Navigating the Crystal Mine-Field
So I've done multiple posts about working with rhinestone crystals, but the one thing I haven't addressed is where I buy them, and the differences between all the different varieties.
The two online sources I use are Rhinestone Guy and Dreamtime Creations. I have always received such excellent customer service and advice from Rhinestone Guy, and their prices are consistently 15% to 20% less than Dreamtime, so I always go there first. However, in the six years since I've been dealing with Rhinestone Guy, their website has become soooooooo muddled and confusing. If I weren't already a long-time customer, I do not think I would order from them. In fact I've heard of performers trying to navigate their site and then just giving up and going to Dreamtime instead.
If you order from Rhinestone Guy the only pages you need are these ones:
Swarovski pricing, for both single gross (144 pieces) or ten gross (1,440 pieces)
The other crucial page is their online colour chart, which also happens to come with excellent written descriptions of the colours, which is something Dreamtime doesn't do. HOWEVER, If you plan on using crystals regularly, you really should purchase a physical sample card from any of the online suppliers. These have actual stones on the cards so you won't be disappointed by ordering the wrong shade.
Ok, so. The links and images I'm posting here are specifically for the Swarovski brand. Each of these suppliers carry at least a couple other brands for anywhere from a little, to a lot less money than Swarovski. The most common brands of actual crystal stones you will see as you browse the web are Swarovski (the Rolls Royce), Czech Preciosa (the BMW), house brands (the Honda), and the no name brands that typically come from China (the scooter). There's no right or wrong as to how much you feel comfortable spending, but there is, to my mind, what I would call a HUGE difference in how much fire each of these varying stones have. As a general guideline, Preciosa can cost anywhere from 25% - 30% less than Swarovski. It's just good to know the differences when you decide what you want to spend and what kind of effect you are wanting to achieve.
I truly did not believe that the difference was so vast when I first started my sparkle obsession. I first used Preciosa almost exclusively and I was perfectly happy with how my projects looked. So I thought I may as well try some of the cheaper ones, figuring there would not be much difference. WRONG. I bought some from China which had facets that were so soft and rounded, versus crisp and sharp, that they didn't reflect at all. A sequin would have had more sparkle. I ended up not even using them at all. If I was going to invest the time, they damn well better sparkle. So then I tried the house-brand from Rhinestone Guy, the RG line. While certainly better than the Chinese off-brand, they still were quite dull as compared to Preciosa.
It wasn't until I once had to order Swarovski due to a shortage of stock in Preciosa that I fully understood where the price difference comes from. For me there is NO comparison whatsoever. This became particularly clear when I replaced some stones that had fallen off some shoes. I replaced them with Swarovski rather than the original Preciosa, and the difference in gleam and fire accounts for every extra penny.
This is not to say you can't extend your sparkle budget by consciously mixing and matching the different quality, size, and colour of stones, just be aware that you distribute them with intent. For example, I have purchased several of the amazing hair flowers from the lovely Amber Ray, and at least on one of them, (a MASSIVE burgundy velvet rose) has at least three different levels of sparkle on it. I think of it as creating mood and depth of sparkle rather than JUST SCREAMING SPARKLE. Which also has its place.
Also, if you are wondering what the 2088, 2058, and other such numbers that are tagged to the Swarovski brands are. In short. Don't even worry about it. They are constantly adjusting the shape, number, and angles of the facets of each stone so as to improve the sparkle. 2088 happens to be the most recent incarnation, but do not hesitate to take advantage of sales that often happen on some of the older models.
I feel like this is a not very fun, info-heavy post, so I'll wrap it up for now. I have more on this topic and will revisit in the future!