The Fascinating History of Seed Beads in Beaded Jewelry
Did you know that the smallest seed beads are only the size of a grain of sand? Measured as "24 aught", this translates to only 0.91 mm round in size. Just to illustrate how small this actually is, most seed beads are no smaller than 15 aught - 1.3 mm round - and you can fit 25 of them along one inch of string. In bead measurements, the larger the number, the smaller the bead. So how was something so extremely small created before the invention of modern machinery?
Hundreds of years ago, Murano, Italy was the heart of the glass making industry in Europe, and that included glass bead manufacturing. For over two hundred years, Murano proudly held its place as the only seed bead manufacturer in Europe - and those tiny beads were all made by hand.
Seed beads - as tiny as they are beautiful - may be small in size, but they're huge with history. Used for trade, recognized as status symbols, and crafted into jewelry and beaded purses, the history of seed beads in beaded jewelry dates back at least 700 years, and the basic way in which these small glass works of art are created appears to have remained relatively unchanged for centuries.
At first, each bead was made individually; imagine how painstaking that job was! Eventually the process became quicker: the super-heated liquefied glass, called molten glass, was pulled by either one or two men into a long, narrow tube called a cane. These workers were so proficient at their craft that two men pulling molten glass into a cane could actually stretch it out to over a hundred feet.
After the glass was cooled down, a guillotine was used to cut the cane down into tiny beads, and the rough edges were smoothed by tumbling them in a clay slurry. They were then cleaned and finished before being ready to use in jewelry.
This was the beginning of seed bead mass production - the ingenuity of the Venetians made it possible for beads to be made faster than ever and laid the groundwork for the manufacturing process to move forward into ever more efficient techniques...though you can still see echoes of the old world practices in effect today.
Stay tuned as we move forward in time and explore more modern manufacturing techniques as well as the many styles of seed beads and the exquisite ways in which they're used.
If you love unique, handmade beaded jewelry crafted one bead at a time, contact us to see our collection or to discuss a customized piece designed especially for you.