Czech Glass Bead Production & Finishes

If you have a lot beads at home you are sure to have some Czech glass in your collection. But owning them isn’t enough for me; I also want to know how they came to be. Read on to discover how these beads are made and how exactly they get those fabulous finishes!

What Are Pressed Glass Beads?

Hurricane glass is made of multiple colored glass swirled together. Each batch is unique.

HurriCane glass is made of multiple colored glass swirled together.

Pressed glass beads are popular because of their versatility and limitless possibilities.  This category of beads not only includes the basic necessity bead shapes such as druks (round beads), daggers, rondelles, and drops; but also unique, abstract, and novelty shapes as well.  Plus there are over 800 commonly used glass colors to combine with the hundreds of coatings, lusters, and metallic finishes available.  Literally millions of combinations are possible!  New technology in glass making has made it possible to combine glass colors in new and innovative ways.  HurriCane glass, for example, is the combination of multiple glass colors that change appearance and swirl patterns based on the conditions at the time of pressing.  Each batch is unique and very difficult to reproduce.

pressedglass

The Pressed Glass Bead Making Process

It takes years of practice to form intricately detailed shapes full of vibrant swirls of color with clarity and shine.  The quality of the product relies mostly on the skill level of the master bead pressers.  The difference in overall quality is strikingly apparent from one craftsman to another.

The end of a long rod of glass cane is heated in a gas furnace until it is red hot.  It is then inserted into a pressing machine which resembles an old fashioned sewing machine.  The molten glass is quickly pressed into a mold while a needle is simultaneously inserted to form the hole.  Only a few beads can be pressed before the rod must be heated again; therefore, the bead maker alternates between multiple heated glass canes in order to produce continuously.  The pressed glass cools slowly as it makes its way down a slide and into a holding container.   At this point the pressings do not resemble beads at all; they are still connected together by the excess glass surrounding the edges of the beads.  The beads then go through two-stages of tumbling; one which breaks off the large pieces of excess glass and another which smooths out surface imperfections.

Firepolish

FPolish

Fire polished beads are considered by many to be one of the most essential components for jewelry making.  The Czech bead makers are famous for their exquisitely crafted yet relatively inexpensive faceted beads.

The Czech region of Bohemia has been the center of bead making and has led the glass bead industry for hundreds of years because of its quality fire polished styles.  Faceted rounds are by far the most popular because of their timeless look and sparkle.  Classic, more stylized shapes such as cathedral beads, triangles and octagonal faceted beads are popular for vintage style jewelry and rosaries.  There are many new fire polished shapes being created such as doughnut firepolish and renaissance firepolish.  There are also vintage styles reemerging into the market such as rosebud firepolish and fluted firepolish.

Faceting Firepolish Beads

To make fire polished rounds, the manufacturer starts with round pressed beads (druks).  The beads are sifted onto a pronged board that is then fed into a faceting machine which angles the beads onto a grinding wheel.  After all sides of the beads have been faceted their surface is rough and matte.  The polished finish is attained by laying the beads on a conveyer belt that feeds them into an extremely hot oven.  The beads are heated to the point that their surfaces begins to melt, creating a naturally shiny finish.

Finishes and Coatings for Czech Glass Beads

finishes

Finishes Defined

Aurora Borealis (AB)1/2 coat metallic finish that adds a prismatic effect to the surface of the bead.  The beads are placed in an oven where a chemical reaction between metals produces fumes that adhere to the exposed surfaces of the bead.  Usually this coating is only applied to one side of the bead; however there are some shapes that can easily be coated on both sides for a more dramatic effect.

Marea – Same process as AB but results in a primarily orange/yellow reflection.

Vitrail – Same process as AB but results in a primarily pink/green reflection.

MatteTumbled to create a subdued look.  The surface texture of a bead depends on the length of time it is tumbled.  Instead of being tumble polished to a bright shine, the matte finish creates a soft appearance or glow to the bead.  Throughout the tumbling process the surface alternates from being matte to polished and it is up to the manufacturing experts to calculate the perfect tumbling time.  The matte effect can also be created by dipping the beads into an acid solution.  This is the preferred method when creating matte AB finishes or working with delicate beads such as lampwork.

Matte ABA combination of the above coatings.  The beads are first coated with an AB finish and then dipped into an acid solution to take away the shine.  This combination brings out the prismatic color refraction of the AB finish and the rough texture of the matte bead creates a mesmerizing glow and an unbelievable depth to the bead.

Luster –   Durable, transparent, glossy color coating on glass beads that is heat treated like a glaze.  These coatings are usually applied to a crystal or jet based bead, but there are limitless combinations that are becoming increasingly popular.  On light beads a luster coating may add only a subtle hint of color, whereas dark beads may have the complete opposite effect. Hematite colored glass beads are made of a jet based bead with a clear luster coating.

PicassoA luster coating that appears more speckled and spotty; giving the bead a natural, earthy appearance.  The color can vary from light yellow to dark brown with underlying color variations.  Some base bead colors, such as opaque beige, blue or white allow the picasso finish to take on a raku pottery look.

Coated Beads – Also known as dyed beads, these coatings are generally used to create unique shades and dual-tone color combinations that are usually unachievable or expensive to produce within the glass.  Although historically they are not as durable as lusters or other finishes, they are gaining in popularity around the world.  With proper care and when used in the ideal conditions, these beads will stay shiny and brilliant for years to come.  Glass pearls are alabaster white beads coated with a nitro-cellulose lacquer with pearl pigments.

About beadshopgirl
My name is BeadShopGirl and I'm a beadaholic. In the morning, in the afternoon and into the night I think about them, match them and even dream about them. And here I blog; all about beads.

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