Native American Silver Beads can be confusing! There are handmade beads, bench beads, and entirely commercial production beads. All can be made of sterling silver, but beware, there are some commercial beads that can be silver plate, or even rhodium plated.
Classy Farm Girl only deals in sterling silver beads. The differences of the types of beads are explained below.
Totally hand crafted beads start out as a sheet of silver. The artist cuts out circles that will become the bead. The circle will be center punched to create the stringing hole. If the bead is to have stamp work, this is now stamped on each circle, or omitted if a plain bead is the goal. Each circle is then placed in a die (think of a Jell-O mold) and hand struck to create a half of a bead.
These half beads are now strung together to form the full bead, half to half, to create a string of unsoldered beads. A piece of solder is placed inside each bead and then the wire they are strung on will be tightened so the beads lay tight against each other.
The artist then applies heat while rolling the beads on a heat resistant surface. This allows the beads to be soldered from the inside, and no seam will show on the outside of the finished bead. The bead will be smooth.
Soldering like this takes great skill. The same procedure will be performed for each size of bead being made, as uneven sizes will not roll smoothly. The finished bead is then buffed to finish each bead. If the bead is to have a satin finish, this is now done. The beads when strung can now be called “Navajo Pearls.” It is a completely handmade product.
Many of these beads will not have an artist hallmark, so the importance of a reliable seller is paramount. Native American Jewelers, LLC will always have the name of the silversmith, unless it is an old pawn item. These are the most expensive of the beads.
Bench beads start out as a commercially punched ½ bead, but unsoldered. These beads will have a little lip extruding on each side called a solder lip. The bench bead will be soldered much the same as the handmade beads, but the amount of time to create this bead is greatly reduced.
These beads will typically have a raised ridge where the solder lips come together instead of being smooth, a telling sign for sure. Certain artists will grind this lip off, but the bead will usually have a little flat area where this has happened. These bench beads are commonly used to string necklaces, as handmade beads will greatly raise the price.
Commercial production beads are simply that. Machine made beads, soldered and finished by machines. These can be attractive, but will not have the look of the Navajo Pearls.