Glass beads are naturally enchanting because of how they hold color, and how they reflect natural light. But how are these magical jewelry bits made? What is the bead-making process? And how are faceted glass beads made?
The Bead Making Process
The three most common methods of creating glass beads are:
- Through a winding process where molten glass is wounded to become beads.
- By continuously drawing a slender sheath of molten glass so it becomes a thin, molten tube, and then this is cut into individual beads.
- By super-heating glass that is already in molds and then allowing the heat to allow the material in the molds to fuse.
Mold-pressing glass beads make use of fluxes in temperature and pressure to give the beads their intended shapes. Mold-pressing also speeds up production and can be done continuously through different kilns.
Mosaic beads, on the other hand, are produced by combining different slices of molten glass around a glass body. Is it possible to manually blow beads? Yes, manual blowing of beads can be done, but the resulting beads are usually too fragile for use in making jewelry, so it is not generally done for the manufacture of glass beads.
Wounded beads are created by a bead maker by winding molten glass around a pole. Strands are drawn from the molten glass using a metal wire. The metal wire is called a mandrel. The process of winding the beads is continuous, and the bead maker never lets the heat dissipate during the process. While the beads have not cooled yet and are generally still soft, additional appliques and colors may be added to achieve the desired look for the current batch of beads. An infinite number of variations can be achieved with just one batch of molten beads.
Other Types of Beads
Fancy shaped beads are usually produced with the same process, but they are pressed with a variety of implements to give them consistent shapes. In some countries in Africa, the beads take on a flattened or square shape as these are popular with local jewelry makers.
Additional textures or designs can also be added, just as banded patterns and swirls. Additional textures are always applied to an imaginary axis in each of the beads. The said patterns are not just swirled, but can also be elongated if the bead maker wishes to do so.
What makes wound beads distinct from all other beads is that the beads are individually created, and often in cottage industries (not in factories with the use of machines). In many cultures, wound beads are considered the work of women, too, and the beads can be sold per piece, rather than in volume.
Lampworked beads are an example of wound glass beads that are created in modern times with torches and clay. Kaolin or white clay is used for releasing the beads.
The clay allows the bead maker to shuck off the beads when the forming is over and it’s time to cool down the beads. Often, buyers will find a thin, powder-like substance on lampwork/lampworked beads – this is a residue of the kaolin or bead release.
If you have ever wondered about the various textures or designs on lampwork beads, that is accomplished during the soft or ‘taffy’ stage of the glass, where it’s still possible to use the thin strands of molten glass to ‘paint’ over the individual pieces of beads.
The bead maker turns over the bead several times until the desired design is finally achieved. The soft, thin filaments of molten glass are called ‘stringers’. Bead makers do not drill holes into glass beads. Instead, the rod which holds the beads in place while they are still being turned serves as the ‘drill’ that leaves the bead hole in place after the glass beads are removed for cooling.
Cane beads are extremely popular because of the shiny, cylindrical form factor and the fact that they can look really pretty when used as spacers for any kind of gemstone jewelry. However, in terms of manufacture, this type of bead is more challenging to create.
The process begins with blowing and pressing a large, molten ball of glass. From this superheated ball or bubble, the bead maker adds layers of color and design, before he draws out a ‘pipe’ from the main ball. The pipe stretched to the desired thickness and then cut into individual beads.
The bubble of glass has to be drawn out at just the right time with the right technique so the beads are even on all sides and look pretty once cooled. Rough sections of the cut beads are then polished by hand or with the help of a machine. Sand is often used to polish the cooled beads to bring them up to the desired quality.
Molded or pressed beads were first popularized by the legendary bead makers of the Czech republic. Pressed glass beads have a pretty straightforward method of manufacturing.
Molten glass is pressed onto steel glass molds. Since molten glass is a lot like taffy, the soft glass easily penetrates the nooks and crannies of the steel mold. After pressing, the edges are then ground finely, until what remains are the individual beads, which have already taken on the shape of each of the cavities.
It is through this method that Czech glass bead makers can accomplish seemingly complicated bead designs such as flowers, animals, and other symbols. Of course, any additional layers of color and swirling are done before the pressing of the beads.
This is how are faceted glass beads made: to make even higher quality glass beads, some Czech bead makers double-fired beads.
After the first pressing, the faceted glass beads are then fired once again. The second round of heating creates a more polished surface and all the other edges are melted and sort of pushed back into the finished product, which makes the silica look more like the more expensive gemstones that people like. Now, depending on the manufacturers, the twice-fired glass beads may undergo additional processes such as receiving additional layers of coating to make them look even better.