A few weeks ago I bumped into my dentist while shopping at Loblaws, the grocery chain. She was selecting cherries. She unzipped the bags of cherries and was picking the best from each bag. She read my facial expression and unapologetically snapped, “Yeah, I always cherry pick. I wouldn’t just buy the bag, no way, never….” I was shocked, even though there were no signs to say customers could not open the bags to pick what they wanted. It just never occurred to me to be so outright demanding. She is finicky about quality, I can tell from the dental work that she does and how she runs the most state of the art clinic in Toronto (Downtown Dentistry, in case you’re on the market for a great dental service at really good value). She went on to say the price of cherries is not cheap that time of year ($4.99/lb to be exact), but even if they were $2.99/lb, if you buy the bag, many of them are not prime. You’ll actually be paying over $6/lb and you’ll have to sort through them at home anyway. You’d just be bringing garbage home and you can’t really tell how many good ones you’ll end up with. This rang true with me and since then, I pinch and poke, though quite lightly so as not to damage unwanted fruit. I just make sure that I buy a lot of the good to make it worth the grocer’s patience.
The same principle applies to selecting pearls and stone beads. At Stones And Findings we have many customers who come into our showroom reciting the names of places where they can buy stone beads of the same size for a couple of dollars less per strand, there were some who even came in with lists and dimension to show me! However, when asked if the cut is the same; often it isn’t because we create many of the cuts ourselves, I select the raw material to ensure minimal inclusions and colour consistency; the customer will admit they’re not exactly the same and that our strands are more consistent and better quality.
It is precisely this reason I became so frustrated that I decided to produce my own stone beads. I found that existing suppliers often have poor quality stones. After cutting the strands, I was using maybe 30% for paired earrings, and 20% were good enough for necklaces, the rest were defective. Unless the lower quality strand is a 1/3 of the price, it is not worth it as only 1/2 of them can be used, you must also factor in the cost of labour and time to properly select stones. Many people do not take this into account, which my dentist clearly illustrated, some think they can use the bad ones at the back; but if you’re making handcrafted jewellery and charging a premium over Claire’s or H&M, customers will not buy defective merchandise. You would not only be wasting your time stringing beads in order to hide the defective ones, but ruining your reputation as a designer as well.
Pearls are just as tricky. Lustre, shape, colour and size all play a role in the price of a strand or individual pearls, and prices vary astronomically. And yet many existing suppliers are straight importers who have no practical experience designing with the pearls. They don’t have a keen sense of quality, but are focused solely on price. It’s a much faster buying process and quite tempting to go with price alone because it makes accounting sense. Most freshwater pearls are inexpensive, even for very high grades, but the buyer must do his/her homework and hand-select each batch. There are winter pearls, which have a higher sheen due to the cold weather and lower disease rate, and those harvested during the summer months. Sometimes the cost difference might be only $0.05 per pearl more, but the quality is vastly superior. Many people only see that the strand is $4 more, because there are 80 pearls on the strand, and they can’t remember what the cheaper strand looked like, except for the dimension and colour written on their notes. My advice is to use a supplier who can be trusted to have an eye for quality and consistency. It really ends up being cheaper to buy pearls from them, the same goes for stone beads.