The Next Big Trend in Jewelry

From packets of Swarovski crystal beads to ornate multicolor lampworked beads, glass made a strong showing in Tucson.

Show organizers say interest in glass has grown over the last decade. Joan Johnson, show promoter and owner of The Bead Renaissance Show, headquartered in Truth or Consequences, N.M., recalls just one bead magazine in publication—Bead and Button—10 years ago. “That was five years before we started our show—before we started to have a renaissance of glass beads,” she says. Now, many more magazines about beads exist, and “everybody” is having shows, she adds.

One is the To Bead True-Blue show, which joined Tucson this year. Its organizer, Anna Johnson, Nevada City, Calif., structured the show as an invitation-only wholesale event for bead makers and was overwhelmed by the response: Some 97 percent of her vendors already have re-signed for the 2006 show, and many new exhibitors approached her, doubling the size of next year’s event. “We’ll take over the entire Manning House [Mansion],” she says of plans to expand next year. Visitors were also plentiful: On some days, as many as 5,000 registered for admission to the show, which housed a mix of lampworkers, dichroic and fused-glass beadmakers, Fimo and precious-metal-clay artists, and others.

Beads—the dominant form for most glass for jewelry—are very popular. They’re a low investment, and glassmaking classes are available in many places, observes Lewis Wilson, Albuquerque, N.M., a glass blower for 32 years and show organizer of the Best Bead Shows I and II. In fact, a gem carver from Flora, Miss., who exhibits in one of the Gem & Lapidary Wholesaler shows, came to Tucson this year with all beads instead of carvings, notes Candy McNamara, president, G&LW, which organizes the Holidome, Gem Mall, and Rodeway Inn shows.

Plus, vendors like to offer their customers new merchandise. “Over the past few years, cut stones have not been doing as well,” says McNamara. “Exhibitors do try new things.”