The art of lampworking is a centuries-old technique for creating beautiful and unique works of glass. Traditionally, the process involved using oil lamps to carefully and precisely mold liquid glass into intricately designed pieces. For most of its history, this technique was restricted to only a handful of artisans in Europe, but the quality of the pieces it produced was too eye-catching to ignore.
Lampworking caught on slowly in America with artists working from scratch to perfect something they had no formal instruction in. Today, the process has been refined enough that lampwork glass beads can be used for just about any kind of jewelry.
Lampwork beads are a special kind of alchemy produced when fire meets the glass. They're tiny masterpieces of color and technique, each made by hand through a painstaking process of many delicate steps. Look closely at the jewelry made from lampwork beads: The beads may match, but they're never quite identical. Each one is a miniature sculpture of glassworking art.
This is what makes lampwork bead jewelry so unique. You'll never meet anyone wearing exactly the same thing, which makes this the perfect gift for someone who stands out from the crowd. Larger lampwork beads are often used as stunning centerpieces of necklaces or bracelets since even a single bead creates a statement.
Working with high heat and molten glass is tricky and exacting, but it's a fascinating process to watch. Each bead is constructed on a specially-prepared steel rod called a mandrel. The bead is built as molten glass wraps around the mandrel, creating the bead's hole. The artist uses a high-heat torch to melt thin rods of colored or transparent glass, which are expertly applied to the surface of the bead to form patterns. Some lampwork artists fuse thin layers of gold or silver to the bead. And some of the most fabulous beads result from "accidents."
But all this exacting work can be ruined if the glass cracks as it cools, so the artists use a slow process called "annealing" to make sure that each layer of each bead cools at an even rate.
All this is why lampwork glass beads are so highly prized, both for their beauty and their individuality.
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The lampwork technique consists of transforming molten glass into various artworks, including beads that are very popular in handmade jewelry. Lampwork was first done by the use of alcohol lamps in which the flame would be increased in temperature using bellows. This craft has been widely practiced since the 14th century in Murano, Italy, but it wasn't brought to the United States until much more recently.
Lampworking was brought to the United States a few decades ago when artists who visited Italy became interested in the Murano glass beads they discovered. These artists each returned to America and started experimenting on their own with glass to create beads. The torches they used were modified, as there was pretty much no lampwork tools available to them, and they chose American stain glass from development during the turn of the century to use. They developed their own lampwork bead making techniques as they experimented.
The techniques grew as these artists shared their knowledge among each other, then spread this information to anyone who showed interest. Now, lampworking techniques have spread greatly throughout the United States with lampwork being taught in classes at art studios and even colleges throughout the nation.
Lampwork torching is quite difficult to master, however, as you first must have an understanding of glass chemistry. The colors of glass are created by mixing different chemicals, and it takes years of experience to fully understand just how glass interacts chemically when held to a flame. The knowledge needed to master lampwork bead making is part of what makes this craft so intriguing.
Here are some of SWCreations first lampwork beads:
Here is a gorgeous rose filled heart lampwork bead by artist Patsy Evins:
Here is a “House of Vettii” lampwork bead by artist Lydia Muell (Lampwork Treasures):