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Why Sourcing Bead Supplies from Charity Shops is a Good Idea

Making jewelry can be an expensive hobby.  One way to get some great supplies is through your local charity shop.  Most of the time, the jewelry there is not worth a second look. Yup, plain old junk. But occasionally, there are some great bargains for gemstones and good crystals.  These pieces can be taken apart, washed and dried and recycled into new jewelry.  There are indeed some Etsy stores who sell recycled jewelry designs!

I recently came across a very long - 40 inch strand of pearls - round and discs teamed with lots of crystals.  As you can see, many of the beads were large.  This is a marvelous bargain as the whole necklace cost me only Canadian $7 or US$ 5.60!

I can't be totally sure but I suspect most of the crystals were Swarovski too.  Swarovski crystals are precision cut. The facet edges meet precisely as shown by the red arrow.  Good quality crystals also have a lot of facets for that extra sparkle.

Another reason for keeping an eye out for good beads is the rarity of some types of materials. Mediterranean red coral is one of them. Some jewelry companies no longer stock it because it is a threatened species. We shouldn't be buying red coral at all but previously harvested red coral from vintage jewelry is fair game!

I bought the above dainty 24 inch baroque pearl and red coral necklace from the same charity shop some years ago for just Canadian $2 or US $1.60. Some of the best red coral apparently can cost $1000 per gram. Demand is driven by mostly Chinese buyers.

This National Geographic video explains how the slow growing red coral is the foundation of many ecosystems in the Mediterranean. Over fishing, pollution, acidification and rising sea temperatures are threatening its survival. The coral cannot grow fast enough to outpace the loss and hence the decimation.

Unfortunately there is still no protection in place for red coral. An international attempt was made in 2010 but the effort failed because of (no surprise here) commercial interests. There needs to be a moratorium on harvesting to let the coral recover. Or someday  it will be gone forever.

This red coral necklace is the second time I have ever handled red coral. Several years ago, a work colleague got me to wire wrap some red coral she bought from a fisherman in her native Algeria. She had had it for at least 15 years as she didn't know what to do with the awkwardly shaped pieces. See my past post on why it was challenging project!

Coral reefs everywhere are already under threat with warming oceans and seas.  We shouldn't be buying any! The fish which live in coral reefs are important sources of protein for millions of people worldwide. If the reefs die, the fish disappear.  In 2016, the Great Barrier Reef off Australia lost 30% of its coral in a nine-month heatwave. Professor Terry Hughes who published the results in the premier science journal, Nature, puts it bluntly, if warming continues apace: “Then it’s game over.”

Great Barrier Reef

I used natural light, my iPhone 6S with the Camera+ app and the Modahaus TS400 tabletop studio for final product photography of the two charity shop necklaces. Note : the Modahaus is no longer available.


  1. Thank you for bringing these issues to light. I had no idea! Very informative, thoughtful piece. And second-hand shopping is always fun!!

  2. You remember that giegegor piece I found for $7 and it turned out to be an antique worth $300USD! My girlfriend wore it for her wedding and reluctantly gave it back.

    I've found some incredible treasures at Value Village. If you were able to drop in and check out the jewelry counter on a regular basis I'm sure you'd score big. My only problem is not being willing to tear a piece apart.

    Because of your schooling me on red coral I now have a drawer full of it that I can't bring myself to use!

    1. Well, if you like the pieces as they are, just gently wash it in warm soapy water, rinse, dry and wear it!!

  3. That is a great idea! I am also trying to recycle my own old jewelry that I don't wear anymore. But this is indeed a nice way to get materials :)

    1. I too am all for making over old pieces of mine!

  4. Yes, coral is rare and valuable so it is best to not sell if you have any and invest in old pieces that you can upcycle. There is not concept of charity shops atleast for jewellery in India but I do buy old stock from gypsies and convert them into high value pieces

    1. That is cool! There are estate sales too besides charity shops to consider.

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