It is commonly believed that glass beads originated in the Egyptian empire around 2000 BC. There is also other evidence to suggest that glass beads have been made in some form or another over the last 9000 years.
Using either time-line, glass beads have shared a long history with humanity. Glass beads have even outlived many of the ancient empires and dynasties that produced them!
Early uses of glass beads
Glass beads in earlier civilizations were a form of currency, and could be traded for goods and services. This practice comes from the use of diamonds as currency.
Both are easily carried, and are small enough to be hidden from thieves. Diamonds carried a much higher worth, but glass beads could represent much smaller trading amounts.
The Egyptian empires would make glass beads for decoration and adornment. Their technique was quite sophisticated, with some handmade glass beads around the world still using a similar technique today.
Ancient Egyptian workers would use a rod of molten glass and wrap around a long, thin metal pole. Individual beads were created when this molten glass was covered with materials like mud and clay, and allowed to cool.
Glass beads were made to look like precious stones by the Egyptian craftsmen, with specialized finishes and colors used to recreate their beauty.
Glass bead were made to look opaque or clear, depending on the finish of the stone that was being reproduced.
Other early civilizations used these glass beads for ceremonies and rites of passage. The Vikings were buried with a type of large bead that was referred to in history as a sword bead.
These glass beads built upon the Viking's appreciation of the art form. There is much archaeological evidence that many Viking workshops were built to produce glass beads around the areas of their settlement.
Fashion and textiles
Venetian glass beads have long had a good reputation, and this comes from their prominence in other sectors of the glass making industry.
Glass beads became quite popular in clothing over the last few hundred years. Venetian glass beads were particularly popular in women's dresses, stitched into beautiful patterns along the outer fabric.
Different types of glass beads
Millefiori glass beads
The Venetian Millefiori glass beads are famous around the world.
Translated to mean "a thousand flowers", Millefiori glass beads are made by grouping many long pieces of glass together, heating them, then slicing small pieces from the resulting roll.
Many of these pieces are then melted onto the surface of a single glass bead. This makes the final result look as though the bead is filled with flowers.
They can also use other geometric designs, but are most famous for their floral patterns.
Lampwork glass beads
Glass beads that are made with the lampwork technique are made by hand. It takes a lot of skill to create these round, globe-like glass beads, and they can be fairly intricate.
Many European lampwork beads that are produced today have been passed down through each generation within a family. Their techniques produce highly artistic and beautiful designs.
They can have flower patterns, swirls, dots inside the bead or on the surface, and in themselves are amazing and artistic.
Pressed glass beads
Molds are used to create glass beads with this technique, particularly when a specific shape is needed.
Exterior detail is pressed into the bead, creating patterns, shapes and lines.
Blown glass beads
Glassblowing dates back to ancient empires, and blown glass beads today use the same technique.
Also known as furnace glass beads, these achieve quite attractive results.
A tube is used to shape the molten glass bead with air while it is in a liquid state. The resulting glass bead is hollow.
Crystal glass beads
Crystal glass beads contain lead, and refract light at a rate that approaches that of a diamond.
The lead content makes the bead stronger, allowing precise facets to be cut into the crystal glass bead.
Firepolished glass Beads
Often mistaken for crystal glass beads, firepolished beads have facets, but they do not have the lead content. The facets are cut and then melted until smooth to create an extremely distinct shape.
They can have metal in the middle to produce a glittering effect. The facets of these glass beads are emphasized by the metallic center, making this partnership of firepolish and metal extremely attractive.
login to post comments