The great lava jewelry scam

In Iceland, lava jewelry is sold everywhere. I always linger and look at it, and then dismiss it as that little bit too expensive to buy. Having said that, it always seemed like it would be a good “typically Icelandic” souvenir that would also be easier for me to wear generally in daily life than a lopapeysa or my Icelandic wool scarf! So I had just about decided I was going to bite the bullet and get some on my most recent visit.


Then I saw an excellent tip from the I Heart Reykjavik site – that you can basically go to a craft store and buy the lava beads and then make your own earrings/necklace/whatever you want. And the beads are much cheaper to buy this way. I was really excited about this and actually did go and buy some beads after much deliberation in the craft store, they had so many of different sizes and shapes that I wanted to buy them all. I had no idea what other material I needed to actually make some necklaces out of these but thought I could sort that out at home anyway. I don’t really want to get into jewelry making – I can see it’s another creative outlet much like knitting that I might enjoy, but there is something a bit too teenage girl about it!

Anyway, I had a bit of a shock on my return home when the Grapevine ran this articleย  – in an nutshell, although the jewelry you see states that it is made in Iceland, which it is, the lava is not Icelandic! In a country covered by lava, this is lava that is imported from other countries. In fact, the Icelandic lava is too soft to be worked with and made into the types of beads that you see for sale. This also applies to the ones I bought.

I had always assumed that this was Icelandic lava jewelry, and in fact it isn’t. It’s taken the fun out of making my own now. Am I just being silly and does it matter given that they are still lava beads that I bought in Iceland? It’s probably the only time I’ve felt a bit ripped off as a tourist in Iceland which isn’t something I am used to there.

If you want to buy lava jewelry, I’d still recommend buying the beads rather than something already made up and then design your own at home. I will post photos if I ever make anything out of what I bought?

Have you ever been ripped off as a tourist?


22 thoughts on “The great lava jewelry scam

  1. I think being ripped off is part of the worldwide tourism industry, and everybody has bought something that isn’t what it seems. To me, it really doesn’t matter if something turns out to be a fake because I am buying it for me, not to ever re-sell. I bought prints from a local artist in New Orleans that has his own shop, and they were all individually numbered, autographed, and framed. If I were to find out that they were very good photocopies, and not original prints, I don’t think I would mind because I bought them because they look good, not because I ever intend to sell them. This is of a smaller scale, but the worst ripoff I have ever seen as a tourist is $6 for a half-liter of water at Disney World. This was during July when it was over 100 degrees (F) out in Florida. Not quite the magical place where dreams come true. Just out of curiosity, how much do those beads go for?

    • I know part of the fun of going somewhere is buying stuff for when you get home. I suppose there are just many tourist trap places that I have been where I fully expect to be ripped off and am ok with it if there’s something that I actually want. I just never thought Icelandic stuff was anything other than straightforward.

      I can imagine what a nightmare Disney must be. Or anywhere that doesn’t have to try very hard. So glad I haven’t got kids as I can imagine how hard it must be to not buy them all the rubbish they want!

      Good point about price – if I have a look on they have simple necklaces featuring one polished small piece of lava for between 60-70 USD. I bought several little bags of beads (which are not so polished, they are quite porous but that makes them look interesting in my opinion) for around 5 USD each. There are bigger full strings of beads in varying sizes that would cost more like 20-25 USD.

      • I didn’t go to Disney World until I was 14, so that probably has something to do with my disdain for it. Our family vacations were to places like Yellowstone Park, Boston, DC, or NYC. At least the lava didn’t break the bank. I was thinking it would be much more expensive. There are always people everywhere looking to rip people off, I don’t think any city or country is immune to that.

  2. That is such a bummer. I would be disappointed too, and I am also surprised that something sold in Iceland wasn’t authentic. Really, of all the places we’ve been, Iceland was the only place we ever really ought souvenirs, mostly because we saw them to be high quality and actually benefitting the local economy. We bought a lot of wool there.

