Crystals have a consistent appeal: everyone likes a bit of Bling…well, perhaps not everyone, but it’s no secret that one of the great attractions of jewellery throughout the ages has been sparkle. It is possible to use real gemstones in your beadwork, but not many of us have the budget for that, so if you want sparkle, but don’t have a fortune, you’ll probably find yourself using crystals.
There are a lot of different crystals on the market, but in my opinion, they divide into Swarovski crystal and other crystal. The Swarovski company keeps their manufacturing process a closely guarded secret, but whatever it is, it results in a level of sparkle and range of colours that is second to none. The price of these beads is reflective of the quality. If you need something a little cheaper, there are a lot of crystals emerging from Chinese manufacturers which are good and a little less expensive. Alternatively, you may consider the faceted beads from the Czech market.
Whatever your budget, there is now a wide choice of crystal shapes and styles. The most basic are either bicone (green in photo) or faceted (black in photo). Bicone are shaped a little like diamonds, as we think of them traditionally. Faceted beads have many sides (facets) and can appear more rounded. The shape of bicones makes them an excellent choice for using with Right Angle Weave, but a little more tricky if you want to try and weave them into Peyote stitch. In general though, you would elect to use crystals in combination with smaller seed beads, so that the sparkle becomes a highlight in the design, or just strung on their own or with other beads. Both varieties come in a range of sizes, measure in millimetres. In the photo the bicones are 3mm and the faceted are 4mm.
Crystals don’t have to be restricted to bicone and faceted or round. Swarovski have also made cube shaped crystals, again sized by millimetre and very similar to normal cube beads. Swarovski also have a range of shaped crystals, anything from leaves to flowers, hearts and now even skulls. Some of these are made with holes through the centre, ideal for stringing. Others, like the leaf in the photo, have a single hole near the top, extending from front to back. This makes them ideal for using as pendants. You can either create a bail with seed beads or use a ready-made metal bail and hang them from a chain or more complex piece of bead-weaving. I incorporated these leaves into a design with flowers.
Finally, there is a very popular type of crystal that may not even technically count as a bead: a Rivoli. Usually round (although these can be square or rectangular), these crystals have no hole in them at all. You can buy special metal mounts for them so that they can be combined into jewellery designs, but it’s much more fun to bead around them. Using a combination of different sized seed beads, you can create a casing that can then be left plain, embellished or incorporated into much more complex designs. If you want to start simple though, this bracelet pattern is a great place to begin.