Gems and Rocks 2: Beads

Now that we know the difference between gems and stone it is fair to say that most beads we buy from a store are mostly likely stone or manmade.  How do we know?  There are a couple of things we can use to know the difference between real and manmade.

Price:  Let’s face it, you are not getting a stand of Jade beads for under 6 dollars.  While the tag may say Jade unless it is Jadeite or nephrite is actually jade.  A strand of Nephrite Jade runs about 50 dollars for a 16 inch strand. It is unlikely you will see Jadeite in the local craft store.

Natural, Altered or Enhanced: Funny terms.  In the bead world according to whom you talk to the bead can be “natural” just not from nature. It depends on the suppliers. Some dealers feel that Natural means it started out as natural stone. Turquoise may be hardened with a resin and therefore is “natural” because it started that way. Natural to me is it may have been polished and cut, but it is still a rock.  Altered or enhanced is just that. Enhancements can include applying heat, resins, dyes and irradiation.

Misrepresentation: Much of the turquoise you purchase is actually dyed Magnesite. Magnesite is a white stone that takes dyes really well. So it is not turquoise but rather turquoise colored.  Howlite is also dyed sometimes.  Malachite is becoming rare and is most often manmade. “Opalite” is not laser treated quartz. It’s glass with an opalescent quality, similar to milky opal crystal and Czech glass beads. Most hematite beads are a manmade sintered iron oxide product, with names like Hematine, Hemalyke and hemalike.

Color and shape: Sorry, there is no bright green or bright pink in the natural world of stones, The brighter the color you can be sure it is dyed stone.  It might even be just glass.  The apple quartz, strawberry quartz? Just pretty glass.   The shape of the beads is important Most natural beads (unless carved) do not come in perfect uniform shapes.

Feel the heat: true stone beads are cool to the touch. As are metal, glass and shell.  Manmade tend to be warm. So if you pick up the bead and put in palm of hand and it remains cool it is most like stone. Check above to see if it is the material you thought it was. If it becomes warm it is most likely amber, wood, plastic, bakelite, nut, bone or ivory.

Drilling and Carving: The way a bead is carved or drilled an help identify it what material it is. Beads made from ivory will always be more finely carved than bone.  There are nicely-carved bone beads, but you will rarely see ivory that is rough and rustic in its carved details. The holes will give you clues as well. Glass beads have a light powdery look inside the hole. Stones can have wear or chips around the holes.


Quick notes or things that don’t fit into a category: As we learned in the previous post, quartz is the most common stone. The types of beads one finds that are actually quartz is rose, citrine, amethyst smoky and clear.

Howlites are common but they are usually dyed to look like turquoise. If the price is too good to be true it is Howlite. Magnesite is also easily dyed and is usually called white turquoise or marshmallow turquoise if not dyed.

Agates are popular but most are dyed to enhance colors, Jasper is another quartz that easily faked.

Lapis can be confused with Sodalite but will have much less white (calcite), if it’s heavy on the white then pass. If it as a lot of grey it is probably Sodalite . Sodalite has a white greyish streak where lapis has a light blue streak.


To finish up here: The best advice I can give you , if you are interested in purchasing actual gemstone beads is: You get what you pay for.  I am not saying that if you buy the strand of beads that you like and it cost under 5 dollars you are a cheapskate. By no means. I do the same. The manmade, altered beads are awesome and there are so many different colors and possibilities. I just don’t want someone to think they are making a genuine turquoise necklace for 5 bucks. I am a true believer in knowing your craft and what you are doing. Again not putting anyone down, I am wearing a necklace right now that is made of manmade dyed beads and it looks awesome. I hope helped a little. Enjoy beading!


Sources: The Illustrated Bead Bible: Terms, Tips & Techniques

Gems and Rocks1:

Gems And Rocks 1