Beads Through History Part 2

Glass Beads

Many beads used in jewelry making and decorations are glass beads.  Glass beads are known for their durability and beauty.  Glass beads began being created over 5000 years ago.  Mesopotamian core-forming  (where they used a metal mandrel with pieces of glass held over a flame) dates back to 2300 BC. Gradually as the glass softened, glass workers would wrap it around the mandrel forming intricate ornaments. These early beads, or vessels were considered valuable and were preserved as they were placed in burial tombs.
Even today, lamp-work  bead are made by holding glass rods over a flame then gently winding the molten glass over the mandrels. The invention of the blow pipe in gave way to the creation of the Rosetta bead and the seed beads which sustained the bead making industry in Venice for centuries. Bead making is truly an ancient art form.  Beads styles are greatly influenced by the manufacturing method used to create them. Some types of traditional hand-made glass beads are seed beads, cheverons, blown beads, and lamp work beads


Seed beads are created by making hollow tubes then chopped and re-fired for smoothness and color. Seed beads usually sold in shanks prestrung or by the kilo. Seed beads have traditionally been used in decorative jewelry and clothing.  Chevrons were first produced in Murano at the end of the 14th Century.

 are made of a hollow cane and six layers of glass (white, blue, white, brick red, white then finally blue). Each bead was ground to produce patterns of 5 concentric stars with twelve points. The canes were chopped and this production method increased greatly the quantities of beads which could be sold. Later as this cane was produced without the hole and the Millefiori canes were born which today create the famous Murano Millefiori beads.

Blown Beads came with the introduction of the lampwork flame.  Beadmakers discovered they could melt the canes and then blow the glass. Even today our spiral blown beads and beads with stripes of color are produced using the Filigrana method where canes of glass are laid down and picked up with a blow pipe.

Lampwork or Wound Beads (due to the process of winding  melting glass over a mandrel). Originally the Venetian beads were wound over a ferrous mandrel which had been covered with a mixture of silica and clay which gave the bead some room for contraction when it cooled and helped remove the bead from the mandrel. In the 1920s copper mandrels were introduced into Murano by the Moretti firm and soon became the standard for making beads. It was considered an economical as the mandrels did not need to be coated and minimized breakage in removing from the mandrel. 

Bead making has changed much due to the mechanized processes now available. However, each bead whether hand-made or machine made is a work of art that bead lovers world-wide know can brighten each day.   

Happy Beading!


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published