I have been seeing an increasing amount of cheap imported lampwork beads flooding the listings on Etsy lately and am becoming quite annoyed and concerned with this trend. I am used to seeing this on Ebay, but Etsy in the past has been fairly good about weeding out the stuff that isn't really handmade.
How do you tell the difference, price is usually a good starting point. A "handmade" lampwork bead being offered for $2.99 with a sterling silver core, isn't handmade by the person offering it, nor is it likely to have a sterling silver core. Some sellers have a habit of presenting core that is plated with silver as sterling, but this is only known as silver plate, and should not be stamped with the .925 that signifies true sterling silver. Not only are these beads not made by the seller as it is usually stated, but they usually are not annealed. Annealing is a cooling process that takes place in a kiln, which slowly reduces the temperature of the bead at a controlled rate, this can take up to 8 hours. With a very inexpensive bead this step is almost always skipped since it takes time and time is money! Non-annealed beads are unsafe for use in jewelry as they can break at anytime, it could be weeks, months or days after you receive them. These are glass, would you want that to break while being worn on your wrist?
The photos you see in listings are often stock photos, so the beads you get are probably not going to be the ones in the picture. If you are getting 3 beads for $ 2.99, run for your life. It is a good bet that if the seller originates in China or India, you may not be getting quality lampwork beads. You are getting cheap beads.
Most reputable lampwork artist selling on Etsy, Ebay or websites will have acquired a self representing artist designation, as well as a membership with the International Society of Glass Beadmakers. They will tell you in their listings what types of glass they use and how they anneal and clean their beads. I have run across an Ebay seller how had all the right verbiage on her listings, but did not have the self representing artist logo or number to back up her claim of possessing such a designation. When I looked at her listings, I could quickly recognize them as cheap Chinese imports. The best bet is to get to know your seller and ask questions, even ask other sellers you trust, most will be honest with you about whether or not this person is selling handmade beads. After awhile you learn to spot them, not to mention within the lampworking community word travels fairly quickly when someone is misrepresenting their work.
This is an age old art form and the people who do it, love it and take pride in their work. It is important to continue to educate people as to the differences in bead quality so they can at least make an informed decision about what they are buying. I certainly don't believe in price gouging, but if it seems too good to be true, price wise, it probably is...