We’ve Been Nominated!

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 6.01.19 PMWe’re excited to announce that we’ve been nominated in several categories for the 2016 Work Local Awards, a celebration of the best local employers in the Bay Area. The categories are:

  • Coolest Workspace
  • Best Co-Workers
  • Best Employer: Retail
  • Most Community-Oriented Employer
  • Most Fun Place to Work

The Work Local Awards highlights the boutiques, cafes, nonprofits, startups, and all the local employers that make our local communities thrive. Blue Door Beads is proud to be counted among the local businesses who have been nominated for at least one of the Work Local Awards!

The awards are presented by Localwise—the local job community in the Bay Area—in partnership with other local businesses. Localwise is a mission-driven organization focused on helping local businesses hire great local people.

Thanks to all of our loyal customers, fellow community members, friends, and loved ones who nominated us for these awards! We’d like to invite to to join the fun by submitting your RSVP for the celebration event on April 28th.

Check out some of the lovely things our supporters had to say:

“Blue Door Beads has the best vibe on Piedmont Avenue! I know I will always be greeted back as if I’m their best friend walking through the front door! I know it’s the most fun place to shop for awesome jewelry-making supplies and art!”

“This is one of the few bead stores left in the East Bay and they are super-cool, friendly, and conscious! They do more than retail – they provide a place for artists, for classes, and for all kinds of jewelry and other media artists to showcase their work. Plus, the vibe is fun and exciting!”

“Community-minded, customer-oriented, responsive, caring, creative, upbeat, supportive, innovative, fun and, again, creative. The owner is amazing. Sara really cares about her store and her customers. She goes out of her way to make people feel well-taken-care-of. She’s good with everyone – the kids, the millennials, the over-50’s. The store is well-lighted, clean, brimming with possibilities, and the shared center table for people who want to do their beading in the store is a magnet for shared creativity.”

“Blue Door Beads is a great fit in the Piedmont area of Oakland. Sara is a wonderful owner, boss, and neighborhood advocate. They support local artists and have great social events to encourage customers to use their services and those of the businesses around them.”

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The Real Deal: How to Tell if Your Gemstones Are Genuine – Part 4 – Coral

As anyone who appreciates fine beads or jewelry can tell you, coral isn’t just a fancy kind of shell. In fact, it’s not a shell at all! Coral is, by Google’s definition, “a hard stony substance secreted by certain marine coelenterates [aquatic invertebrates] as an external skeleton, typically forming large reefs in warm seas.” This so-called “organic gemstone,” (the other main ones being pearls and amber) has been a highly-coveted material for millennia; in addition to large, high-quality, in-tact pieces being relatively hard to find, it also comes in a beautiful array of different natural colors and textures that aren’t found in other natural materials.

Bamboo coral, a heartier coral that is often white, is often sliced, dyed, and tumbled to look like pieces of extra-large branch coral -- which doesn't actually exist.

These coral beads were made from bamboo coral, a heartier variety of white coral that is often sliced, dyed, and tumbled to look like pieces of extra-large branch coral. Photo courtesy of mamasminerals.com

Unfortunately, as is true with most highly-desirable gemstones and the like, coral is very commonly enhanced and/or imitated. Although many beaders are completely fine with using enhanced coral in their jewelry creations, most at least want to know if the pieces have been dyed, heat treated, or otherwise messed with. We did some research and found out what makes coral valuable, what are the most common forms of coral manipulation, and signs to look for to indicate coral tampering (depending on the color of the coral).

What makes coral valuable?

These blue sponge coral beads are most likely a natural coral, but they've been stabilized with resin. Photo courtesy of OzBeads on Etsy.

These blue sponge coral beads are most likely a natural color, but they’ve been stabilized with resin to make them easier to shape and polish without crumbling. Photo courtesy of OzBeads on Etsy.

Coral comes in a beautiful range of colors, including: light to dark pink (especially popular during the Victorian era), medium to dark red (the most sought-after internationally), white to cream, yellow, orange, blue, purple, black, gray, and dark brown. (jewelinfo4u.com) Different types of coral can range from semi translucent to opaque. The coral of most interest to jewelers is called precious or noble coral, Corallium rubrum,which ranges in color from pale rose to dark red and “grows” in branched deposits. Precious coral is harvested almost exclusively in the Mediterranean off the coasts of Italy, France, Spain, Algeria, and Tunisia. Other types of coral are pulled from the waters off Malaysia, Japan, Australia, Africa, and numerous Pacific islands. (collectorsweekly.com)

A sample of highly-coveted, deep red branch coral. Photo courtesy of ethnology.wordpress.com

A sample of highly-coveted, natural deep red branch coral. Photo courtesy of ethnology.wordpress.com

A beautiful example of a carved natural coral cameo. Photo of pendant courtesy of faycullen.com.

A beautiful example of a carved natural coral cameo. Photo of pendant courtesy of faycullen.com.

