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When did glass beads originate?

Apr. 29, 2024

Glass bead making

"Glass bead" redirects here. For the song by GFriend , see Glass Bead

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Lampwork glass beads

Glass bead making has long traditions, with the oldest known beads dating over 3,000 years.[1][2] Glass beads have been dated back to at least Roman times. Perhaps the earliest glass-like beads were Egyptian faience beads, a form of clay bead with a self-forming vitreous coating. Glass beads are significant in archaeology because the presence of glass beads often indicate that there was trade and that the bead making technology was being spread. In addition, the composition of the glass beads could be analyzed and help archaeologists understand the sources of the beads.[3]

Common types of glass bead manufacture

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Glass beads are usually categorized by the method used to manipulate the glass – wound beads, drawn beads, and molded beads. There are composites, such as millefiori beads, where cross-sections of a drawn glass cane are applied to a wound glass core. A very minor industry in blown glass beads also existed in 19th-century Venice and France.

Wound glass beads

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Probably the earliest beads of true glass were made by the winding method. Glass at a temperature high enough to make it workable, or "ductile", is laid down or wound around a steel wire or mandrel coated in a clay slip called "bead release". The wound bead, while still hot, may be further shaped by manipulating with graphite, wood, stainless steel, brass, tungsten or marble tools and paddles. This process is called marvering, a term derived from the French marbrer, 'to marble'. It can also be pressed into a mold in its molten state. While still hot, or after re-heating, the surface of the bead may be decorated with fine rods of colored glass called stringers creating a type of lampwork bead.

Drawn glass beads

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The drawing of glass is also ancient. Evidence of large-scale drawn-glass bead making has been found by archeologists in India, at sites like Arekamedu dating to the 2nd century CE. The small drawn beads made by that industry have been called Indo-Pacific beads, because they may have been the single most widely traded item in history—found from the islands of the Pacific to Great Zimbabwe in southern Africa.[4]

There are several methods for making drawn beads, but they all involve pulling a strand out of a gather of glass in such a way as to incorporate a bubble in the center of the strand to serve as the hole in the bead. In Arekamedu this was accomplished by inserting a hollow metal tube into the ball of hot glass and pulling the glass strand out around it, to form a continuous glass tube. In the Venetian bead industry, molten glass was gathered on the end of a tool called a puntile ("puntying up"), a bubble was incorporated into the center of a gather of molten glass, and a second puntile was attached before stretching the gather with its internal bubble into a long cane. The pulling was a skilled process, and canes were reportedly drawn to lengths up to 200 feet (61 m) long. The drawn tube was then chopped, producing individual drawn beads from its slices. The resulting beads were cooked or rolled in hot sand to round the edges without melting the holes closed; were sieved into sizes; and, usually, strung onto hanks for sale.

The most common type of modern glass bead is the seed bead, a small type of bead typically less than 6 mm (0.24 in), traditionally monochrome, and manufactured in very large quantities. They are a modern example of mechanically-drawn glass beads. Seed beads, so called due to their tiny, regular size, are produced in the modern day from machine-extruded glass. Seed beads vary in shape; though most are round, some, such as Miyuki delicas, resemble small tubes.

Molded beads

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Pressed glass beads

Pressed or molded beads are associated with lower labour costs. These were commonly produced in the Czech Republic in the early 20th century. Thick glass rods are heated to molten and fed into a complex apparatus that stamps the glass, including a needle that pierces a hole. The beads again are rolled in hot sand to remove flashing and soften seam lines. By making canes (the glass rods fed into the machine) striped or otherwise patterned, the resulting beads can be more elaborately colored than seed beads. One "feed" of a hot rod might result in 10–20 beads, and a single operator can make thousands in a day. Glass beads are also manufactured or moulded using a rotary machine where molten glass is fed in to the centre of a rotary mould and solid or hollow glass beads are formed.

The Bohemian glass industry was known for its ability to copy more expensive beads, and produced molded glass "lion's teeth", "coral", and "shells", which were popular in the 19th and early 20th century Africa trade.

Lampwork beads

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Lampworked dichroic glass bead showing thin film application Furnace glass beads

A variant of the wound glass bead making technique, and a labor-intensive one, is what is traditionally called lampworking. In the Venetian industry, where very large quantities of beads were produced in the 19th century for the African trade, the core of a decorated bead was produced from molten glass at furnace temperatures, a large-scale industrial process dominated by men. The delicate multicolored decoration was then added by people, mostly women, working at home using an oil lamp or spirit lamp to re-heat the cores and the fine wisps of colored glass used to decorate them. These workers were paid on a piecework basis for the resulting lampwork beads. Modern lampwork beads are made by using a gas torch to heat a rod of glass and spinning the resulting thread around a metal rod covered in bead release. When the base bead has been formed, other colors of glass can be added to the surface to create many designs. After this initial stage of the bead making process, the bead can be further fired in a kiln to make it more durable.

Modern bead makers use single or dual fuel torches, hence the more modern term flameworked. Unlike a metalworking torch, or burner, a flameworking torch is usually "surface mix"; that is, the oxygen and fuel (typically propane, though natural gas is also common) is mixed after it comes out of the torch, resulting in a quieter tool and less dirty flame. Also unlike metalworking, the torch is fixed, and the bead and glass move in the flame. American torches are usually mounted at about a 45 degree angle, a result of scientific glassblowing heritage; Japanese torches are recessed, and have flames coming straight up, like a large bunsen burner; Czech production torches tend to be positioned nearly horizontally.

