Fire Mountain Gems and Beads is, in a sense, the McMaster Carr of the jewelry world. The company’s 400-plus page print catalog, with its to-scale photos of beads, gems, clasps and findings (roughly, the jewelry-making hardware), rivals any catalog in terms of introducing creative possibilities, and enticing you to buy stuff. For me, having the physical catalog makes navigating the extensive website easier.
If you’re interested in making bead jewelry, I’d recommend taking a beginner’s class at a local bead store to get started and gain a basic familiarity with the tools. I took a wire wrap class at a local shop and then had a foundation from which I was able to learn knotting and stringing pearls watching Fire Mountain’s instructional videos.
One of my favorite aspects of having even a basic ability to make jewelry is that I’m always able to create a last-minute gift, at least for friends whose taste is similar to mine. I keep a small stash of beads and findings around, and then can put together a pair of earrings in 10 minutes—a personal, homemade gift I didn’t have to go to the store to buy.