After moving back to Korea, my biggest concern was: where do I get beads and findings now? I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered a decent-sized bead and gemstone market in Seoul. And where else would such a place be, other than the fabled 남대문 시장 (Namdaemun market)?

Mesa shopping mall in Namdaemun Market.
I was lucky enough to catch the last glimpse of the gemstone mall’s 우주상가 (Woojoo mall) era; all bead shops formerly hosted in Woojoo mall are now relocated to a more modern and sleeker fare of 메사 (Mesa mall). Mesa mall itself houses groups of fashion-related mini malls on each floor. It is located right behind 신세계 백화점 (Shinsegae department store).

Inside the bead market. Entire B1 floor is filled with bead and jewelry supply shops.
The bead shopping mall consists of many booths, each specializing in different sets of merchandise, from gemstone beads, precious metal findings and pre-fab jewelry. This is a wholesale market, with wholesale prices to match. Traditionally, haggling is the accepted norm in Korean markets. I made a (rather meek) attempt once, shot down swiftly, and have never tried again. ;-)

Tiffani specializes in sterling silver findings

An entirely novel concept: base metal plating over precious metal. Click to examine this wonder closely.

Mr. 정광복 (Kwang Bok Jung) of Tiffani knows his silver

At the center of the hall is 티파니 (Tiffani, TEL 02-776-2918). They specialize in all kinds and manners of sterling silver findings, both directly manufactured and imported. As a brick-and-mortar jewelry supply store, it has the most extensive inventory of silver findings I have ever seen. The small-ish store is jam-packed with little bag full of silver findings of all shapes, sizes, and, COLORS.

One of the things that immediately struck me and confused me to no end was the colors of these silver findings. They are… silvery, golden, reddish, brownish, yellowish and blackish! What gives?? And I discovered the most curious thing of it all — in Korea, sterling silver findings are often plated with all sorts of metal: yellow gold (of course), white gold, copper, brass, and even gun metal.

After much probing, the reasons that the shop keepers gave me were as follows. Sterling silver is preferred because of its low allergenic factor; however, its easily tarnishing nature makes it preferable to plate it over with other colored metals that prevents tarnishing. Well, I am not entirely convinced that the top coat of base metal wouldn’t in fact trigger allergic reactions, and that tarnishing of silver core wouldn’t show through the supposedly thin top coat of base metal. (After all, vermeil is 24k gold over sterling silver, and it tarnishes and tarnishes ugly.) At any rate, the Korean public seems to be rather accustomed to seeing Sterling silver in all varieties of colors, so that’s actually pretty cool. One of the downsides is, however, the complete unavailability of gold-filled findings here. The market seems to be quite content with gold-plated silver that it doesn’t seem to have the demand for gold-filled. For now, I will have to rely solely on overseas vendors for GF.

서우 (Seo Woo) specializes in gemstone beads

Ms. 김주영 (Joo Young Kim) and Ms. 이은석 (Eun Suk Lee) of Seo Woo

It takes me good 30 minutes to comb through all these beads every time I visit (OK, usually longer…)

Strands of luscious gemstone beads

Among the many gemstone bead stores, my favorite is 서우 (Seo Woo, TEL 02-2128-7046). What sets this store apart is its selection of stones.

I found that beaded and wire-worked gemstone jewelry segment in Korea doesn’t have its own identity set apart from that of high-end precious jewelry; as a result, beaded jewelry tends to mimic the look of “non-handmade” jewelry, and bead stores in general cater to that trend by stocking up the standard fare of gemmy gemstones such as faceted semi-precious rondelles, briolettes and such.

Seo Woo, on the other hand, has a good selection of “interesting” gemstone beads, the organic-looking and chunky kinds, just the way I like ‘em. :-) Whenever I visit, I terribily inconvenience the two nice shop owners by lingering forever, combing through each strand of gemstones and taking my time struggling to pick out the most perfect strand. Luckily for me, they are most understanding. Ms Kim especially possesses the superpower of picking out the prettiest gemstone strands at a glance when I am at the height of my indecisiveness. They are also used to me running to the nearest ATM machines and back before paying: all shops in the Mesa Jewelry center only accept cash, and somehow I always go over the self-imposed bead shopping budget of the day. :-)

All in all, many of my successful designs were made with beads came from this store (such as my prehnite ring). I have the wonderful tastes of Seo Woo’s owners to thank for.

Loot of the day

Today was no exception, and after two ATM withdrawals later I came home with a huge purchase. Pictured is the most prized of the loot: moss amethyst elongated briolettes, fossil coral drops, and grey moonstone carved leaves. Can’t wait to use them in my designs. :-)