage of the opportunity to add to your vintage bead collection by snapping up uncirculated glass pieces such as those in our offerings. Either way, you’re sure to look back at your stash a few years later and find that what was readily available at the time, has become more and more scarce on the vintage bead & jewelry market as time goes by.

Last Updated ( Friday, 16 November 2007 )