Dichroic glass beads

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Dichroic glass is used to produce high-end art beads. Dichroic glass has a thin film of metal fused to the surface of the glass, resulting in a surface that has a metallic sheen that changes between two colors when viewed at different angles. Beads can be pressed, or made with traditional lampworking techniques. If the glass is kept in the flame too long, the metallic coating will turn silver and burn off.

Furnace glass

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Italian glass blowing techniques, such as latticinio and zanfirico, have been adapted make beads. Furnace glass uses large decorated canes built up out of smaller canes, encased in clear glass and then extruded to form the beads with linear and twisting stripe patterns. No air is blown into the glass. These beads require a large scale glass furnace and annealing kiln for manufacture.

Lead crystal

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Lead crystal beads are machine-cut and polished. Their high lead content makes them sparkle more than other glass, but also makes them inherently fragile.

Other methods

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Lead glass (for neon signs) and, especially borosilicate is available in tubing, allowing for glass blown beads.[5] (Soda-lime glass can be blown at the end of a metal tube, or, more commonly wound on the mandrel to make a hollow bead, but the former is unusual and the latter not a true mouth-blown technique.) In addition, beads can be fused from sheet glass or using ground glass.

Modern Ghana has an industry in beads molded from powdered glass. Also in Africa, Kiffa beads are made in Mauritania, historically by women, using powdered glass that the bead maker usually grinds from commercially available glass seed beads and recycled glass.

Molded ground glass, if painted into the mold, is called pate de verre, and the technique can be used to make beads, though pendants and cabochons are more typical. Lampwork (and other) beads can be painted with glass paints.

See also

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For more recycled glass landscape rocksinformation, please contact us. We will provide professional answers.

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References

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History of Bead Making

Bead History - Ancient Artform

Beads have been made of glass for over 5,000 years. The discovery of fire was the essential step in glass bead making. There is evidence as early as 2340-2180 BC in Mesopotamia of a method known as "core-forming" where they used a metal mandrel with pieces of glass held over a flame. Gradually as the glass soften, they 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. In Nuzi (130 miles north of Baghdad) beads were discovered that date to around 1400 BC. Even today, we make beads 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. Beadmaking is truly an ancient artform. 


Beadmaking in Venice

The history of beadmaking in Venice goes back to the days of Marco Polo when he returned from his travels with the beads of Asia. Local artisians took to their glass making skills to reproduce in glass the precious stones of Marco Polo.


In Venice and Murano, the beading industry has historically been a woman's work. In the picture above you see the women working while caring for their children. During the 1920s - 1930s, the conterie (seed bead) industry sustained Venice's glass industry. The wars took the men from the furnaces and between World War I and World War II there was little time to build up the industry. During the 1930s there were as many as 30 companies making the tiny beads, employing hundreds of women. 


Types of Beads Produced in Venice


Seedbead - Conterie

Hollow tubes produced then chopped and refired for smoothness and color. Sold in shanks prestrung or by the kilo. Used in decorative jewelry and clothing. The peak of this production was in the early 1900s and today the industry is non-existent in Murano.


Rosetta or Chevron

Produced from the canes known as Rosetta which had a center hole. First produced in Murano at the end of the 14th Century. It was made of a hollow cane and six layers of glass (white, blue, white, brick red, white then finally blue). It 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 or sometimes known as lace beads.


Blown Beads (Venetian Blown)

With the introduction of the lampwork flame, beadmakers discovered they could melt the canes and then blow the glass. 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 or Perle a Lume Venetian Beads

Often called wound beads because the melting glass is wound 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. This material was originally known as "fango" meaning mud and legend is that it was, indeed, the mud from the lagoon.


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 because mandrel was cut off just below the bead and the entire bead was placed in Nitric Acid which etched the copper from inside the bead. However, environmental standards are adding to the cost of this process and many small beadmakers do not have the equipment, rather they take bags of beads to one or two shops who specialize in this etching process. Today's beadmakers in Venice and Murano use both methods, using stainless steel with a bead release material for more delicate beads or beads with silver which tends to burn (turn dark) if it touches the acid. Murano beads are made much in the same was as thousands of years ago.

Making Blown Beads - Filigrana Method


Production of Millefiori Canes uses multiple layers of colors shaped in the furnace in between the addition of colors.

The tiny Seed Bead were produced until the late 1900s in Murano by blowing large bubbles of glass and using gravity to reduce the size while maintaining the hole consistently.


Important Dates in the History of Beads

  • 1292 Glass Furnaces Moved to Murano
  • 1308 Bead-makers Guild Formed
  • 1470 Canna developed in Murano around this time
  • 1511 Murano prohibited from exporting to Bavaria (Germany)
  • 1797 Fall of the Venetian Republic
  • 1935 Copper Mandrels introduced
  • 1993 Venetian Bead Shop begins importing Venetian Beads
  • 1993 USA Society of Bead Makers begins Precott, Arizona
  • 1998 VenetianBeadShop.com Online Shopping dedicated to Venetian Beads opens

References and Books on Beadmaking


  • The History of Beads by Lois Sherr Dubin
  • Perle e Impiraperle (un lavora di donne a Venezia tra 800-900) Arsenale Editrice ISBN 88 7743 077 X
  • Collective Beads by Robert K. Liu ISBN 0-9641023-0-7
  • Perle Veneziane by Consorzio Venezia Perle (1989)
  • The Book of Beads by Janet Coles, Robert Budwig(Contributor)
  • The Complete Bead Resource Book by Patricia Abahusay
  • The History of Lampworking by Robert A. Mickelsen
  • Coles, J. and R. Budwig. 1990. The Book of Beads. New York: Simon and Schuster
  • History of the Glass Bead (compiled by Lady Sveva Lucciola)



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