One some of the online groups I frequent, I have seen people asking how they can try to weed out the mass-produced glass beads from the artisan made lampwork beads. Sadly, two of the largest online sites, ebay and Etsy, are FULL of the imports (yes, even our “handmade” ally Etsy has allowed the mass-produced beads to infiltrate the site, mainly by turning a blind eye to reported importers, but that's another post).
This is my own simple advice to help sort through the mass of listings as efficiently as possible, while allowing a buyer to focus on beads they can be reasonably assured are made by a single artist. I know I run the risk of possibly offending someone, so I apologize now, unless you are a reseller of imported beads hiding as an artisan...then you deserve to be upset with me.
1. Use SRA to search
SRA stands for self-representing artist, and is a term that is used throughout the arts. However, large numbers of lampwork bead and jewelry artists took to using that term as part of their fight against the influx of cheap, mass-produced products that invaded ebay a few years back. Now, it is true that anyone can claim to be a self-representing artist, so it is not a perfect way to insure that the beads you are looking at were made by a single artist. Also know that not every artist uses this term in their listings. However, it will help to weed out a lot of the re-sellers and focus your search.
|An example from my shop: the letters "SRA" are added to every title|
2. Look at the number of listings
Unless an artist has built up a considerable inventory or has a great number of made-to-order items, the average lampwork artist can not crank out a hundreds of beads a day...and have the time to clean the beads, photograph the beads, and list the beads, and ship the beads....well, you get the idea. There are some very prolific lampworkers out there, but even they rarely have a hundred listing of ready-to-ship beads.
3. Look closely at the beads
If the beads look really familiar, take pause. Now it may be that they are simply a popular style. But if you swear you have seen the beads before, do some more research. A popular tactic of the resellers is to use stock photos of popular sets. So you may really have seen the exact same picture before (I won't even get into the fact that resellers have actually stolen artist-taken photographs of beads for their websites—just know that it has been done and more than once!)
|These beads look familiar from Etsy or Ebay? They might...even though they are actually from a major re-seller!|
4. Pay attention to the following:
- Does the seller mention that the beads are kiln annealed? (yes, it makes a difference)
- Does the seller mention anything about their studio?
- Does the seller mention that they personally make the beads (not “design” them, which is a clue someone else makes them)
Using all of these tactics together can help you figure out if you are dealing with artisan-made beads, or dealing with a re-seller trying to pass them off as artist made. They aren't foolproof, but they can help you in your search. Any other advice out there we can give to help our customers find our handmade beads amongst the mass-produced?