Monday, March 29, 2010

Bead Facts About Swarovski Crystals, Czech Glass and Lampwork Beads

Ever wonder what the actual difference is between crystal and glass beads? And what exactly are lampwork beads? Well each bead has its own unique qualities and characteristics. While Swarovski is considered the "gold standard" in the crystal industry, Czech glass beads offer an affordable yet beautiful alternative. And lampwork beads can have such incredible depth and intricate designs not found in other types of beads!
The following article offers a summarized description of all these bead types.
About Swarovski crystals: Swarovski crystals are considered to be the finest quality crystal bead made today. They are known for their flawless consistency, brilliant colors, and dazzling ability to reflect light. Swarovski is extremely secretive about their manufacturing process, and while there are other companies that manufacture crystal beads, Swarovski is the industry leader and maintains the standard to which all other companies strive to achieve. Each crystal is faceted with tremendous precision resulting in an optically pure product. Swarovski® uses cutting and polishing techniques that are superior to any other and they, therefore continue to dominate the crystal market in their creation of truly stunning and spectacular crystal beads. Some of the most popular crystals are finished with an aurora borealis (AB) finish which produces a brilliant iridescent effect.
What about lead? Do Swarovski crystals contain lead? Yes, Swarovski crystal is an Austrian lead crystal which usually contains about 32% lead. Is this a health hazard? Not likely unless the crystal is ingested. General handling and skin contact is not thought to pose any significant health hazard because of the special manufacturing process which reduces the ability of transferring lead from the crystal to skin surfaces. This is different from non-plated metals containing lead that are more easily transferable to skin surfaces.
Swarovski crystal pearls: Swarovski crystal pearls are made with the same precision as Swarovski crystal beads. They are called crystal pearls because they are created around a core of an actual leaded crystal bead making them heavier than the more common synthetic glass pearls. The outer portion of the pearl is finished with layers of pearlescent “nacre” which very closely resembles a natural pearl, and they warm to the skin like real pearls. Swarovski crystal pearls are also resistant to body oils, perfumes, UV rays, and scratches.
Learn more about Swarovski, click on this Wikipedia article.
About Czech glass beads: Czech glass beads are available in a wide variety of finishes and styles. Some of the more popular styles include aurora borealis (AB), lampwork, matte, metallic, opaque, and transparent.
History of Czech glass beads: Czech glass beads are made in the Czech Republic. In ancient history, beginning as early as 400 A.D. these beads were made by hand by glass artisans in Bohemia (now the Czech Republic.) There was intense competition between the glass makers in Bohemia and in Venice, but during the industrialization of the 19th century, new machines were invented that could mass produce a wide array of glass beads by pressing molten glass into a heated mold. While Venice continued to concentrate on creating handmade glass beads, the Czechs perfected the art of mass producing pressed glass beads. During WWI and WWII, the bead industry nearly collapsed, but by the mid 20th century, the glass bead industry had been revived and today the Czech Republic dominates the glass bead market. The Czech Republic is now known for their ability to mass produce beautiful glass beads with many different finishes that are consistent in quality. Jewelers around the world use Czech glass beads to create beautiful necklaces, earrings and bracelets.
Czech Fire-Polished Beads: Czech fire-polished beads are sometimes called crystals but are actually classified as glass beads rather than crystal. They are made by pressing glass into a mold to make the bead and then faceting it either by hand or machine. The "fire-polish" is attained by slightly melting the surface of the bead to enhance the luster. This process results in a slightly rounding off of the facets which identify it as glass rather than crystal. These beads compete with the more expensive Swarovski crystals.
Other Types of Finishes: Aurora borealis: Often referred to as “AB” for short, this finish is iridescent and somewhat metallic. It has a colorful reflective quality that results from the finish being applied to only some areas of the bead’s surface. Other names for AB are Iris, Iridescent, and Rainbow. Crackle: Crackle beads are created by heating the glass until it cracks and then re-heating it enough to create a smooth finish on the surface. The crackles are then visible beneath the surface of the glass. Metallic: Metallic beads have a thin coating of metal applied to the surface by either painting or electroplating. They can be susceptible to scratching. Matte: Matte beads have a non-shiny appearance and texture. Other names include satin finish and frosted.  Picasso: Picasso beads have a marbled finish resembling stone.  This look is achieved by fire polishing the bead to melt the outer layer of glass followed by exposure to various gasses from gold and other metals.  The result is a unique pattern of colors and patterns. Vitrial: This reflective finish results from a silver-colored coating being applied to a portion of the bead’s surface.
To learn more about the history of Czech glass bead making, has a very well-written article.

What are lampwork and Venetian beads? The terms Venetian beads,Murano glass beads and lampwork beads are often used interchangeably. Lampwork beads are created with rods and tubes of clear and colored glass which are worked over an open flame, then blown and shaped into beautiful glass treasures. Since these beads are handmade, sizes and shapes can vary slightly. Since glass artisans in Venice and Murano are known world-wide for their lampwork glass creations, lampwork beads are often referred to as Venetian glass beads or Murano glass beads. Lampwork beads, however, are created today around the world. While true Venetian or Murano glass beads only really created in Italy, there are many beautiful beads created in China. And I have found really unique and beautiful handmade lampwork beads on Etsy where there are a number of very talented glass artisans. In fact Etsy has become one of my favorite sites to find unique lampwork beads for my jewelry designs.

Types of Lampwork Beads:

Fiorato Beads: These are a variation of Murano and Venetian glass beads created using melted glass to “paint” flowers and decorations onto the surface. Foil lined: These beads contain either white gold foil, 24K gold foil, or .925 sterling silver foil submerged beneath the glass brightening the color and producing a radiant glow. Millefiori Beads: Variation of Murano and Venetian glass beads hand-created by working slices of millefiori glass canes into each bead. Millefiori means “thousand flowers” in Italian. Sommerso beads: These beads are created using a technique in which the glass artisan submerges different colors beneath clear glass. Small copper flakes (called aventurina) are then worked into the clear glass giving the bead a look of depth and a rich luster.
To learn more about lampwork glass, read this Wikipedia article.
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This article contains information from a combination of old posts I wrote from my Wordpress blog (March 24 & 28, 2009 and April 5 & 28, 2009.)

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