There are two things that have made coral attractive to jewelers for so many centuries: 1) it is a relatively soft material (compared to, say, quartz or another hard mineral), which makes it a popular material to carve into cameos and 2) it used to be available in a seemingly inexhaustible supply. Thought by the Romans to protect children, today we can plainly see that coral itself needs to be protected. In today’s legitimate jewelry-making world, only the corals that grow slow and live long are selected for jewelry and other ornamental purposes.

Unfortunately, despite careful preservation, coral reefs are among the most threatened ecosystems on the planet, dying off at an alarming rate. Pollution along coastlines caused by run-off into the world’s oceans is the biggest killer of coral, followed by damage caused by boats (commercial fishing, careless boaters, etc.)  In addition to conservationists working tirelessly to ensure only legal reefs are harvested and that other wild reefs are preserved, there are also groups (namely in Japan & Hawaii) who are developing pilot programs attempting to create coral “farms,” the perfect places to harvest coral to meet the needs and desires of the public without damaging delicate wild coral. (www.bwsmigel.info)

How & why do manufacturers manipulate coral?

Since natural, deep red coral is the most highly-coveted type of coral, it only makes sense that it is the most likely to be imitated. A lighter coral with lots of bumps, pits, and other unsightly flaws won’t fetch as high of a price as smooth, mostly blemish-free, true-red coral. But buyers, beware! Some of the sneaky tricks that manufacturers pull can be hard to spot.

Natural, unadulterated branch coral possesses a distinct pattern of parallel stripes with a slight variation in color and transparency. One blatant sign of a phony piece of coral: bubbles! No matter how deep the red color, if you see bubbles in a piece of supposed coral, what you’re actually holding is either glass or resin. Imposters made from other types of plastics are also be fairly easy to spot, since it is difficult to completely remove the molding lines from plastic cabochons or beads.

This sponge coral cabochon would have to have been stabilized with resin to be carved so smoothly. As for it's color -- it's hard to say with photos on a computer, but our guess is it has been dyed. Photo courtesy of wanelo.com

This porous sponge coral cabochon would have to have been stabilized with resin to be carved so smoothly. As for it’s color — it’s hard to say with photos on a computer, but our guess is it has been dyed. Photo courtesy of wanelo.com

Another helpful hint: look for small white flecks and patches on and inside the gem’s surface. If a blood-red piece of coral has no such irregularities and its price seems too good to be true, then it’s probably synthetic. (collectorsweekly.com) We don’t happen to think non-red coral is unattractive — white coral and light pink coral, even with dark patches, still has a cool, earthy quality. What we DO object to are folks passing off lighter-colored coral that has obviously been dyed a deep, bright red as the “real deal.” This is very common in thicker, chunkier coral beads, and frequently the dark patches on the beads (which are also often lumpy and irregular) have been filled with resin to stabilize the more brittle varieties of coral. The same goes for the more porous sponge coral; although not always dyed, it’s porous make-up makes it brittle, so sponge coral beads manufactured for sale are frequently injected with resin to stabilize them. We have no problem with stabilized or dyed coral beads in general — we sell them fairly regularly in the shop! — but we ALWAYS inform our customers when the coral has been modified.

For a beautiful variety of photos of amazing pieces of antique and vintage coral jewelry (like the carved cameo pictured above), check out FayCullen.com.

To find out more about the legality surrounding the buying & selling of coral, check out this website. We understand there are artists who prefer not to use animal byproducts (bone, leather, etc.) in their work for personal reasons, but for those who do, and for all readers & beaders in general, we hope you have found this blog post informative. Happy beading!

Check out more tips & tricks in identifying beads of different materials:

Part 1 – Turquoise
Part 2 – Amber

Part 3 – Bone

The Real Deal: How to Tell if Your Gemstones Are Genuine – Part 3 – Bone

Of all the types of beads you can find worldwide, one type that can be found on virtually every continent is bone. For centuries, bone has been a smooth, blank canvas on which artists have carved intricate images & patterns, and due to its prevalence, it has also been a readily-available material with which to create beads! From polished and smooth, to intricately carved, bone beads make an earthy, elegantly natural addition to jewelry.

Over the years, customers have asked us a fairly regular series of questions about our bone beads:

1.) How can you tell the difference between bone and ivory?

According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, bone is “extensively permeated by a series of canals through which fluid flows.” These canals, known as Haversian canals, appear as pits or scratch-like irregularities, like you can see in the beads pictured below:

Natural, un-dyed bone beads with naturally-occurring pits and blemishes.

Natural, un-dyed bone beads with naturally-occurring pits and blemishes.

Another material commonly mistaken for ivory is synthetic ivory, a.k.a. resin. Like bone beads, resin beads usually possess a “consistent color throughout”; ivory, on the other hand, “is a natural tooth substance that continues to grow throughout the animal’s life. As a result, it has noticeable structure and ‘growth lines’ much like a tree’s growth rings.” (scrimshaw.net) If you don’t see these growth lines, or the pits found on natural bone, then your beads are probably resin.

