Potomac Beads Europe: From Idea To Reality

September 22th marked six months of Potomac Beads Europe existence. I thought it would be appropriate to stop for a minute and think about what we have achieved here.

It seems unbelievable to me that in a few days it will be a year from the day I met Allie and Nathan for the first time in Prague while they were on their “tour de Europe“. I was a biology PhD student back then, but I wanted to leave the university and find a full-time job when Nathan reached out to me with the plan of bringing Potomac Beads to Europe.¬† The idea was to bring the vast range of jewelry-making supplies that Potomac Beads offer to their European customers who wouldn’t have to pay customs and expensive shipping on Potomac exclusive beads, crystals and other items while receiving customer service and the rest of Potomac special features which made them so popular in the US.

You can imagine that after this meeting my life completely changed. I have been a beader for years, making and selling my own jewellery, and suddenly there was an opportunity to do what I love as a job. It was scary and exciting at the same time. I couldn’t be more thrilled for the launch, but there was a long way in front of us. Setting up a company is never easy because of the amount of bureaucracy you need to overcome. It was twice as hard for me being a biology student and beader while missing the necessary knowledge of a businesswoman. It took three very challenging months before I could hold the official founding papers and keys to our warehouse in my hand. Now when I think of it, I really try to not think about those difficult times ūüėÄ

A lot of great things also happened during the three months too. I got engaged which established the fact that my now-husband Pavel was willing to spend his life with me and a lot of beads at the same time. He supported and still supports me immensely. He is the one who tubes and bags most of the beads, so I can send you orders, do videos, write blogs (and come home to him at some reasonable hour ūüėÄ ). Plus he is our IT guy in addition to his other two jobs. As you can see, like Potomac Beads US, Potomac Beads EU has become a family company.

Thanks to all of this, we also visited the United States last December, so I could see and train at Potomac Beads Headquarters in Haggerstown, Maryland, and¬† deliver the best service to you here in Europe as well! Allie and Nathan took us to Washington D.C., a place I’ve never dreamt of seeing in my life, the same goes for the Potomac Beads store which is a place of beaders’ dreams with great people working there.

IMG_20171209_143547

When we got back, the clock started ticking since a huge container with Potomac Beads EU initial inventory and warehouse equipment was sailing to Europe, to our warehouse-to-be, from which I still hadn’t got keys back then.

Nevertheless, after a number of sleepless nights for me, all ended up well: with the beads inside of our shop! Pavel, my Dad and our friends helped us to unload everything and build slatwalls where their names are forever burnt into one their columns to remember everyone who helped in this adventure.

Post_1

Finally, on March 22nd 2018, we opened the online store to public and it hasn’t been closed since. Since then we launched two new beads StormDuo and RounDuo Mini, another one, EVA, will launch soon. The inventory got much much bigger, new items are coming in every week. At the same we are trying to add specific items you would like to see on our site and create a lot of content, so you would get inspired or learn something new every day. Like I do myself.

In the “personal section”, a lot of happened too. Pavel and I got married in June, postponing our honeymoon to “some date” since I need to take of Potomac Beads EU now. We managed to squeeze in at least a trip to Amsterdam you might have read about already.

2018-06-02-Terezea-Pavel-Svatebni-Jonatan-Jan-430.jpg

Since I am rather a new member to Potomac Bead Family, I am trying to add my own touch to our creative content. Making original videos for you is one way to use my knowledge and experience gathered throughout my beading years. I am also trying to find new items you could enjoy and make your original jewelry from.

Looking back, it really has been a wild ride. Seeing what things are behind us, I am pretty sure great things are yet to happen for Potomac Beads Europe. I hope you will join and be there with us on our beading journey!

Bead on,
-Tereza
Potomac Beads Europe
http://www.potomacbeads.eu
http://www.potomacbeads.com

The Bead Hole Size Guide

Knowing the hole size and stringing potential of your beads!

Gemstones       fringe4.jpg     Layer Cake Allie

After 20+ years in the jewelry making industry and 12+ years since the launch of Potomacbeads, there is one thing that holds constant for me at the start of every project.  Every jewelry designer needs to know the hole size of the bead in the design.  Like everything in the beading world, there are countless options when designing and knowing the hole size of your bead will indicate which thread, wire, cable, cording, or stringing material is best for or can be used in your creation.

The variety in the hole sizes of beads is most often directly related to the method used in their production.  Many glass beads are made from molds which include the hole for the bead.

