How Seed Beads Are Made
I found this online - somewhere
- so I didn't write this and can't verify anything about
it. I do have some comment son it though after it.
The earliest seed beads of European
manufacture probably date to about 1490. Around that time,
Venetian glassmakers rediscovered the method of making beads
by drawing molten glass into long hollow tubes. "Although
a great deal of secrecy has always surrounded the drawn-glass
beadmaking operations & descriptions written in 1834
and 1919 apparently represent procedures unchanged for centuries."
A description of how the French seed beads are made today
closely parallels these early accounts, indicating that
even with the modern technology of the late 20th century,
the beads you buy today are basically made the same way
as those made hundreds of years ago. In the modern French
method, high quality sand is "placed into a caldron and
slowly melted to liquid form over a period of 21 days while
the temperature slowly rises to its peak temperature of
1300 c - 1500 c." At this time, colorants and oxidants "like
copper, cobalt, bauxite and even precious materials such
as 24ct gold" are added to color the glass to the desired
At this point, the molten glass
is drawn into long, thin tubes. Historically, "a hollow
globe of molten glass was attached to two metal plates with
rods. Two men, each holding one of the rods, ran quickly
in opposite directions, drawing out a tube of glass at least
three hundred feet long. The original bubble of air remained
as an orifice or tunnel running the entire length of the
tube." The modern French method is similar but the stretching
is performed by a machine instead of the mad-dash method.
The stretching phase is quite critical
as atmospheric changes can affect the final bead color and
the speed of pulling affects the final exterior size and
the hole size. "The pulling of the molten glass creates
the size difference itself by which the first sections pulled
become the small sized beads since they are pulled farther,
while the glass towards the end of the pulling process are
larger in size since they are pulled not as far." These
long tubes are then cut into small sections called "canes."
The canes are sorted for size and
then cut into small tubes which will eventually become the
final bead. The beads are finished by "reheating techniques
(tumbling and constricting) or by lapidary methods (grinding)."
In the modern French process, the unfinished beads are "mixed
together with crushed charcoal, sand, and liquid plaster"
and "placed in another furnace and heated while rotating
to 800 c which shrinks the tube to its permanent form of
the round bead." This is another critical step in the process
because the heat creates the final roundness and the real
color of the bead. Until this final step "the real color
of the bead has not been seen. They have been colorless
the precedent steps, which also creates the uncertainty
if the correct shade has been achieved."
The beads are now complete and
are ready to be cleaned and packaged for shipment. The entire
process has taken as long as 60 days to create a single
color. As you can see, there are many steps in the process
and even a slight variation can have a major effect on the
final size, color, and shape of the bead.
Hopefully, you now have some insight
as to why every batch of beads we get can be a different
shade and why it is almost impossible to obtain perfectly
sized and shaped seed beads.
The History of Beads by Lois Sherr
Bovis Bead Co Catalog, Pierre Bovis, 1998
Grizel's Notes on this:
Well, I will say I have proof on
this site that seed beads did in fact exist WELL BEFORE
1490. And I know Germany made beads due to the medieval
occupation name of the Bead Maker - Glasperlenmacher
- seems to lead to the point that they made beads in Germany,
and not seemingly endless belief that only Italy and Murano
notably, made beads. Murano. I think they made the fancy
beads, the trade bead as they were, the delicate and expensive,
but the smaller beads were made in many other locations.
Seed beads did not even seem to be as expensive in period
as you would believe if they were to have been imported
I personally, looking at square holed
rochailles, cannot see how they could be produced in the
'run fer the hills' method. I know the trade style beads
are made this way, but to me it seems more logical to run
glass on wire (round or square) then roll it to make it
even then cut it by rolling it across a bed of evenly spaced
wires to cut and round them.
I imagine some sort of powder is used
on these mandrel wires as beadmakers use on their bead mandrels
now in modern bead making. I have seen such powder in my
modern beads and from what I've heard the Czechoslovakians
still make them the same way as they have for centuries,
but never hear how that is exactly.
Some beads I have come across in my bags
have points that look like pulled or wide blobs on one end
as if it were on the end of a section of beads. That doesn't
seem to fit with the above method. Having played a bit with
glass beadmaking (just a bit) it feels like THICK taffy.
If you poke it with a object it's like poking bread, the
area around it becomes converse or bows outward which would
explain the rounded angles and flat sides of the modern
I'm not sure
I helped any, but I'm not sure the above is correct, but
anyway that's my slant, not that you asked for it.