Art, Beads, and Architecture

The newest Potomac Bead Company location opened last Tuesday in the heart of downtown Phoenixville, PA. Having opened all of our stores in downtown locations has given me a new love for architecture and the revitalization of the amazing old buildings that are hidden, just waiting to be brought back to life. I truly believe that our stores are prefect to highlight these turn of the century buildings that we have been so fortunate to find.

Because our products are fairly small, we are able to leave the walls exposed with very little display or furniture. This allows the natural beauty of the architecture to be exposed and open for all to see. The exposed steel beams and rustic 1920’s look of this space and the old town Alexandria location make you forget that you are in the 21st century. With all of the modern displays, colors, and technology available, it is nice to look at our retail spaces and not feel overwhelmed by the use of the space. In my opinion, the industrial spaces actually add to the creativity and the Potomac Bead Company experience.

When I walk into the downtown spaces, I marvel at the amount of work that went into making these magnificent buildings despite the lack of modern technology. There is such a vast amount of history behind these amazing architectural wonders. It is truly inspiring to think that the materials used in jewelry making are some of the same keeping our turn of the century buildings from crumbling. These materials act as wonderful mediums to inspire and create jewelry as well as other works of art.
Overall, I have learned through this whole amazing experience of opening stores in wonderful old industrial cities, to take advantage of the architecture and detail of the buildings. So many buildings are over looked or discarded in people’s minds because they are not modern marvels or of certain materials.
This point connects me back to jewelry and beads. It is often possible to over look the materials we already have and want to trade them in for something new. Be inspired by the history of the materials. They often just need a little help, like our buildings, to make them shine. Often, the simplest pieces are the most appealing and beautiful once they are reconfigured and re-worked. I am inspired to unpack the old beads and materials that I have accumulated over the years and bring them back to their glory.
A final thought to finish this out: In an essence, we are housing the art of beads as well as finished jewelry inside what is already a work of art. If you visit one of our stores, allow the architecture and the environment inspire you to create.

New Beads & Photography

As I‘ve said before, we love going through new bead shipments… at least for the first day. After the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th days, unpacking can become tedious, but odly exciting at the same time. Often as Allie and I are unpacking and photographing new shipments, Allie will suddently grab a strand of beads, run over to her bead board, grab some wire, leather, or silver spacers, and start creating. “I have an idea and don’t want to forget it” she will say.

Of course, as Allie and others are unpacking, checking off against the order sheet, and distributing for shipments to each of our stores, I am often photographing each new item as it comes out of the box. Some months this means thousands of new pictures, each of which must be edited, saved, filed, and resized for various future uses (signage, order sheets, website, etc.). Although my focus has always been business, I’ve always enjoyed and dabbled in photography. Having spent quite a bit of time around a darkroom when I was younger, I must say that the advances in digital photography are both amazing an useful! Over the years, we have photographed nearly every one of the 50,000+ items that have been sold in our stores. Obviously, this has forced me to become quite efficient at doing so, even if we have several thousand photos waiting for editing at any given time.

Because many of our customers have jewelry design businesses of their own, we are often asked “how can I make my jewelry photos better”? To answer that, we created the Potomac Bead Company Photography Tutorial to help anyone with an interest in photographing jewelry, beads, or other small detailed items in an affordable and efficient way. While this is by no means the only way of taking photographs, perhaps you will find it useful!

Good, clean, beading fun

My workday usually consists of serving customers, making class schedules, managing employees, keeping the store clean, labeling products, and teaching classes. Every day an awed customer says to me, “You’re so lucky to sit around and make jewelry all day!” and I laugh inside because it seems that’s always the last thing on my mind! Although it is part of my job to create jewelry, I’m too distracted by the more urgent tasks. But today I took some time to stretch my creative muscle, and boy was it tight! I truly love to create interesting and beautiful pieces with the products we carry, but I don’t dedicate enough time to it. So I am resolving to spend more time diving into new ideas for ways to use the products in our stores…and to just have fun! I know this will help to keep me interested in my customers’ projects and personally knowledgeable about what to do with the products we supply. I’m so thankful to have a work environment that is so creativity-friendly!