The bead-makers can do a very convincing job of modifying bone beads to look like ivory ones, most frequently by dying them with black tea to give the beads a browned/antique look, accentuating any ridges and inclusions to simulate “growth lines.” The older the beads look, the easier it is to convince a customer that what they’re looking at are ivory beads. However, chances are that if you’re shopping somewhere that features “ivory” beads at only 50¢ to a few dollars each, they’re not made of real ivory.

Tea-dyed bone beads. Photo courtesy of BestBobs on Etsy.

Tea-dyed bone beads. Photo courtesy of BestBobs on Etsy.

If you believe the beads you have ARE ivory, you can once again refer to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service‘s website, which contains incredibly detailed information about tons of different types of ivory, including: elephant, mammoth, mastodon, walrus, sperm whale, killer whale, narwhal, hippopotamus, wart hog, natural substitutes (vegetable ivory), and synthetic substitutes. They claim that “the easiest way to tell definitively (though a tad bit destructively!) whether the piece you have is ivory — if you can’t find the ‘growth lines’ — is the ‘hot pin test’. Heat a pin to nearly red hot and touch the tip to an inconspicuous part of the object. If it is ivory, it will scorch and smell like burning bone (a dentist’s office smell).” If it is a synthetic material, such as resin or polymer, the pin will melt into the piece, and smell like plastic burning.

These "synthetic ivory" beads are made of a high-quality resin, complete with imitation "growth lines."

These “synthetic ivory” beads are made of a high-quality resin, complete with imitation “growth lines.”

2.) Where do bone beads come from?

When we asked our vendors about what type of bone their beads were made of, they were very proud to tell us that their beads are made from the bones of either service animals/ “beasts of burden,” or bones locally sourced from a rendering plant. When a working camel or buffalo reaches the end of its life in Egypt or elsewhere in Africa or the Middle East, locals ensure that as little of the animal goes to waste, and that includes its bones. The same goes for cows bred for beef; bones from a rendering plant that aren’t ground up into bone meal (for pet food and farm animal feed) can easily be cleaned, polished, shaped, and drilled into beads.

Large bones, such as buffalo bone, often have a lot of marrow to clean out. To fill the void, many of these pieces are filled with wood, then drilled to create beads like the one pictured here. Photo courtesy of naturebeads.com

3.) These days, isn’t ivory illegal in basically any form?

Let’s say you have a necklace that you have now identified as containing ivory beads. Would it be illegal for you to sell it? Is it illegal for you to even HAVE it? According to well-respected scrimshaw artist Mark Thogerson, “the quick answer is no. The more involved answer is that the level of restriction depends on the type.” If your cherished family heirloom is made from mammoth ivory or mastodon ivory, you’re in the clear: these types of ivory “carry no restrictions because they are from extinct animals.” Wart hog, hippopotamus, and “Rocky Mountain Ivory” (the small canine teeth of an elk) are also unrestricted.

Custom-made pendant using elk ivory set in sterling silver. Photo courtesy of rockymountainscrimshaw.com

Custom-made pendant using elk ivory set in sterling silver. Photo courtesy of rockymountainscrimshaw.com

However, importing ivory from African elephants into the United States IS ILLEGAL (per the CITES treaty), but selling existing elephant ivory within the United States IS NOT ILLEGAL. If you inherited a piece of ivory jewelry from your grandmother and decide it’s not your style, a jeweler specializing in estate jewelry would probably be happy to add it to his/her collection!

Some more interesting ivory legal facts, courtesy of scrimshaw.net:

* Sperm whale teeth can be bought and sold LEGALLY via interstate commerce only by people with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service permits; however, they can be sold from person to person as long as the transaction is not across state lines.

* All other marine mammals are considered “protected” under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.  Whole walrus tusks can only leave Alaska if they are genuine native artwork or have special clearance; partial tusks must be tagged by the Alaska Fish and Game Dept.

* Also according to Thogerson, the only strictly illegal ivory he is aware of “is Indian elephant; this animal is considered endangered because there are few truly wild ones left.”

Customers have also expressed concern regarding the ethics surrounding antler beads and pendants. Luckily, “antler ethics” are much easier to explain than the gray area surrounding ivory: as naturebeads.com explains on its website, the antlers they use to create their pendants (pictured below) “are collected in the mountains of Colorado from naturally shed elk and deer antlers, [a phenomenon] that happens every spring after mating.” Obviously people may object to beads and pendants made from antlers sources from an elk or a deer that was killed solely for that purpose, but shady sources such as those are rare in the beading industry. If you are concerned, we highly recommend visiting your trusted local bead store and staying away from creepy people selling beads & pendants in dark alleys!

Naturally-shed antler pendants. Photo courtesy of neaturebeads.com.

Pendants made from naturally-shed antlers. Photo courtesy of neaturebeads.com.

We hope you have found this blog post informative! We understand there are artists who prefer not to use animal byproducts (bone, leather, etc.) in their work for personal reasons, but for those who do enjoy using natural materials in their pieces, we hope you are now more confident in your bone/ivory/antler bead decision-making. Happy beading!

Check out more tips & tricks in identifying beads of different materials:

Part 1 – Turquoise
Part 2 – Amber

Part 4 – Coral