Sunday, August 18, 2013

Differences Between Types of Glass and Crystal Beads

Part One of Three-Glass Beads

There are many different types of glass and crystal beads available to jewelry makers. Each artisan has multiple types to pick and choose from in almost every color of the rainbow. While, there are differences in each type, many people do not fully understand the terms used to identify each type or what the underlying differences mean.  Today I will begin to get into their differences so you can make an informed decision when purchasing jewelry.
Glass is sand, or silica, that has been melted down and cooled.  The sand is combined with various additives and cooled so that no crystal structures can form. In order for glass to become a true crystal it must have lead oxide added to it during the melting process.

Slip is applied to a rod before creating a wound bead

Wound glass beads were probably the earliest form of beads ever created.  This type of bead uses a wire or mandrel coated in a clay slip to allow the release of the bead once the glass has cooled. The glass may also be shaped by manipulation methods while it is still hot. Manipulation usually is done with graphite, wood, stainless steel, brass, tungsten steel or marble tools and paddles.

Wound glass beads

Lampwork beads, a variation on wound glass bead making techniques, are made by hand individually making the process very time consuming, yet it allows a great variety of designs and styles to be created. When this method was first employed by Venetian glass makers men primarily made their cores in a factory setting while women added multicolored decorations in their homes using an oil lamp to reheat the core and the fine wisps of glass that were used to decorate these cores.  Today these beads are crafted by using a gas torch and glass rods.

Lamp work glass beads

There is evidence that drawn glass beads were made as far back as the 2nd century CE and were the most widely traded item in history having been found worldwide.  Making these beads involves taking molten glass and inserting a hollow metal tube into it and stretching a long cane of glass along it. The cane is then sliced and the resulting beads rolled in hot sand to round the edges and give them a smooth finish.

Drawn or African Trade Beads

Dichroic glass beads are created by fusing a thin film of metal to the surface of the glass being used to create them.  This causes the beads to reflect at least two colors which can be seen from different angles on the beads.  These beads can be pressed or made with traditional lampworking techniques, however, if kept in a flame too long it will cause the metallic coating to burn off so great care must be taken.
Dichroic Glass Beads
Furnace glass is an Italian glass blowing technique that is adapted to make beads by using large canes that are first built from multiple small canes.  They then encase these small canes in clear glass and extrude them to form the beads with striped patterns. While the technique is adapted from glass blowing techniques no air is used or blown into the glass.
Furnace Glass Beads

Next time I will take you through all things Czech and Fire Polished!

If you have any questions or need any clarification please do not hesitate to ask by contacting me through this blog or via my Facebook page or Twitter handle!  

Others in this series:

Part 1 of 3
Part 2 of 3 

Part 3 of 3 


  1. I love this post! Anything jewellery and am all ears (or eyes lol) love learning a something new :)

    Lorraine x

    1. Thanks Lorraine! I appreciate your comment and am so glad you learned something new! Please stay tuned for the next few posts that will follow up on even more types of beads! :)

  2. Wow! Who knew? I love learning about all the different beads.

  3. Very cool info ~ I learned new stuff!
    While I don't do beading, I do appreciate a beautiful bead. I'm reminded of a time, many years back, wandering into a bead shop in Phili and thinking, "Who knew?" Who knew there were shops dedicated to beads-just-beads, and who knew there were soooo many beautiful beads? I can certainly see the appeal AND the possibility for a creative addiction!

    I'm looking forward to the next post already!

    1. Awesome! So happy you found it of interest. :) The shops can be overwhelming but the shows!? Oh believe me there are times I have felt I was drowning! LOL

    2. Nicely written; understanding the background makes for a much deeper appreciation. Not that I need an excuse to love beads, but a more thorough understanding legitimizes that particular addiction!

    3. I appreciate them too Alicia and that is why I thought that there must be others that find them as fascinating as I do. :)

  4. This is a great series Dawn. Looking forward to the next instalment!


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