How to Differentiate Between Bead Materials

One of the most important questions when choosing a bead necklace is how to differentiate between the different materials. Knowledge about the materials the necklace is made of is important for understanding its price and how to take care of it. It is the most frightening task for the layperson, but do not fear, it is very simple when you know how..........

The secret words are: Temperature, Weight and Sound
                                   Temperature, Weight and Sound
                                       Temperature, Weight and Sound

I will explain:

One simple test which is remarkably effective when properly applied is caused by the different heat-conductivity of different materials.
Just take the beads into your hands and get an impression of their temperature.
If the necklace feels cold, than you have stone beads in your hand. As all stones conduct heat away from the spot touched by you at a rate faster than glass does, glass feels warmer than stone. Plastics, amber and wood feel even warmer than glass as they conduct heat less than glass.
The best way of getting an impression of the temperature of the bead necklace is to keep a bead against your upper lip for a short while, like a mother does when touching the forehead of her child when checking if it has a fever or not. Often this method is socially not accepted ( when shopping at a very elegant shop) or simply disgusting (on a flea market). Than you have to restrain yourself and just keep the necklace for a short while in your hand.
In order to do this test properly in the open air: avoid shopping on a very hot day, avoid necklaces which are in hot sunlight and avoid keeping the beads too long in your warm hands.

At the same time you take a necklace into your hand in order to get an impression of its temperature, you will get an impression of its weight as well. This gives you even more information: Stone is heavy, glass is lighter and plastic, in general, is the lightest. Wood is a little bit tricky: There are many varieties of wood, from very light till very heavy.

Various bead materials produce various sounds when giving them a light tap. It gives us an impression of the hardness of the material.
A heavy dense sound is produced by stone, a higher clear sound by glass and the highest but dull sound by plastic and wood. There are different ways to produce a sound from a bead:
We can "hear" the bead by tapping it for a very short while with e.g. a finger nail.
In my experience the best way of producing and hearing the sound is knocking the bead for a very short time on one of your teeth. You can hear the sound very well and you get an accurate impression of the hardness of the material. But here again are the same restrictions as checking the temperature of beads by your upper lip: social and hygienic. Than you have to rely on your nail-tap test. Knocking the bead on a table or other underground is unreliable, because in this case the sound is influenced by the material of the underground too.
Producing different sounds from different materials needs some practice but you do not need special equipment. The best place to train yourself is at home in your kitchen. Have a look around: in most cases all the materials mentioned above are available and in daily use.

Some pitfalls of the combination of the tests for temperature, weight and sound:
Beads made of Bakelite (a subdivision of the plastics) and plastic coated glass are warm on the touch, give the high dull sound of plastic, but are heavy.

Antique hand knotted stone beads necklace made of banded agate from Idar-Oberstein, Germany, silver findings, length necklace 24'' 61cm., length extension chain 3.5'' 9cm. yle made of Czech cut crystal glass beads, 1930's, length 17'' 43cm. Necklace made of plastic and plastic coated glass beads, 1990's, length 24'' 60cm. Hand knotted necklace made of amber color Bakelite beads, 1930's, length 42'' 107cm. Vintage hand strung necklace made of German wooden beads, 1960's, length 32'' 80cm.

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