EU Slider - Potomac Exclusives
Potomac Exclusives

Because of this, many shapes and sizes of glass beads, especially Czech glass beads will have a very consistent hole size around .8mm.

 

The following Potomac Exclusives are all manufactured in the Czech Republic and have a .8mm : Ava Beads,¬†RounDuo Beads, RoundTrio Beads, IrisDuo, cup buttons, StormDuo, DiscDuo, RounDuo Mini, & Eva Beads (Coming soon!). To further understand the production of these glass beads, check¬†out Lindsay’s blog on Czech glass production.

Additionally, there are other shapes and sizes of Czech beads that have larger holes

Macrame
Maui Bracelet and Macrame’ design

such as O Beads and Rings.¬† Because of the larger holes, I recommend these to other jewelry makers to use in conjunction with leather or thicker wire projects. There are also¬†Czech seed beads manufactured by Matubo which have a larger hole and work really well with leather and linen cording.¬† I used both the O beads and Matubo beads in the Maui Bracelet which is one of my “go to” jewelry pieces.

Like Czech glass, crystals which are also glass, have a similar production method.  Crystals, like glass, have vary consistent and similar hole sizes that vary insignificantly based on shape and size.  Both Swarvoski & Potomac Crystals have similar size holes which will accommodate 22 gauge wire or 0.018 beading cable.

Like the Czech & crystal beads, Japanese Seed beads like Miyuki & Toho also have very consistent holes.  However, based on the size of the beads, the hole size will vary.  If you want to delve into this further you can see the differences in an earlier blog of mine on the seed bead brands and their differences. 

Here is a chart to help you navigate some of the differences in sizes I have discussed so far as well as others!

POPULAR BEAD HOLE SIZES:

Bead Hole Size

When it comes to gemstones there is a huge variety of hole sizes.  Gemstones have different properties which determines how hard or soft a stone may be.  This hardness is measured by a standard called the Mohl scale.  This property allows some gemstones to be drilled straight by machine while softer stones may need to be drilled by hand.  Very small and or brittle stones sometimes need to be drilled from both sides and meet in the middle.  All of these factors contribute the to hole size of gemstone beads.  In the chart above, I listed the average hole size for 4-6mm round gemstones and the maximum width of the materials to be used with them.  But again, with gemstones, I can not stress enough how varied the hole sizes can be!  Keep on hand a variety of sizes of cording, thread, and various string materials so you are not frustrated by your beads.

Lg&SmHolePearl

 

Like many gemstones, freshwater pearls, which are soft and porous, have very small holes.¬† However, there are “large hole pearls”¬†available which can be used nicely with thicker materials.¬† The jewelry and fashion trend of using natural stringing materials like leather, has also lead to an increase in the availability of other large hole options such as lampwork beads and “large hole” gemstones.¬† When using natural cording like leather and linen, metal beads which generally have larger holes, are also a great option to use in your designs.Stringing material - 2

In jewelry making, many patterns will tell you exactly what size cording or wire is required.¬† However, if you are designing on your own, it is often a good idea to be flexible with your materials.¬† I like to have on hand a range of 20-26g wire as well as .010-.024″ beading cable.¬† When in comes to cording, my two go to materials are Greek leather in 1-2mm and also linen thread.¬† Having these materials on hand allows my creativity to continue even if I am thrown a wrench by having a small or large hole bead!

-Allie

PS. For more on the hole size of beads check out my “Better Beader” episode on Youtube!

 

Czech Glass Beads: Hand Pressed VS. Machine Pressed

The making of pressed glass beads, dating back many centuries, began in North Bohemia in eastern Europe, now known as the Czech Republic. ¬†It has often been referred to as a ‚ÄúCottage Industry‚ÄĚ, as many laborers set up the glass pressing machinery in their own homes or garages.

So what exactly is a pressed glass bead?

A pressed glass bead is one which is created with a mold. ¬†The process begins when a large glass rod known as a ‚Äúcane‚ÄĚ is heated up and stamped ¬†into a mold (whether by hand or machine) with a needle that pierces the a hole for the bead. ¬†The glass beads are then cooled and tumbled in a sand mixture to polish out seam lines and smoothen the surface. ¬†Glass pressing offers many benefits to bead production:

Benefits of Pressed Glass Beads

Versatile – By using molds, pressed glass beads are available in hundreds of colors, shapes and finishes.

Low Labor Costs Р As opposed to lampwork or drawn glass beads which are labor intensive and done exclusively by hand, pressed glass beads can be mass produced rather quickly.

