Beads that are 100 years or older are called antique beads. They are very rare, and can often only be purchased in deceased estate sales, or online from other enthusiasts.

Antique beads can also be freed from buttons and decorations on old clothing that would otherwise not be that valuable, because of the deterioration of the fabric.

Collectors of antique beads

Collectors of antique beads are normally passionate about a particular origin or era of bead manufacture.

Early European or Far Eastern antique beads are highly prized, and many collectors around the world continue to build their inventory as deceased estates are made available.

Antique beads in modern jewelry

Antique beads themselves are not commonly used in beaded jewelry, as they are rare and expensive. Depending on their age they can also be very fragile. For this reason it would be a risk to try to string them, as they might break and be lost forever.

How to identify antique beads

Hole Size

Older beads typically have larger holes. Modern manufacturing processes are able to create things on a smaller and more precise level, while older craftsmanship would produce holes of a larger scale.

While holes tend to be much larger in antique beads, the tiny sized 16-24 seed beads are not produced in modern society. They take too much labor to make because of their minuscule size, but were made hundreds of years ago.

They are only available today as antique beads. These tiny antique beads were used in the past for exquisite purses. Collectors would generally purchase this sized bead to admire.

Such tiny seeded antique beads are very difficult to use. Each bead can only be sewn through once. They are very hard and fiddly to use in any project.

Such small antique beads as these would most likely be purchased as part of another antique item. Their size means they wouldn't be sought after for contemporary beading projects.


Antique beads should also have a surface that has been exposed to the environment over a long period of time. They should look aged and worn, but still in good condition.

The hole itself should have some wear from being strung, with evidence of erosion throughout the core.

How to use antique beads

In a strung necklace, you should always knot between each antique bead. For cheaper beads, knotting depends entirely on taste. For expensive antique beads however, knotting is essential.

This is done to minimize the loss, should the necklace ever break.

Vintage beads

Anything older than 20 years, but not old enough to be an antique bead, is a vintage bead. They are discontinued bead lines, or unsold stock that gathers value as they gather dust.

While not as highly prized as antique beads, vintage beads are more commonly used in beaded jewelry. This is because they aren't as valuable or as delicate, can be more readily purchased on the market and still have a sentimental quality to them.

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