Glass Beads

Glass Beads

by Bina Shaji Kurup

One way to ensure your beads last for a longer while is to confirm that they are Fire-polished. This is a technique whereby beads are first encrusted with the required coating and then they are pulled through high temperatures, melting the surface of the glass bead ensuring the coating bonds with the glass making it permanent.

Glass beads are colorful , vibrant and have a history dating back to more than 5000 years. The tiny ray of light captured and reflected by glass makes for eye-catching vibrancy. They are usually available in all the colors one can imagine. Since glass is malleable, these beads come in dozens of different shapes – from perfect round to long ovals to animal shapes. Glass beads come in every size and several finishes like metallic polish, lacquered, iridescent and more. There are even imitation pearls made of glass and glass beads which look like stone beads. And while one may think that glass beads are cheap – there are glass beads which are expensive too – especially the crystal beads.

Glass Beads Treatments

glass beadsIn order to give glass beads attractive colors, they are treated to different coatings to achieve distinctive looks. Some beads have surface coatings – where colors are sprayed onto the beads after the beads are made, these polishes can be metallic, plastic or even fluorescent. Other beads are coated with colors in the centre of the bead (called Lined Beads) – the centre coating in the bead can be erased by the thread used to string the beads after a period of time. Glass beads which have silver lining at the centre too, after a while becomes black. Since glass measures low on the MOHS scale, it can easily be scratched leaving the beads ugly and ruining the effect of the piece.

Fire Polishing of Glass beads

One way to ensure your beads last for a longer while is to confirm that they are Fire-polished. This is a technique whereby beads are first encrusted with the required coating and then they are pulled through high temperatures, melting the surface of the glass bead ensuring the coating bonds with the glass making it permanent (although some coating materials can still be removed easily just by peeling it with your fingernails) This method is also used to add shine to plain glass beads. The disadvantage of using Fire-polished beads is that the melted bead may not be smooth and will have a grainy finish, which can give a unusual look to jewellery or make it look absolutely amateurish – this will largely depend on what design and what ornament you are planning to make. In fact fire-polished glass beads should be used for making economical beaded jewellery, which you wear for a while, get bored and make a new piece.

Formulated glass beads

Several types of formulated glass which are heavier, more resistant to heat, are used to make glass beads – Dichroic glass, Furnace Glass, Borosilicate glass (glass used to manufacture microwave safe containers) lead glass (used to manufacture crystal glass beads with facets and high brilliance), rod glass, sheet glass, even small fine colored rods, dots and glass dust etc. Regular glass you see on windows is not normally used to make glass beads because it does not have any additives to make it strong enough to withstand the entire process of making beads.

Choosing glass bead jewellery can be a mind-boggling task since there are dozens of different beads – right from crystal, lamp worked, seed, Dichroic etc. Made of sand and soda mixed with lime, glass has captivated the imagination of artisans all over the world – Asian countries, Italians and more recently the Americans. Although the essential ingredients are the same, there are several techniques and types of glass to make the beads. The method, type of glass and the finish determines the final look of the bead and its price.

Glass seed beads, extremely common, are made by several countries – Czech, Japan, India, France and Italy to name a few. These beads are usually tiny and come in a range of sizes ( all small sizes usually less than 6mm) and different shapes. The Japanese variety is more expensive than the ones from India since the finish is superior, beads are uniform and the colors are durable. Czech beads are slightly imperfect and this flaw gives jewellery a look that bespeaks character. Seed beads are great for delicate beaded jewellery and are widely available both at stores and on the web.

Dichroic Glass beads

Dichroic glass beads are essentially beads made of Dichroic glass. Here glass is coated with several thin layers – either metal coatings or others in a vacuum. These beads have the ability to reflect and transmit light giving rise to a beautiful play of colors. These beads are more expensive than the regular fire-polished beads because the Dichroic glass manufacturing process is more complex and requires specialized machinery to achieve the reflecting ( colors seen in front ) and transmitting (the mirror-image or opposite colors of the reflected colors) effect on glass.

So how does glass become into beads ? First the glass is heated till it becomes malleable. Then it is either wound around a metal wire (Wound Glass Beads) or the molten glass is drawn out with a bubble at the centre to serve as the hole (Drawn Glass Beads – Seed beads, Chevron beads are made in this method). Others have moulds with needles at the centre to make the hole, hot glass rods are pressed into them and the needles make the hole at the centre (Pressed or Molded Beads). Pressed beads can have different shapes depending on the molds. The most difficult method is the blown glass method, where hot glass is placed at one end of the blower and then manually blown into to make the bead.

Lampwork beads

The popular Lampwork beads are made by the wound glass method – so called because traditionally lamps were used to heat the glass surface – are glass beads which are first made by winding molten glass around metal wires and then fine shards of colored glass are fused onto it either during the winding process or later by re-heating the glass beads. Other examples of Wound Glass beads are Mosaic beads (several small pieces of colored glass are fused together to get beautiful, exotic look glass beads) Millefiori beads have layers of colored glass coated in sections over the bead giving rise to unusual patterns.

The hot beads are then rolled in hot sand to make them even or re-heated to coat them. Sometimes metallic dust or even enamel powder is used to coat the hot beads and even paint is applied as a coating to make the beads eye-catching.

Whether you like them smooth like silk or with uneven edges, glass beads are great when you need a casual look without spending too much