Claire has been creating handmade jewellery since 2002 and teaching jewellery making through online tutorials and courses since 2010.
Glass beads are a popular type of bead used in jewellery making by beginners and experienced creators alike. This versatile type of bead is made in a huge range of colours, sizes, finishes and shapes meaning that they suit almost any design or style of jewellery. Glass beads also tend to be readily available, even if you don’t have a dedicated bead shop nearby and are often cheaper than other types of beads.
Glass beads range from tiny seed beads, only a few millimetres across right up to large focal beads of several centimetres in diameter. They can be made by hand using various techniques, such as lampwork and these are often highly decorative and of excellent quality. These beautiful beads can be mini works of art in themselves and due to being handmade are often unique or only made in small quantities. They are, however, in some cases very expensive compared to other beads and perhaps best used in special pieces of jewellery, for example, wedding jewellery rather than designs for everyday wear. Cheaper options for glass beads include machine-made beads, although these are unlikely to have the unique nature of handmade beads they are often very uniform, so are ideal for projects such as bead weaving and are likely to be available in large quantiles.
Glass beads are hardwearing and can be used to make jewellery intended for everyday wear as well as pieces for special occasions. They also mix well with other types of beads such as metal, crystal and gemstones beads. Glass beads can also be found with a range of hole size making them suitable for a greater variety of cords including waxed cotton, rattail and hemp.
As well as being available in a wide range of sizes, shapes and colours glass beads can be bought with a selection of finishes. These are applied after the bead is made and can change or enhance the appearance of the bead in several ways. Some examples of common finishes include:
- AB – also known as Aurora Borealis, is a durable coating that reflects in a multitude of colours resembling its namesake. The effect is achieved by applying fuming metal salts onto the glass surface while still hot.
- Colour-lined – this finish is often used in seed beads and is created when transparent beads have a coating of colour dyed or painted inside the hole.
- Frosted – sometimes known as matt/matte finish, frosted beads have a dull frosty–like appearance
- Metallic – also sometimes called galvanised, metallic beads have a shiny metal-like finish. This is generally achieved by applying paint that is then baked onto the glass.
- Opal – opal finished beads have a milky appearance and resemble opal gemstones.
- Painted or dyed – often available in a wide range of colours, this finish is created by applying paint or dye to beads using heat or solvents. Unfortunately, this type of finish can wear off over time.
- Silver-lined – like colour-lined these are transparent beads but rather than colour, a mirror-like reflective coating is painted inside their hole. Silver-lined beads may also have a square hole as this helps to increase their reflectiveness.
- Translucent – these beads can be seen through but not clearly.
Types of Glass Bead
When shopping for beads you will find that they are categories by a variety of factors. These may include colour, shape, material or type. These categories may also be further divided, for example, glass beads may be displayed by manufacturing method or style and then further divided by their colour and shapes. Many types of glass bead can be used in any types of jewellery design, as well as in other crafts but some may be more suited to certain techniques and styles. Some examples of glass bead types you may encounter include:
This highly skilled technique is used to create individually crafted beads in a variety of colours, textures and finishes. Each bead is formed in turn by melting coloured glass rods around a mandrel held in an open flame, known as a torch. The mandrel size creates the bead’s hole and once the main bead has been formed, glass in other colours, types and finishes can be added to create designs within the bead or raised above its surface. The finished beads are then cooled slowly in a kiln. Lampwork beads take a lot of skill and time to make well and so are often more expensive compared to other bead types. Many beautiful and unique designs are available to buy made by skilled artist from all over the world.
Murano Glass Beads
These are high-quality glass beads that are made in Venice. Like lampwork beads, they are a more expensive choice as they require a great deal of craftsmanship to create. Murano beads are available in many colour combinations and often have small raised ‘bumps’ or other design elements. They are created using techniques that have been passed down through generations and are sometimes called Venetian glass beads.
Hand-painted Glass Beads
These beads can be made entirely by hand or machine-made and then decorated by hand. They can be bought in a wide range of sizes, shapes and designs. As they have been hand-painted the designs may vary a little between beads adding an individual quirky aspect to designs. One disadvantage of these beads is that in some cases the painted designs can wear off if they are worn extensively or over a long period.
