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Recycled Glass Beads: What Makes Them Special?

It's only been a week since we (re)launched our Website and dropped our spring/summer 2022 collection, but already it's clear to see what y'all are loving: day after day, our new bead necklace and bracelet styles always seem make it to the "most viewed" list! And we don't blame you: they are definitely eye-catching; in an ocean of silver, gold vermeil and gold, colorful beads will always stand out. And it's not just you—we're crazy about them, too! Even as they were still in the proof-of-concept phase, we couldn't resist wearing the samples around the office!

These are not the beads that you're used to seeing being used in jewelry: yes, instead of going the gemstone route, we decided to go the ethical, environmentally conscious route by using artisanal recycled glass beads from the Krobo people of Ghana!

Sunset Recycled Glass Bead Necklace from RIVA New York

Celina Mylene Santana wears the Sunset Recycled Glass Bead Necklace with a Cushion-Shaped Invisible Clasp in High-Polish Sterling Silver

Full disclosure: when we were conceptualizing bead styles a few months ago (in the fall of 2021), we were thinking along the lines of gemstone beads (isn’t that always the default?). White jade beads, specifically, because we thought they were a great alternative to pearls, and then we played around with onyx beads, as well. We even went so far as to make sample necklaces and bracelets, and many of you will remember we took photos and videos of them, and shared them on our Instagram (we even asked you guys to participate in a poll when we ourselves could not decide between matte onyx beads and the glossy kind). But then as we did the rounds to find a supplier for these beads, we got confronted by a harsh reality: it was fiendishly difficult to find onyx and white jade that were traceable. For weeks we were chasing down semi-precious stone and gemstone bead wholesalers, to no avail. Even when we approached ethical gem suppliers at the trade shows, nobody was offering white jade and onyx, and nobody could point us to a direction—this was when we knew we had hit a dead end.

We had a huge decision to make: (1) keep the designs, and just continue to purchase the white jade and onyx beads from the same supplier we approached during the sample-making phase until we find a supplier that could provide us with responsibly sourced beads; or (2) scrap the bead collection idea altogether? We found ourselves seriously mulling over the former, but it just did not feel right. The whole point of us temporarily taking down our Website and taking a hiatus was so we could take the time out to, among other things, reevaluate our sourcing practices to ensure our offerings are truly responsible—so to settle for gemstone beads that were not traceable, albeit only for a time, seemed a little transgressive, and did not feel like a warm hug. So then did that mean we were left with no choice but to shelve the bead necklace and bracelet design ideas altogether?

Specked brown recycled glass bead bracelet from RIVA New York

Hannah Johnson wears the Cobble Recycled Glass Bead Bracelet with a Heart-Shaped Invisible Clasp in Gold Vermeil/White Enamel

Fortunately fate stepped in, and our creative director stumbled upon a California-based company that sells wholesale non-gemstone beads, and something in their catalog piqued our interest: recycled glass beads! Not only were they stunning, they also checked most of the boxes that we were looking to check: eco-friendly (by virtue of their being created from discarded glass items), fair trade, artisanal. The bonus? They were imbued with cultural significance (the Krobo tribe in Ghana have been making these beads for generations)! Needless to say, we jumped right on it, and that was how our Luna, Cobble and Sunset bead necklace and bracelet styles were born!

Some of you sent us e-mails (and Instagram messages) to ask how the beads are made, so we’re gonna break it down for you real quick. First is they sort the discarded glass items (mostly bottles, but other glass items are used, too, like broken windows, jars, etc.) by color. The next step is the crushing of the glass into fragments (some crush them into finer, almost powder-y particles), which are then poured into clay molds. The molds with the glass fragments are then slid into handmade clay ovens or kilns, where they are subjected to extremely high heat until the glass melts. The holes are made after the beads are taken out of the kiln (some use the stalk method, where stalks of cassava leaves are placed in the middle of the mold, and as they burn they leave holes in the beads). The resulting beads are then polished by hand, with the help of a little sand and water. Our supplier made a video of this process and uploaded it to their YouTube channel: click here to see the video

Luna recycled glass bead necklace from RIVA New York

Our founder Rebecca Doudak wears the Luna Recycled Glass Bead Necklace with a Heart-Shaped Invisible Clasp in Sterling Silver/Purple Enamel, plus our Carnelian Charm and Daisy Enamel Charm (both charms in Sterling Silver)

