Crystals have a consistent appeal: everyone likes a bit of Bling…well, perhaps not everyone, but it’s no secret that one of the great attractions of jewellery throughout the ages has been sparkle. It is possible to use real gemstones in your beadwork, but not many of us have the budget for that, so if you want sparkle, but don’t have a fortune, you’ll probably find yourself using crystals.
Crystal options pre-2020
I’m going to start by taking a trip down memory lane. Back when I began beading, we had a choice… ‘luxury’ crystals from the well-known brand, Swarovski. Or other crystals. Now, I’m not trying to imply that the other crystals were inferior or not luxurious. But Swarovski had such a strong brand presence (and, in my opinion, high quality) that they gained this reputation for luxury.
The Swarovski company keeps their manufacturing process a closely guarded secret. But whatever it is, it results in a level of sparkle and range of colours that is second to none. The price of these beads is reflective of the quality.
Then, back in 2020, along with many other bombshells to hit the beading market, Swarovski announced that they would no longer be supplying to us. ‘Us’ is termed the DIY market. So, that’s us beading enthusiasts who want to make jewellery with some brilliance. It could be for our own enjoyment, or to sell.
Not only would the beads no longer be available, but the company also placed tight laws on using its name. So, even if you are still selling or wearing jewellery that uses Swarovski manufactured components, you’re not allowed to state this… Unless you’ve got permission from Swarovski.
All very complicated and potentially upsetting. But not the end of crystal beads. So, where does that leave us now?
If you need something a little cheaper, there are a lot of crystals emerging from Chinese manufacturers which are good and a little less expensive. Alternatively, you may consider the faceted beads from the Czech market. And, as you may expect, someone has stepped up to ‘fill’ that gap in the market.
So, welcome in Preciosa…
(The Preciosa box you see in the gallery above is a great way of sampling crystals. Use this link to find out more.)
You see, we have become accustomed to a wide range of shapes and sizes in our ‘bling’. I will get onto that in a moment.
But over the years, designers have created projects that use very specific types of crystal. So, in some cases, it may be possible to substitute with a completely different type of bead. But in a lot of cases, you need the same size and shape.
So, in the months that have passed since the famous Austrian brand dropped their bombshell, designers have been testing out the Preciosa brand in their old projects. The verdict seems to be that substitution is possible.
Why does this matter?
Why am I telling you this? Well, if you happen to be using older tutorials, you may still see Swarovski components listed in the materials requirements. Now, you’re going to need to use a substitute. So, for simple choices like ’14mm Rivoli’, you know you can just grab a 14mm Rivoli from Preciosa and your project should work.
For different shapes, you might need to contact the project’s original designer to check on what you need. I imagine designers will also be releasing updated patterns to reflect the changes.
So, whilst that all takes some time to settle, I hope this brief explanation will help if you have been seeing announcements that you found confusing.
But let’s get back to basics and answer this question…
What are crystals?
Whatever your budget, you have a wide choice of crystal shapes and styles.
Bicones and Faceted Beads
If you are thinking of crystals that you can use like beads, then think bicone (green in photo below) or faceted (black in photo below). Bicone are shaped a little like diamonds, as we think of them traditionally. Faceted beads have many sides (facets) and can appear more rounded. With both shapes, you will find a range of colours and finishes. So, some are ultra-sparkly, some more matte.
In general though, you would elect to use crystals in combination with smaller seed beads. So then the sparkle becomes a highlight in the design. You can also use them on their own for stringing.
Both varieties come in a range of sizes, measured in millimetres. In the photo the bicones are 3mm and the faceted are 4mm. You might also like to check out this blog that talks about a specific type of faceted crystal, the True2.
Crystals don’t have to be restricted to bicone and faceted or round. Traditionally, we have had different shaped crystals. The most common shape would be a tear-drop. But you may also see anything from leaves to flowers, hearts and even skulls. Some of these are made with holes drilled vertically through the centre. These are ideal for stringing. Others have a single hole near the top, extending from horizontally across the top of the bead. This is known as ‘top-drilled’ and is ideal for using as a pendant or drop on a design.
If you are wanting to make a pendant, or earrings, you can stitch a bail with seed beads. Or use a ready-made metal bail and hang the crystals from a chain or more complex piece of bead-weaving.
In the photo below, you can see an old competition piece I created for Swarovski. All the components are from that brand, including the shaped leaves and flowers. I was able to incorporate the top-drilled leaves and flowers into the rope sections. The large flowers featured bicones for petals. Then, for their centres, I use Rivolis… Which brings us neatly to the last group of crystals I want to discuss today…
Rivolis and Chatons
Finally, we have two very popular types of crystal that may not even technically count as a bead: Rivolis and Chatons.
These components are available in different shapes and sizes. Most are round, but you will also find ‘cushions’ that have a more square shape. Swarovski used to produce a lot of other shapes too, so I’m sure we will see the return of those from other brands, in time. You will also find different sizes. The size, given in millimetres, reflects the diameter of the crystal.
These crystals have no hole in them at all. They may have a metal finish on the back, or may be solid crystal. The Rivolis are pointed front and back. Chatons have a flat facet on the front and are just pointed on the back. So, if they don’t have a hole for stringing, how do you use them in your beadwork?
You can buy special metal mounts for them so that they can be combined into jewellery designs. But it’s much more fun to bead around them. Using a combination of different sized seed beads, you can create a casing that can then be left plain, embellished or incorporated into much more complex designs. This casing is called a bezel.
Bezelling Rivolis and Chatons
As you might expect, you have a few different technique options for creating your bezel. So, if you want to start simple, this bracelet pattern is a great place to begin. It will show you how to create a bezel using Right Angle Weave and Peyote stitch.
You can also create bezels from just Peyote stitch. Or, with a technique called ‘Modified Right Angle Weave’. I run a free online class teaching you how to bezel a Rivoli using that technique. So, if you want to try it, you can find the class here.
Projects for using Crystals
Now you’ve been introduced to these materials, how about some projects in which you can use them?
You will find a huge variety. These range from beginner level right up to advanced. So, here is just a tiny selection of possible options…
Now, this article may not be a comprehensive guide to crystals. But I hope it gives you a good flavour of some of the options you have available.
The best way to keep exploring is to try tutorials that feature a big of ‘bling’. That way, you will get to learn which beads to use and how to use them. Then, you can brand out and explore further on your own.