    • I love everything else I’ve ever bought in Iceland. I need to get cracking on using up some of my wool so I have the excuse to buy more. ๐Ÿ™‚ I have a fantasy of having an Icelandic goods shop here in the UK some day.

  3. Some of our local jewelery is moose poop earrings. Some are made locally, some are brought in from the few other parts of the country where there are moose. It is better to go to the shop where you can watch them make it.

  4. how disappointing! I was wanting an Icelandic lava piece of jewelery… but to me if it isn’t Icelandic lava, it doesn’t matter. I want to carry around a piece of Iceland.

  5. Golly, how interesting. I must say I think all countries need to be much more transparent about origins. I am loving Mary Portas, (Mary’s Bottom Line), documentary about getting knickers made in UK. It’s a real eye opener.

  6. OK, I’ve been thinking about this and I don’t think I agree that this is a scam. Yes, the lava is not Icelandic but it’s Icelandic design and made by Icelanders (in most cases anyway). It’s like saying that paintings by Kjarval are not Icelandic because the materials he used originated somewhere else. Iceland has a lot of lava, people connect their experience in Iceland to lava and some crafty people have managed to incorporate that into the souvenir business in Iceland. It’s impossible to make anything out of the Icelandic lava so they use something else. It’s not a scam, it’s just not telling the whole truth.

    Having said all that, I don’t like this jewelry and think most of it is ugly anyway.

    The real scam is the woolen products that are sold to the tourists as hand-made out of Icelandic wool and are actually made in China in wool from sheep that have never even heard about Iceland. Now that’s a scam!

    • I’ve calmed down a bit since posting this. ๐Ÿ™‚ I may just give in and buy one of the big threads of beads next time. I think what took me by surprise is that although I am a pretty cynical tourist everywhere else, I was never a cynical tourist in Iceland and now I would question things a little more. I was clearly just naive! And maybe it doesn’t matter if the lava itself isn’t Icelandic, as yes, it’s something you bought in Iceland and would associate with Iceland, etc.

      Now, what I don’t want to hear is that anything wool related I’ve bought isn’t Icelandic wool!! So you can just stop there. ๐Ÿ™‚ I need to keep some innocence in my life.

      • Hi there,

        I’m heading to Iceland in March and just wondering where you found the craft store and if you remembered the name of it? I found your post helpful!

  7. I went to Alaska once and bought a beautiful piece of art – when I got home I looked at the tag and realized it was made less than 100 miles form where I lived. So much for local art ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. I just wanted to let you know that yes, there is imported lava being sold, but there are also people using 100% real lava from Iceland. I have a line where I use imported lava stone (it is much sturdier) and then I also have a line with Icelandic stones and icelandic Moss.

    If I could only use Lava stones in my jewelry, that is what I would do. Sorry you felt disappointed and I hope that if it is jewelry with stones from Iceland that you desire, that you might come see my booth at the Flea Market (Kolaportid) over your next visit.

    I can assure you that it’s not my intention to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes and I hope you do find something fun made of stones from Iceland.

    • Great, thanks for your comments and it’s helpful to know there are the options for both imported and Icelandic lava. I think the only reason people are disappointed is that they wrongly assume that any lava must be Icelandic as they have seen so much of it on their travels. I can understand that if the properties of lava varies then it also makes sense to use imported lava. Thanks for reading!

  9. Stay with handcraft/artwork in you want something authentic – anywhere.
    Just one example to show you that this exists also (Yes, am am biased, we grew up in the same fjord);

    And thanks for a wonderful blog – I hope you will not be offended if I put a link to it at my website – your writing is both informative and enjoyable.

  10. Hi there, I just found your post looking for somewhere I could buy beads in Iceland, as I also wanted to create some ‘Icelandic inspired’ jewellery myself. I was hoping you could share where to buy them?

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