For our inaugural batch of bead necklaces and bracelets we opted for three styles: bright orange for our Sunset necklace and bracelet, specked brown for our Cobble necklace and bracelet (and this is my personal favorite, because the dark vein-like specks give the beads a very distinct look that is reminiscent of tortoiseshell), and multi-color for our Luna necklace and bracelet. (By the way, for those of you who are wondering, these bead styles are named after Brooklyn neighborhoods/landmarks: Sunset is from Sunset Park, where the RIVA offices and factory are located; Cobble is from Cobble Hill, one of our favorite spots and probably the homiest neighborhoods this side of New York; and Luna is from the famed Luna Park in Coney Island.) If there are other colors you would like us to consider adding in the future, feel free to send your suggestions via our Contact Us form!

What makes RIVA’s bead necklace and bracelet styles extra special—apart, of course, from the fact that they allow you to wear the magical handiwork of the Krobo artisans—is that we use a hammered double link chain in recycled sterling silver as a base to thread the beads (gold vermeil in the case of our Cobble necklace and bracelet)! No craft wires or cords here! The aesthetic may be craftsy or DIY-inspired, but we wanted you to have insides that are slightly elevated.

Sunset Recycled Glass Bead Bracelet from RIVA New York

Hannah Johnson wears the Sunset Recycled Glass Bead Bracelet with a Cushion-Shaped Invisible Clasp in Sterling Silver/Green Enamel, plus our Citrus Wedge Charm in Sterling Silver/Orange Enamel

It is important to note that these recycled glass bead necklace and bracelet styles are “foundation” pieces (we sometimes refer to them as “base” pieces in other areas of our Website) because they are the foundation of a RIVA New York Expression Collection necklace or bracelet. What this means is that, if you buy these necklaces or bracelets by themselves, they will not come with closures—you will have to pair your bead necklace or bracelet with the Invisible Clasp of your choice, which will serve as your piece’s closure. After adding the bead necklace or bracelet of your choice to the Cart, you will have to exit the Cart and navigate to our page of Invisible Clasps to select your Clasp, and then add that to your Cart. (You can personalize your piece further by adding a charm or two, because the Invisible Clasp can also serve as a charm holder! Adding charms is totally optional, of course.) To make it easier for you, the RIVA New York team has created a Build Your Own Bead Necklace or Bracelet page so you do not have to jump back and forth between our Shop pages and your Cart as you build your custom piece—and it’s super fun, so you should try it!

Couple of other important things to keep in mind if you are setting your sights on these recycled glass bead styles: (1) bead diameter is approximately 7mm, but because these are handmade and because they have a more organic rather than perfectly round shape, there is going to be slight variance in size; (2) there is also going to be some variance in color (different lighting conditions can also lead to variable perceptions, so if you are looking at our Website, for example, you will notice that the colors of the beads in the product still life photos are slightly different from the colors of the beads in on-model photos); (3) there is also going to be some variance in degree of translucence, and in speck patterns/inclusions. In other words, due to the artisanal nature of the bead-making process, no two beads are going to be exactly alike.

Cobble Recycled Glass Bead Necklace from RIVA New York

Hannah Johnson wears the Cobble Recycled Glass Bead Necklace with a Marquise-Shaped Invisible Clasp in High-Polish 14K Yellow Gold

The most important thing to note, though, is that with every purchase of these recycled glass bead styles, you are empowering the artisans of the Ghanaian Krobo tribe. Although RIVA New York does not source directly from them, our supplier does—they have direct access to the wonderful craftspeople in Ghana (they also work with artisans in Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, etc.), and they are passionate about bringing to light the human stories behind the products. Your piece will be a piece you will be inspired to wear (or to gift), because you know that not only are you helping to minimize environmental impact by choosing to wear something that mitigates harm and reduces pollution, you also are helping to ensure that the Krobo artisans get to keep their craft alive for generations to come. It is our hope that as you wear your RIVA New York recycled glass bead necklace or bracelet you will carry this provenance with you, and the ensuing dialogue between your story of intent and your personal style will make you shine. 

Article and photographs by Angelo dela Cruz

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