Consistent – Molds allow for consistently shaped beads which serves beaders well who need uniform beads for their projects.

Czech Glass Pressed Beads
By creating molds, the same shape can be accurately produced over and over again. Shown here are: Faceted Round Beads, IrisDuo Beads, StormDuo Beads, Silky Beads, Flower Cups, and Faceted RounTrios.

Hand-Pressing vs. Machine-Pressing

There are two types of glass pressed beads: hand pressed and machine pressed.  To the bead consumer, the finished product does not reveal how the bead was formed.  Hand-pressed beads and machine pressed beads are virtually the same, you can’t tell the difference by looking at them, but there are reasons why certain beads need to be created via one route or the other.

AVA Beads
Pressing these AVA beads is only the first step. The seams need to be smoothed and excess glass that may overflow the mold needs to be removed by hand for each bead.

HAND-PRESSING

While the vast majority of pressed glass beads today are machine-made, some glass beads today still need to be hand-pressed for a couple of reasons.  For one, delicately shaped beads need to be hand-pressed because an automated machine wouldn’t be gentle enough not to break the bead during the production process.  Some beads are more fragile and prone to breaking than others.  And secondly, many opaque colored beads, such as opaque red, need to be hand-pressed because the glass for theses beads tends to be harder and would not work well in the machines.

The hand-pressing process is done by holding a glass rod by a large clamp. The end of the glass rod is heated until bright orange and the worker feeds the molten glass into the mold stamp by hand.  The process is very time consuming and results in limited runs of these beads.  Check out this video on hand-pressing and you can see for yourself how it is done.

PRODUCT HIGHLIGHT: The AVA Bead

One such hand-pressed bead that many of you are familiar with is the ever-popular AVA bead.  Because of the AVA’s shape and fragility, it can only be produced by hand. As many of our customers have pointed out, the AVA beads have a higher price-tag than other pressed glass beads and the production method is why that is.

I was fortunate enough to watch first-hand how AVA beads were made whiletraveling in the Czech Republic with Nate, Allie and my husband Bryan in October of 2017. ¬†When we arrived at this particular bead factory it was almost like we were stepping back in time and the production process was fascinating.¬† We witnessed a factory worker making the beloved AVA beads just as is done in the video above, but there was even more that needed to be done to perfect the bead.¬† After the AVA beads are dry-tumbled to smooth out the edges and seams, they are then gone through by hand to check for discrepancies.¬† One issue that comes up with the making of the AVA is that during the tumbling process, the glass that sits in the “V” does not always get removed during tumbling.¬† As a result, the workers need to hand snip the glass at that joint.¬† Below is another video to show you what I’m referring to.¬† This problem in particular made it very clear to me how labor-intensive the creation of the AVA bead is and gave me an even better understanding and appreciation of it’s higher price point.

Machine Pressed
When glass colors are swirled, the seams that run down the center of a pressed bead are visible.

MACHINE-PRESSING

While pressed glass beads were first created by hand, the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century brought about automated machinery for the mass-production of pressed glass beads.  The new machinery allowed for a larger output of beads, lower labor costs, and therefore lower product costs for the consumer. In addition, it gave beadmakers the ability to create complex shaped beads quickly and ship them out to consumers worldwide.  The first part of the YouTube video below shows how machine-pressing is done.  

Potomac Exclusive Pressed Glass Beads

The Potomac Bead Company carries an array of EXCLUSIVE pressed glass beads that began as an idea, and were executed quickly with the creation of molds and produced by glass-pressing machinery by our suppliers in the Czech Republic.  Glass-pressing allows us at PBC to take an idea and turn it into a tangible bead that we can share with our fellow beaders.  Here is a list of our exclusive pressed glass beads:

AVAS  |  CUP BUTTONS  |  DISCDUO  |  IRISDUO  |  ROUNDUO  |  ROUNTRIO  |  FACETED ROUNTRIO  |  STORMDUO

Potomac Exclusives-2
A sampling of the Potomac Bead Company’s exclusive products, including many Czech Glass pressed shapes.

What You Need to Know About Gold & Silver Used In Jewelry-Making

Selecting the right metal beads or findings for your jewelry is important Рbut also can be difficult if you are unfamiliar with the options.  Below I will highlight some practical knowledge so that you are better equipped when selecting metals.

