Beading 101: Bead Type Definitions

Published On: 01-04-2012 05:39pm

Comments: 2 - Hits: 0

Category: Informational

2401For my first post of the New Year I've decided on Bead Type Definitions - my hope is to make this an "educational - informative" Blog and not all about me :O)

I hope you find this helpful....

l   Vintage German Glass: glass produced in Germany (East & West) prior to the WWII. Beads produced during this period, or new beads produced from the vintage glass canes, are highly sought after and prized, as they are scarce. Beads were made by placing molten glass in to molds and are referred to as “pressed glass”.  Many of the German glassmakers fled to Czechoslovakia at the start of the war only to return years later to find that their businesses and factories had been destroyed. From time to time “stashes” of either beads or canes are found, either in Europe or in the States, and were often part of a family inheritance. Germany still produces glass beads, however much of the pre-war glass making art has been lost as the glass makers had no way of passing the knowledge on to future generations. 

l   Czech Glass: often refers to the “newer” pressed glass beads, although Czechoslovakia has been in the glass bead making industry for as long as the Germans.  In an effort to recapture the glass bead industry many glass makers in Czechoslovakia begin copying the German beads, however they did not have the fancy multi colored glass canes or the molds, so earlier beads were quite plan and the quality was not quite what the German beads had been.  In recent years the Czech Republic has expanded their glass making industry and has reached a higher level of quality over all.

l   Lamp Glass: lamp glass is a bead made by melting glass onto a wire over an open flame.  Each bead is made individually; where as pressed glass could be made in “lots” if the mold was made for multiple bead production. The art of lamp glass making has been in the past primarily a Venetian art form, with the Czech republic a close second.  Over the years the Indian markets opened up to produce lamp glass in bulk at a lower cost and quality and has only recently began striving to compete in the market on quality rather than cost.  This is due to the growing Chinese lamp glass market.  Although the cost is slightly higher that that of the Indian produced beads – falling between the Indian and Czech markets, the quality is much better than the Indian beads, and they have been able to recreate modern copies of vintage Japanese lamp glass beads including the “bubble” bead.

l   American lamp glass: also known as Art Glass.  American glass makers have taken the lamp glass industry to a new level putting more emphasis on the artistic production of the beads often creating limited runs or one of a kind beads instead of mass producing one design as found in the Indian, Chinese and Czech markets, and as such many of the glass makers are considered pioneering artists in this field.

l   Vintage Japanese: beads produced prior to WWII, or during the occupation, mostly lamp glass.

l   Vintage Austrian Crystal: most often refers to Swarovski crystal produced prior to Daniel Swarovski’s death in 1956 as production of many colors, cuts and designs where discontinued after 1960.  These discontinued items are highly sought after and in many cases can only be found in jewelry made up until the late 1960’s as the factory stock began to run out.  Some stashes of vintage crystal have been found over the years in warehouses of jewelry and clothing designers now out of business.  In recent years Swarsovski has entered the retail bead market selling a lower end crystal to the general public.

l   Czech Crystal: the Czech bead industry produces two lines of crystal; a high end cut crystal which mimics the Swarsovski cut and designs, and although the quality is slightly less than that of the Swarsovki only a jeweler would notice the difference and a lower end fire-polished bead. 

l   Seed beads: tiny glass beads, often less than .5mm used for intricate designs in loomed worked as well as fashion accents.

l   Trade Beads: often associated with Africa, beads were used worldwide as a type of currency – it is said Manhattan was purchased for 50 pounds of glass beads.  The most common type of “trade bead” would be the Venetian lamp work beads, mostly associated with the African trade market, and early seed beads produced in Czechoslovakia mostly associated with the Americas.   The most common trade bead, other than the seed beads, is a layered lamp glass bead known as a “chevron bead” so named for the stripes and chevron pattern that appears at the end of the bead around the holes after the ends are sanded to reveal the layers of glass, most often found in the blue, white, brick red color pattern.  There is also a similar flat “watermelon bead”, so named for their green or brown coloring.  Both have been found worldwide.

l   For a comprehensive glossary of bead shapes and definitions of finishes go to:


Reader's Comments

By EvenSew on 01/22/2012 @ 07:42pm

Wow, that's very interesting. You really know the history behind your craft!

By BlueShedCrafts on 01/05/2012 @ 06:54am

I have never really thought much about beads, other than what they look and feel like that is. This is an interesting and informative read. I'll Tweet it for you.

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