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  1. Well, no resolutions for the year because it's simply not practical to resolve to blather on about things.  Instead, it's better to just write about them.

    2011 was an interesting, if exhausting year.  We had taken the decision to no longer do contemporary bead fairs or shows and instead devote our time to attending events organised by various groups with an historic character.  This has ranged from spending time on the site of a Roman fort along Hadrian's wall to spending four days in the undercroft of the Bishop's Palace in Lincoln, with stops at York and Hastings and also a continental flavour via the Marche d'Histoires in Pontoise near Paris.

    It was a big step, because we had done so many contemporary bead fairs, but the combination of the economy, the proliferation of fairs and factors including an over-load of beadmaker hobbyists at fairs brought us to the realisation that the contemporary fairs were no longer venues where we wished to trade.

    It's been the right decision, we've watched the changing face of the contemporary market in the UK change considerably.  People are being extremely careful with their money, as are we.  It's the result of a very difficult economic structure as well as a time where the influx of beadmakers in the UK has caused a serious drop in the price of handmade beads.  This will level out eventually, but it's a market at the moment where it's extremely difficult to make a living, very few beadmakers in the UK are full-time and it's quite a struggle to make ends meet if you rely strictly on the income from what is a very niche, and frankly luxury market.  You can reduce your prices to match the market in low-end handmade beads or you can grit your teeth, stick to your pricing and hope that you can weather the economic storm. 

    Or, you can do as we have done, and several other people.  Find something you love and dive in.  Historic work has been a pleasure for us, but it has not been simple or easy as we now have lost the luxury of simply creating things straight out of our mind, but have replaced it with a disciplined approach to research and reproduction of historic beads that has been fulfilling for us both.  The partnership of research and creation has been worth the years of effort put into it, every day there is something new to do, new information to absorb and the challenge of bringing history to life.

    Holding a piece of history in your hand, that's what we are about.  It's not going to make us rich but we love it.  There's nothing to compare with waking up and looking out of the tent at a historic battlefield or walking through ruins over 2000 years old.  That's what makes us rich.

    Thank you for keeping us going in 2011. 

  2. Another blog post from last year.  Bears repeating.

    Truth and Accuracy

    While browsing today for various things, as you do, I came across this excellent explanation of 'tibetan silver'.


    As a consumer economy we are so driven by brand names and the appearance of things that we don't look beneath the surface. Oooh, it says silver! Even silver-plate sounds elegant. Gold-plate... wow! It's all in the eye and not in the brain.

    In the UK we're very restricted as to what we can use in jewellery, if it's sterling or fine silver we cannot have more than 7.5 grams in a piece without sending it off to be hallmarked. This adds cost to the item and involves an element of risk if some of the silver in the piece is tested and found to not be as thought. We trust our suppliers, jump rings and ear wires are only part of the equation. Crimps and crimp covers are also liable to be tested and if one element is off then the whole piece of jewellery is rejected.

    The alternative is plated components, but who knows what the base metal is under the plate? You spend hours designing a piece, you put in time and artistic ability and then you have to settle for cheap plated options to avoid being put through the hallmarking mill! Alternatives such as plated pewter are great, as are the lovely metal-dipped and fired Greek ceramic beads, since they are plated rather than solid precious metal they aren't put under the stern gaze of the hallmarking process.

    But 'tibetan silver'? Blech. Who knows what lurks in the heart of much of the stuff? It comes mostly from China, and unless you want to spend the money getting all your batches tested... it's a risk and also it's a bit of a problem because you can't call it silver unless you get it tested and hallmarked.

    On the one hand, here in the UK it's great that the hallmarking system is stringent but it does not allow for the new styles of jewellery from artists who use small amounts of silver but are not traditional jewellers. It's a challenge to produce an item that has minimal amounts of precious metals, which requires creativity but it really galls when there is on the market a proliferation of dubious metal beads and findings under the umbrella of 'tibetan silver' that should be addressed. It will protect not only the buyers but the artists too if this stuff were more closely and carefully regulated and tested.

  3. Blogs can be a great way to put down a few ideas.  We used to have one that was an independent blog but it became a problem to constantly remember to update it.  So, with a blog integrated into the shop, it's easier to remember to write something while working on shop contents.

    Here is a piece from last year that bears repeating.

    Dawning moments

    There are times when I am extremely grateful to be an artist. Every day is full of anticipation, there is glass to melt and beads to shape. No one tells me what to make, or how. In return, I have the obligation to make the best beads possible. I am more critical of my work than anyone else would ever be, unless a bead is well-shaped, balanced and pleasing to the eye, it doesn't leave the studio.

    I don't sell bunches of 'seconds' and I don't sell 'wonky' beads. They live in a jar by the door, like Eleanor Rigby's face. I firmly believe that your work is only as good as your last bead and your next bead, the one speaks about what you've learned and the other will show what you have added to that knowledge.

    It is up to every artist to present their work fairly and with pride. If it's not good, then don't sell it because it says as much about your art as anything can, and being glass, it will outlive you. Make sure that your work doesn't come back to haunt you.

  4. It's been a quiet few days here, Mike's under the weather and it's not easy to make beads while you're coughing.  We've spent some time online doing more research on sword beads and a few other things, and he's been reading 'The Viking World' for more inspiration.

    Unfortunately, we won't be at Middlewich for the Roman Festival, we're really disappointed but there's not much point in going somewhere to do a demo when you can't talk. 

  5. Looks like we're all settled in now, and filling the shop with the old favourites as well as new items. 

    The new beads today are all Anglo-Saxon beads, either 'sword beads' which are a type found in male graves and associated with a sword as a talisman or good-luck piece.  Some discussions also promote the concept of them as healing stones. 

    Individual beads from female graves can be amuletic in purpose, for continuing health or prevention of disease. Many of them are found in positions that would indicate they were attached individually to the belt, kept in a pouch at the belt or worn on a cord around the neck.  As there is no way to state exactly how they were worn, the best guess is that they were kept handy, similar to worry beads or a good luck charm.