14k gold is a metal that contains 14 out of 24 parts of real gold, making it very unlikely to cause an allergic reaction.  24k gold, which is pure gold, is very soft and not practical for most jewelry.  Therefore, 14k gold is more commonly used.  The gold alloy that results from mixing pure gold with another metal retains the color of gold, but is much better suited for the every-day wear that the pieces are exposed to, as well as being less expensive.

Although harder than pure gold, 14k gold is still soft enough that it is best to avoid storing multiple pieces together.  Keeping a cloth between pieces will prevent them from scratching each other in your jewelry box.

 

20180906_104321
The stamp on this S-Hook reads “.925”

Sterling silver is an alloy, a mixture of two metals.¬† 92.5% of the mixture is silver and the remaining percentage is usually copper.¬† This creates a very soft metal that is easy to bend, wrap, and cut.¬† If you’re not sure if you have a sterling product or not, look for the “.925” stamp that is on most sterling silver items.¬† It is a good choice for people who usually have an allergic reaction to metals since it contains very little or no nickel.

The copper in this alloy means that it will tarnish easily.¬† To care for your sterling pieces, use a polishing cloth or wear your piece often!¬† The natural oils in your skin will keep the tarnish from building up.¬† Storing your pieces with anti-tarnish paper will also help prevent tarnish on pieces that aren’t worn often.¬† Tarnish is easy to clean, so sterling pieces can always be brought back to their original beauty.

20180906_104523
This bar of the toggle is stamped with “1/20 GOLD FILLED”

Gold-filled pieces have a thick layer of karat gold (not pure gold) that is applied over abase metal (a cheaper or less desirable metal).¬† For both silver and gold-filled items, the weight of the outer layer of metal (silver or gold) must be at least 1/20 the weight of the item to be considered “filled.”¬† Jewelry containing gold-filled components can be cared for in the same way as 14k gold.

Silver filled¬†pieces have a thick layer of sterling .925 or pure silver .999 over a base metal.¬†Silver filled items are less expensive than sterling, since there is less silver content, but more expensive than silver plated metals.¬† The silver top layer of silver-filled items is thick enough that it is unlikely to wear off and reveal the base metal beneath.¬† These can be cleaned with a polishing cloth or spray, as with sterling silver. Silver-filled findings and beads are a good option for jewelry-makers who want a higher quality product than silver plated, but don’t want the cost of sterling.

Gold-filled and sterling pieces will likely be tolerable for those with allergies.  However, if the exterior of the bead or finding is thinned to the point that the interior metals are exposed, the piece will likely become irritating.

20180906_114715
Gold & Silver Plated items

Plated (Gold, Silver, Copper, Brass, Gunmetal) items will be the least expensive and the least durable of all the metal options for jewelry-makers.  These items have a very thin layer of the exterior metal over a base metal.  This outside layer can easily be worn off by rubbing next to other beads, other items it is stored with, or skin.  There is no reliable way to predict how long a plated piece will remain looking like new.  This will depend on how long the piece is worn, how much moisture it is exposed to, and the individual wearing the item.

Once the outer layer of a plated bead is removed through wear, it cannot be restored.¬† These components are usually so inexpensive that it is economical to replace worn and discolored parts.¬† These components are also not recommended for people with allergies since the wearer’s skin will be exposed directly to the nickel content.

Plated Rounds
After scratching the surface of these plated beads, the metal beneath starts to show

 

Now that you know a little more about these metals, you can use questions like these to select the beads and findings that are best for each product:

  1. How well do I want this piece to hold up over time?  Will it bother me or the recipient of this piece if the color changes over time?
  2. How much do I want to spend on this project?
  3. Is it important for me or my customers that this piece is made of high quality components?
  4. Do I or the recipient of this piece have metal allergies?  Do I want to be able to give or sell this product to anyone, regardless of whether or not the person has a metal allergy?
  5. Does the technique I am using require me to melt (with a torch) or hammer the metal?  Will the process I am using effect the exterior of the piece and exposing anything on the inside?

There may be other factors to consider depending on your particular project and who will be wearing the finished product.  For example, although nickel is the most common cause for metal allergies,  not every person with a metal allergy is allergic to nickel.

20180906_120941
Filigree, BowTrios, SnakeTrios, and Bezel Spacers

 

Working with metal beads and findings provide a look and function that often can’t be achieved with other materials.¬† Dive into creating with the unique shapes, colors, and textures available only with metal.¬†¬†Share your designs incorporating metal beads and findings in the Beading & Jewelry Making (Hosted by Potomac Bead Company) Facebook group!¬† Inspiration and advice is always welcome ūüôā

-Anna Taylor

PotomacBeads.com