Searching for Materials: How & Where to Find Exactly What You Need
Among the most frequent questions I’m asked is “where do you get your materials from??”
And I get it - Searching the internet for materials can be really daunting, especially when you’re a beginner and don’t even know what search terms to use. While it’s not necessarily in my own best interest to share all of the exact places I shop from, I felt it would be much more useful to put together a general guide to aid in your search for jewelry making materials, because I figured out early on that if you have a solid idea of what you’re looking for you’re much more likely to find what you need.
In the very beginning - like beginning beginning - craft stores are a great place to go, look around and take home some things to get a feel things. Getting to physically hold, see, and feel the materials you’re looking at is an important stage in not only understanding materials, but understanding yourself as a designer. What are you drawn to, what shapes do you like, what sizes of chains, beads, and jump rings feel best for you? I only recommend craft stores in the very early stages, however, because while they’re great for experimentation and learning, the quality doesn’t always hold up, and the prices tend to be marked up compared to online marketplaces like Etsy where you can find wholesale vendors.
So let’s imagine that you know what various bead sizes and shapes look like, you know how different wire gauges feel to work with and you’re getting an idea for the kinds of chains you’re drawn to. Let’s say you’re ready to start experimenting with buying supplies beyond the craft store: so how exactly is the best way to go about doing that?
I’m going to list further options below, but let’s assume you direct your attention online for your next craft supply purchase. You can certainly use google/google shopping to find a vast array of jewelry wholesale supply stores just by searching “jewelry wholesale supplies”, but I personally also recommend taking a look at Etsy, as you can find more of a concentrated marketplace of wholesale jewelry sellers without having to go to a million different websites to search for the same thing. But whether you’re using Etsy or not, you can use the following advice to get started finding what you need. But before we continue any further, a note on dropshippers on Etsy:
Etsy has increasingly become more dropshippers and less actual artisans. It can be difficult to find reputable sellers offering quality products, so three top things to watch out for are questionably low prices, thousands of items, and pictures that have been stolen or reused between multiple sellers. On to the rest of the guide…
Firstly, I recommend having some sort of a concept in mind that you want to bring to life, or a general idea of something you want to make. It doesn’t even have to be super rigid, but when you shop with some sort of goal in mind, it helps you find what you need and not overspend on a bunch of different materials that you may or may not use. It can be as detailed as “fairy necklace with pinks and greens and flower charms” or as vague as knowing the few materials you really liked from the craft store and wanting to make something out of similar materials.
Assuming you now have some sort of grasp on materials, and at least a vague idea of a project you’d like to pursue, you should use what you know to find what you think you’ll like. Be specific with your search terms, for example if you’re looking for beads: shapes and cuts like faceted, smooth, bicone, flower, material like gemstone, glass, wood, acrylic, sizes in mm (3mm-8mm are most common). If you’re looking for metal: gold plated stainless steel, 12k/14k/18k gold, plated or filled, specific findings and chain names like jump ring, cable chain, hook clasp, earring closures like French hook, leverback, hoop, stud… And you should always if possible have an idea of the specific dimensions you’re looking for, so you can either include them in the search bar or know what listings you can rule out when you’re looking at them in more detail.
As you continue to become more experienced in your jewelry making and versed in your materials knowledge, searching for what you need will become easier and easier. But with all the above given, don’t be afraid to sometimes buy materials on a whim without fully knowing what they’ll look or feel like, because you never know what you’ll stumble upon that you’ll either fall in love with, or be able to use to advance your skills further than they previously were.
In addition to online marketplaces, there are plenty of other sources for beads and various materials you can use in your jewelry making. Upcycle items from your closet or jewelry boxes, or even your parents/relatives/friends if they have pieces to spare. Thrift shops can be a great place to find old jewelry to upcycle, especially if you’re someone who likes to be inspired by materials that you can create a concept out of, rather than inspired by a concept that you need to find materials for. Somewhat harder to find yet full of hidden gems are locally owned creative supply stores and even creative material recycling/thrift organizations.
Lastly, here is a short list of popular online jewelry supply companies that you will want to keep in mind:
RioGrande - wire, chains, findings, various metal and gemstone supplies
FireMountainGems - wire, chains, findings, beads, various metal, gemstone, and beading supplies
WireJewelry - wire and findings, various metal and beading supplies
Stuller - fine jewelry supplies, metals, findings, chains, etc. *you will need a licensed business and EIN
JewelrySupply - wire, chains, findings, swarovski, beads, etc.
Finding quality materials may seem daunting in the early stages, but will become easier and easier as you progress through your jewelry making journey by way of experience and sheer trial and error. While this list covers multiple options for jewelry supplies, keep in mind that it is by no means comprehensive, and you should continue to do research to find the shops, sources, or methods that works best for you.