New Gemstones Arriving

Our latest shipment of over 30 cases of gemstones recently arrivedto our warehouse, and we are going through them now. This is always one of my favorite jobs, as we get to see hundreds of styles cut at our request. With over 250 styles of stones and over 500 shapes, there are hundreds of thousands of gemstones varieties available. When we place orders, we use customer requests and sales histories to determine which shapes and cuts to get in which stones. Many of these are often new styles, never before made.

NEW STONES: Among the new stones in this order are blue & green crazy lace (above), gorgeous new labradorite (above), various colors of banded agate… blue, red, yellow, & green , dumortierite, impression stone (above), silver smoke jasper, silver leaf jasper, tibetan style banded agate, and blue coral. Most of these will be available in most Potomac Bead Company locations

NEW SHAPES: In addition to dozens of new stones are also dozens of new shapes. A few of our favorites include the photos below: 12-14mm Irregular Tumbled Multi-Faceted Rounds, 30mm Wave Discs, 40mm Open Hearts, Carved 18x25mm Ovals, Graduated Fans, Graduated Rounds, and Multi-Faceted Nuggets. There are still dozens of new shapes and stones to come. To see photos of the new gemstones as they come out of the boxes, visit our “what’s new” page at

Store Opening

April 4th was the Mechanicsburg, PA location’s Grand Opening Celebration. It was great to see lots of new customers that we anxiously awaiting to come to the store. An amazing thing to witness was the degree to which the customers varied in age, beading experience, and what they use beads and findings to produce. We had a great opportunity to speak with many of them about their beading past and their excitement about their beading future with the Potomac Bead Company. It dawned on me that although there was such a variety in people, every one gets equally excited about beads. It is always fun to interact with children, excited to string their very first stretchy bracelet, agonizing over which beads to choose but most adults in a bead store are just as excited as the eight year old standing next to them. Bead stores really are more like toy stores for creative, crafty people of all ages.
During the busy events of the day, I did manage to have time to sit down and demonstrate some wire working techniques that we offer to customers in the form of classes. Many people look at wire as too hard or difficult but I tried to convey that wire is the next logical step to basic stringing. There is so much that can be done with wire to enhance jewelry. More then any other class, I believe the Introduction to Wire Working is the stepping stone into a whole new world of jewelry making. After the class, I always suggest that people buy a package of 20G wire copper wire and play at home with their tools to see what wonderful things they can create. Often people are stunned by how easy wire working is once they have learned the basics. I also advanced from the basics of wire working and demonstrated cabochon wrapping using 20G square wire as well as 20G half round wire. Showing how to wrap cabs answers the inevitable question “what do I do if the stone or pendant does not have a hole.” Hopefully everyone enjoyed all the demonstrations on Saturday which varied from seed beading, to dichroic glass, to chain maille and so on.
Mechanicsburg’s opening was a huge success and I am anxiously waiting for the Phoenixville location to open at the end of this month.

Bead Store Challenges and Opportunities

Running a network of bead stores has given us more fun, excitement, and opportunities than anything we’ve ever done. At the same time, managing the operations, websites, payroll, growing bead store franchise system, can be challenging! One of the greatest challenges is distribution. At any given time, we have 5-6 shipments one the way to us from overseas. We must think and plan months ahead to keep inventory in stock. This week is one of those where we receive more orders than can be processed. When we receive shipments of gemstones, pearls, crystals, pewter, copper, silver, findings, chain, pendants, and lampwork beads all at once, we have to pick which must get out to each of our bead stores first:

Well, this week is pearls, pewter, and the nice high end gemstones (ruby, malachite, peridot, aquamarine, and more). Next week the metals will follow. Sorting through orders can be great fun, looking to see the new items ordered based on our drawings or ideas. We often welcome input and ideas from our customers as to which shapes, stones, beads, and findings we carry. Potomac Bead Company stores can find nearly anything if given the opportunity, and we sometimes love the challenge. Of course, after days of sorting, it feels good to finally get those products on the floors and to our customers. Finally, eeing the excitement on their faces each time new shipments arrive is the most satisfying feeling of all!

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