Dichroic Glass Beads
Dichroic glass beads have a metallic finish and can appear differently depending on the light and angle they are viewed from. This is due to tiny layers of metals or oxides contained within the glass. Records show that dichroic glass has been being made since the Roman Empire. Due to the variety of oxides, glass colours and patterns available for glass making there is an endless range of possibilities when making dichroic glass beads and other items.
Fused Glass Beads
Fused beads are created by placing pieces of glass together and melting them together in a kiln to form one smooth piece. Many designs and designs can be created using this technique and each bead is likely to be unique. The shape, size and look of a fused glass piece can be altered by changing the temperature and timings used in the process. Glass types used must be compatible types otherwise it can lead to stresses in the glass that later cause it to break or shatter.
These beads are made using canes of glass that are similar to a stick of rock. The word Millefiori is a combination of the Italian words ‘mille’ (thousand) and ‘fiori’ (flowers) so means ‘thousand flowers’. The creation of Millefiori glass beads is a highly skilled and labour intensive process that was first used in Italy. Due to this, these are a more expensive choice of glass bead. The beads can be bought in a variety of sizes, shapes and colours and with the slices arranged in many ways creating even more variation in the beads available.
Pressed Glass Beads
Pressed glass beads are made by pouring hot glass into hinged steel moulds and can be used even for complex shapes such as leaves and animals. These glass beads are cheaper than many others but can sometimes be of poor quality, for example, their finishes may not be consistent and the holes may be uneven or rough on the edges. This can lead to damage or breakage of stringing cords or damage to adjacent beads. Because of the huge variety of beads available, these can be used in most types of jewellery making such as stringing, bead weaving, wirework/wrapping and fibre techniques such as knitting, crochet and macramé. Sometimes known as moulded beads, pressed beads were originally created in small factories in the Czech Republic.
During creation, fire-polished beads are formed using moulds or cutting and are then heated to high temperatures to give them their distinctive clean and glossy surface. This high heat treatment also melts any visible moulding seams and blemishes creating a smooth and consistent finish. Faceted fir polished beads are also available, the most popular being Czech fire-polished beads. Fire polished beads are not as cheap as other moulded glass beads but are generally more affordable than lampwork and other handmade beads.
African Glass Beads
African glass beads are made by hand using recycled glass. Recycled glass bead making is highly regarded among the Krobo people of south-eastern Ghana, where several small and medium production plant can be found. Bead making skills may be learnt from family members during childhood and some apprenticeships are also available. Beads are created using glass from bottles and other items that have been thoroughly washed and ground into powder. This powder is then placed into clay moulds and fired. The bead’s holes are created while the glass is still warm before they are allowed to cool. The beads are then ready to be washed, dried and decorated.
© 2013 Claire
Claire (author) from Lincolnshire, UK on August 03, 2013:
Thank you all for your kind comments. I use a lot of glass beads in my own jewellery making as there is so much variation, the possibilities are endless. Hope your necklace is going well Starstream.
Dreamer at heart from Northern California on August 03, 2013:
What a colorful article explaining all the possibilities of bead selection. I enjoyed it and was inspired to start a new necklace. Thanks!
Neha Sadana from India on August 02, 2013:
Liked the information you shared here!! I also like jewelery made up of glass beads..voted up!
IslandBites from Puerto Rico on August 02, 2013:
Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on August 02, 2013:
Love love these. Every year for my birthday my daughter makes me the most amazing bracelets and earrings using these beads. I have some of the very ones you have shown and wear them with a smile on my face.
Thanks for sharing.
Angels are on the way to you..shared ps
Firoz from India on August 01, 2013:
Claire (author) from Lincolnshire, UK on August 01, 2013:
Yes, I seen some beautiful designs as well. There is some gorgeous lampwork out there as well.
Lady Summerset from Willingboro, New Jersey on August 01, 2013:
I started collecting African Beads and found them to be expensive but so colorful, patterned, and you can find large beads to vary styling of a necklace. Enjoyed your hub.