Wednesday, 4 May 2011

"Grey looks best with colour!"

Beads Direct is having a competition for bloggers and writers, focusing on the always very handy tool to sort a bead shop's selection of materials by colours. This inspired me to write an English version of my musings on the beauty of the colour grey. My original text can be viewed at Inspira.

In its purest form, grey is a mixture of black and white in varying proportions. As neither of these colours are part of the colour wheel, grey is strictly speaking not a neutral (i.e. beige or brown hues that work with all colours), but acts like one. That means a grey bead looks good with any colour you like. While working with nothing but the greyscale can result in beautiful jewellery, adding colour can really do wonders. The title of this post is a quote from a women's magazine, styling tips for the grey-haired ladies, but it is just as valid when talking about beads.

Warm and cold greys
Grey can be perceived as either warm or cold as many grey hues have a touch of other colours. Steely blue grey feels cold while smoky grey with its yellow-brown hues feels warmer. This will affect what beads and nuances will work with it. Even if grey is a neutral, it doesn't necessarily work just as well with all colours.

Dark grey or gunmetal can be a softer alternative to black in cases when black would feel too harsh. In the same way, a light grey can be used instead of white where the latter would feel too bright or crisp. Metallic dark greys like gunmetal/haematite often feel elegant and dramatic, making them perfect for party jewellery. Yes, the finish of the bead determines how we perceive the colour: a metallic haematite or steel grey feels cooler than a silky soft moonstone or matte silver grey. The same way, a transparent bead will feel lighter -- and might loose its colour when placed next to other colours -- than an opaque or opaline/translucent bead.

Those are a few basic things to consider when working with grey. Now let's get to the fun part: pairing grey with colour. We start with a few of my personal favourites.

Is there anything soft and harmonious but still eye-catching as light grey paired with turquoise? You just need a drop of turquoise as a focal point -- the same effect you can see in many photos and images where a person is portrayed in near greyscale, but keeping the colours in his or here intensely light blue eyes.

Other types of blue also look very nice with grey, such as sky blue opal, lavender blue and teal. Note how the opaline beads above feel almost dreamy paired with the soft moonstone chips. The teal bead would probably look better with some matte grey beads -- I once saw a drawing of an animé character with dusty grey hair and big teal eyes. Looked fab!

And while we're at it: more blue. Here I've used a muted darker greyish blue (montana blue) for a very difference mood compared to above. It is almost monochrome. To the right are some medium blue beads with silk lustre.

Another colour that goes very well with grey is pink. Soft, almost neutral pinks as well as popping bright rose hues. Some pink nuances feel warmer than others: fuchsia feels much cooler than tea rose. The intensity also varies greatly from muted dusty pink to eye-catching hot magenta. Compared to purple, one of my favourite colours, it feels sweeter and sometimes more gentle. A soft pink paired with grey is perfect for the vintage look, while metallic dark grey and fuchsia are considerably more dramatic.

Purple is on the border between warm and cool colours on the colour wheel. This means you can get many different effects when adding purple to grey. Some shades work best with dark grey/gunmetal while others look their best paired with light or smoky grey. I'm afraid the picture above doesn't really do the combo justice -- purple and grey look fab together!

Both pink and purple also come in muted shades. When a colour is muted it means grey or black has been added to it, dulling the colour. This can be useful when wanting a harmonious colour combo where the colours blend in with the grey. A picasso or satin/hematite finish can help make a smooth transition from the other colours to grey. The result is a soft colour combo that still has a little more happening than in a fully monochrome bead mix.

Moving from pink to peach, we find more soft and neutral colour combos. One nice example can be seen above: moonstone ranging in colours from peach and salmon to creme and grey. Grey can also work with "pure" neutrals like beige and tan.

Or why not add apricot or orange to your grey beads? A trickier combo than those above, but you can pull it of if choosing the shades wisely.

Like purple, pink and blue, you can find muted nuances of green that work almost like shades when placed next to grey. In the photo above, you see seafoam and mint opaline beads with a picasso finish on the left. This combo makes me think of mist and fog when mixed with soft light grey. Darker greens like olivine and jade works better with dark grey.

Of cause, you can just a well use brighter greens. Like teal, they look vibrant against grey, but don't add the same attractive contrast as turquoise or blue in my opinion. By the way, there are better shades of green than these you can use: this is actually a colour combo I've seen it in workwear. Not a personal favourite.

A colour that we shouldn't forget is red. Pure red and black is often used for the combination's dramatic effect. For a similar effect use gunmetal rather than black. Burgundy or wine also looks very elegant and sophisticated together with dark grey.

Together with muted yellows, browns and oranges, red (or orange-red) and grey look good in autumn-themed jewellery. Adding a bit of transparent grey like black diamond to the autumn colours is a nice touch, reminding of the season's mists.

And what about metals? Grey goes very well together with copper. Better than the picture above might have you thinking. If I'm personally to pick a metal to go with grey beads, it would be copper. Pewter, silver, titanium, steel etc are grey or white, meaning they blend in with the beads. Something many prefer.

There's one colour missing here. Yellow. While I personally find it difficult to mix grey and yellow, others do. The golden metal flowers above are an example of that. But other than that, I'm probably not the right person to try and persuade you that yellow and grey is a fab combo...

So... That's it. A cavalcade of examples of colours you might want to use with your grey and/or gunmetal beads. Find anything you like? Maybe even a colour you don't normally use with grey yourself? I hope my examples have made you think about ways to use all your lovely grey beads. Grey might sound dull and dreary, but it's a colour with great potentials!


  1. Thanks for all the work on the color grey. I am beginning to like grey as I get older, funny that! I find it softer on the skin to wear than black. I love it in combo with blues or purple for myself, however you have given me a lot of options to think about, thank you.

  2. Kristina! I looove your in-depth articles on different subjects. Always so "vederhäftiga". This one is simply grey-t!

  3. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

    Grey was probably a colour I didn't "discover" until I began to bead as there are so many shades, but even more importantly so many textures and materials, that attracted me. In the beginning I never thought much of adding colour, though. Not until the turquoise and grey combo made me fall head over heels in love, I guess.


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