Why do Artist-Made Lampwork Beads Cost More?
Many people may admire artist-made lampwork beads, but, if they don’t exactly shudder at the price, they at least give a little quiver! What is the reason these little glass beauties are so darned expensive when compared to other beads? They are just glass after all, aren’t they?
Well, yes, they are made of glass. But, an artist-made glass bead goes beyond being “just glass” the same way a potters vase goes beyond just being a piece of clay.
First, a little aside to explain what I mean when I say “artist-made”. Every lampwork bead, by definition, is handmade—even the super cheap mass imports. This is where many unscrupulous sellers will prey on buyers—they are selling handmade goods after all, who cares if they are mass-produced in a factory? Handmade is handmade, right? Well, no, not really when it comes to lampwork. Artist-made beads refers to people such as myself—individuals or small co-ops, who imagine their own designs, which they produce themselves. Quality, not quantity, is the motivating force.
So back to lampwork beads being “just glass.” I mean, you can go to the local dollar shop and buy a drinking glass for $1 so glass must be a pretty cheap material, right? Some glass is cheap, but not the glass used for lampwork. Lampwork glass rods are specially made for the art, and some of the newer, exciting silver glasses can cost as much as $4 per 15” rod. That doesn’t go too far! Starting out a studio with a small selection of glass can cost over $100, and that is on the conservative side. Plus, the glass gets used up fairly quickly, and not every bead you create will make the quality control cut, so there is waste that adds up.
Even if a lampwork artist chooses to forgo any expensive glass colors, there are still a number of items that must be purchased to even make the beads, much less sell them. You will need a torch, fuel, a kiln to anneal the beads (more about this in a future blog), an oxygen source, mandrels, bead release…oh, and electricity to run the kiln!
So now we can make some simple round beads…if you want to venture into shapes and some really cool effects, you need to add tools such as marvers, presses, frit, silver foil, etc.
It should be easy to see that setting up a lampwork studio, even a modest one, is not cheap. We haven’t even discussed the idea of the artist earning any money from the beads, we have only covered the cost of supplies. Hopefully, people would understand that an artist needs to earn a living wage, just like the rest of Americans.
And that gets to the heart of why some lampwork beads are offered so cheaply on places like Ebay, Etsy and your local craft store. Any bead priced so low is definitely made in a factory, probably in China or India, and the workers are NOT being paid a living wage to crank out the beads. It’s simple economics. The prices of the cheap lampwork reflects that—believe me the factory owners and the re-sellers are taking their cut, so what does that leave?
When you buy an artist-made bead, you are supporting self-representing artists who care about their work, as much, if not more than, the money they make. Yes, artist-made beads are more expensive, but you will get what you pay for. I can, and probably will, fill another blog about mass-produced beads and what you get for your money, but for now, I hope you understand why you will not find my beads in the “cheap” sections of on-line venues. You are buying a piece of my imagination after all, and that is worth something!