Pacific Ice by Melissa Grakowsky Shippee featuring Swarovski crystal fancy stones.
Photo courtesy of Melissa Grakowsky Shippee
Imagine a knitwear designer who specializes in patterns that require double-pointed needles, then suddenly all of the factories cease making double-pointed needles. Or, what if all fabric suppliers were to stop bundling pre-cuts for a quilter who is popular for patterns utilizing jelly rolls and layer cakes? You can guess the drastic impact these scenarios would have on the designers’ livelihood. Sadly, for many jewelry designers in the bead industry, these hypothetical situations aren’t that farfetched. The world-renowned Austrian crystal manufacturer, Swarovski, recently announced it will soon no longer manufacture crystals for the DIY market, leaving retailers and designers scrambling to find worthy replacements for these top-of-the-line components.
Founded in 1895 by Daniel Swarovski, the company is regarded as the premier maker of high-quality crystals and a worldwide leader in fashion and jewelry trends. In August of last year, Bloomberg reported Swarovski was headed for massive reshuffling and a brand refocus due to falling revenue and family disagreements, both challenges that began pre-COVID. By late October, rumors circulated among beading groups on social media, causing a flood of contentious posts and panic. Jewelry designer, retailer, and YouTube personality Jill Wiseman (www.jillwisemandesigns.com) recalls:
“Retailers in Australia were the first to receive the news that they would no longer be able to purchase from Swarovski. Since the information broke on Facebook, the rest of the world believed they were mistaken. Everyone thought, ‘There’s no way that could be true!’”
A grab for remaining inventory
The initial response by many crafters was to snatch up all of the crystals needed to create their favorite designs. Wiseman witnessed this firsthand: “The news initially caused a run on orders of Swarovski as some folks rushed to stock up, and I anticipate a second run as we get closer to the cut-off date. I plan to continue to stock their beads as long as I can still buy them.” The trouble is, as we saw with their initial announcement, Swarovski hasn’t been very forthcoming with information, leaving many consumers and retailers confused about when their favorites will no longer be available. Some retailers, including Dreamtime Creations, have managed to release a list of discontinued items. Designer and author Melissa Grakowsky Shippee (www.mgsdesigns.net) explains, “It seems their products might not be available to the beading community by September 2021. It’s still unknown if some DIY businesses will be able to use their products or not, but those who are allowed to continue to buy will have to agree to certain rules about using their brand name.”
Night at the Opera by Jill Wiseman featuring Swarovski crystal rounds.
Photo courtesy of Jill Wiseman.
The impact on the industry
Swarovski specializes in many exclusive crystal cuts currently unavailable from other manufacturers. As a jewelry designer who has written several bead-weaving books with patterns using unique Swarovski shapes, I am also forced to think about how the changes will impact my current and future offerings. When a consumer opens a book or magazine featuring a project with a shape specific to Swarovski, but can no longer purchase the shape, they will most likely have to make major pattern adjustments.
Wiseman knows several other artists who will need to radically overhaul their designs as a result. She adds, “As I think of new designs, I’m definitely not making them with Swarovski. The more limited fancy stone lineup from other crystal makers will limit what’s coming from designers in the near term.” Grakowsky Shippee is forced to take a similar approach: “I’m now using focals from different American artisans and German glass cabochons as focals in my projects, rather than relying only on Swarovski.”
Manhattan Necklace by Melinda Barta featuring Swarovski crystal rivolis and bicones.
Photo courtesy of Melinda Barta.
Filling the void
The question now is which bead manufacturers will jump at the opportunity to fill the void that Swarovski will leave behind. One company that often comes up when talking with designers is Preciosa, a reputable beadmaker based in the Jablonec region of the Czech Republic. For Wiseman’s retail business, she revealed, “I’m picking up Preciosa, although it will be phased-in as it’s expensive to invest in all-new inventory. I’ll also be evaluating some Chinese crystals and am still researching other options. In general, I feel like Preciosa will be the best comparable [to Swarovski], but we’ll have to see how fast they can pivot to a much higher volume of orders.”
Grakowsky Shippee agrees that Preciosa may offer some light at the end of the tunnel: “I am exploring Preciosa crystal, which is really expanding their line of crystal now and the number of items they offer is increasing, as well as the quality. They look really good!” However, brand swaps aren’t typically as easy as one might think; most successful substitutions in beading require testing. Wiseman gives an example: “I have done side-by-side comparisons of 3mm and 4mm bicones and the Preciosa are a smidge (around .1mm) smaller than the Swarovski. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but those of us who make precision designs know that a small size offset multiplied by however many times that bead is used can add up and cause construction issues.”
In all of business, where there’s demand, supply will follow. However, for many designers in the DIY jewelry market, it will be a long road to recovery before we see a full line of Swarovski replacements. Wiseman maintains a positive attitude: “I believe Swarovski’s product assortment is not currently matched anywhere else, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done going forward. The other crystal companies have just been handed the biggest gift from Swarovski and we’ll have to see which ones step up to the plate and are able to ramp up their production. This won’t be a simple changeover. It’s going to take years for our industry to recover from the Swarovski exit.” Grakowsky Shippee concurs, “Swarovski most definitely had the hugest variety of crystal shapes and sizes on the planet, and the quality is unmatched, but we will adapt!”
Melinda Barta was the editor of Beadwork magazine for eight years and is the author of six books published by Interweave. She has filmed many instructional DVDs on bead-weaving techniques, taught at craft schools and bead shows nationwide, and shared her love of crafting on DIY, PBS, HGTV, Style, and local television networks. Visit www.melindabarta.com and www.melindabartastudio.etsy.com.