Anyone who has ever worn a necklace created with Murano glass beads knows that they are some of the loveliest and highest quality beads in the world. In addition to their esthetic qualities, perhaps something else that makes these beads so unique and interesting is the history that they represent.

Originally, Venetian glass was made in the city of Venice, which was comprised of mostly wooden buildings. Toward the end of the 13th century, the Venetian Republic began to fear that the huge fires from the furnaces the artists used would eventually end up destroying the city. They forced the artists to move their foundries to the island of Murano, where the glassmakers quickly became noted as masters of their craft.

murano venetian glass necklace

Glassmaking had been around for a long time but had not been perfected. The artisans of Murano had unique skills that allowed them to create superior glass. They were able to develop or refine techniques to make milk glass, multicolored glass, and even imitation glass gemstones which were unheard of at the time. Venetian glass may be solidly colored or created using a smoky effect with one or multiple colors. What truly set it apart from other glass at the time was its incredible clarity and lack of imperfection.

The secrets they used were guarded and carefully protected. Glassmakers weren't allowed to leave the Republic or take their trade elsewhere. Despite this, they were still given many special privileges. The government gave the island itself preferential protection, eventually annexing it to the city of Venice. Citizen glass-makers were allowed to wear swords, enjoyed immunity from prosecution, and their daughters were allowed to marry into noble families.

Despite the many privileges, some eventually took the risk and left, setting up shops as far away as England and the Netherlands. The craft spread to other cities of Italy and to other countries. But their methods were so good that Murano artists were able to maintain control over the market until the 16th century.

Amazingly enough, the technique and technology used have not changed that much throughout the years. The furnaces they use remain relatively unaltered in design, and technology has changed only in minor detail. These master craftsmen have strong roots in the traditional way of doing things.

Making glass is a very complicated process, and a lot is involved to make it. This is what truly makes it the craft that it is. Murano glass beads, as with all glass begins by mixing silica with flux and melting them together. The flux is an agent meant to slow the melted glass from solidifying too quickly. This enables the glassworker to manipulate it to the desired shape. Technique varies depending on what the intended result is. Just a few of the many different techniques include millefiori (forming tiny beads by cutting thin glass into sections when cold and rounding them when hot), gold engraving, and enamel painted techniques.

Even today, artists from all over the world travel to Murano to learn the Venetian glassblowing techniques that made it so famous. Murano glass represents the history of glass and a quality product. Their gorgeous styles, colors, and amazing clarity set them apart from all the rest. They make stunning beaded jewelry pieces and are a great addition to any collection.

August 25, 2013 — Lisa Vella

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