When you think about all the work that goes into creating seed beads, it's amazing they're as affordable as they are. Our first post about the history of seed beads in beaded jewelry looked at the way these tiny glass gems were made in Murano, Italy several centuries ago; now let's fast-forward to modern times to see what's changed - and what has stayed the same.
Of course, the biggest difference is the use of computerized machinery in modern bead-making factories - no surprise there! These factories can be operational around the clock, so the sheer volume of beads being manufactured has greatly increased since those early days.
The red-hot glass is forced with compressed air out of its pot and into a tube. Rather than men turning the glass cane by hand as they did centuries ago, the tubes are now rolled by machines as they are pulled to the desired thickness and cooled. The width of the cane depends upon how fast the cooling glass is pulled. Once the canes are cooled, machines cut them into various bead sizes.Liquefied glass (generally made up of sand, limestone, and ash) is superheated to around 3000 degrees Farenheit; color is introduced with various powders such as different types of sulfides and metal oxides, though sometimes other compounds are used as well, depending on what colors are being created.
But they’re not ready yet – they have to be heated again along with carbon powder to make them smooth. Finally they’re washed and heated for the last time to give them their shine. If a bead is to receive a coating, it’s put on at this point and another heating is done to set the coating in place.
So as you can see, the basic elements of heating, adding colors, pulling, creating canes, cutting and cooling are the same as they were in the eighth century; all that's changed is automation.
Next time, we'll take a look at the many sizes, shapes, and uses of seed beads throughout time.
Now that you have a new appreciation of the extensive process of making seed beads, take a stroll through our website's wide selection of handmade jewelry, and contact us if you'd like a special piece made just for you.