As you know our economy has been in a bit of a slump. Since making jewelry is not really a business for me, but more of a hobby side business, buying supplies can be tricky. I always want great products at an awesome price, as I am sure all jewelry makers do. Since I have been collecting gemstones for some time, I have quite a few of them. I mostly purchase supplies from certain sellers on Ebay, Jewelry Television, Etsy, Fire Mountain Gems, and Rio Grande. I have often wished Etsy sellers would offer some semi mounts and settings for me to buy. I don't do a lot of beading, but I do some.
When looking for settings and semi mounts, of course I prefer them to be the correct measurements the seller says they are. I have bought semi mounts that say they will fit such and such a stone, get it home and it is a mm or so smaller. This is disappointing because then the piece I envisioned is no longer. Some settings are frail with very thin prongs. This goes for both gold and silver, so you have to be extra careful setting the stones. Some settings also bend when you set the stones. You can't always tell from an image whether the setting or semi mount is good quality or not. I never buy from someone who does not offer a return option. Unless it is very affordable, then I don't mind. You can always save the settings if you break a prong or bend the setting, to sell as scrap to buyers who will melt it down.
I personally prefer silver over gold, mainly due to price. A lot of sellers are coming up with beautiful semi mounts in silver, due to the affordability of silver over gold. I also prefer ones that are rhodium plated, just because they shine better. However if you buy a silver ring with rhodium plating, or any plating, you can not have it resized, so be sure it is the size you want when you buy it. I am not sure most people know this.
If you really love a product but it is way too expensive, mark it and hopefully the seller will have a sale. JTV marks down their settings frequently, and if you check often you can get a great deal. Ebay sellers also do this. I have never seen Rio Grande do this. Fire Mountain Gems often has sales on jewelry making supplies, but I have never seen a sale for settings or castings. Etsy sellers also often have sales on jewelry making supplies, but as I stated I can not find a seller on there that sells castings, semi mounts, or settings.
One other option you can consider, and I have personally done, is to shop at online shopping sites such as HSN. If you find a piece on clearance that you love, buy it, pop the stone out and replace it with your stone. I would not recommend re selling these however, because they usually have a designer name associated with them. I keep these for my own personal collection.