Glass Beads History - The Emergence of Glass Beads in Jewelry Making
Monday, March 1, 2010
Glass beads are fine jewelry materials today that are known for their smooth and durable structure. It can also appear in various shapes, color and texture and that's the reason why in the ancient times, these wonderful pieces were used for trade. Some unverified reports suggest that the earliest glass-like beads had been discovered in excavations in Egypt. These are called faience beads, which are another version of clay beads that appeared to have self-forming vitreous coating. In the book Ancient Europe, 8000 B.C. to A.D. 1000: An Encyclopedia of the Barbarian World (2006), Nancy Wicker discussed the relevance of glass beads in the emergence of jewelry making as a whole. It was during the Roman era that "glass, amber, and semiprecious stones (particularly quartz, rock crystal, jet, and garnet) were made into beads and also inserted into metal jewelry". Although some sources indicate that glass beads were already produced as early as 2340-2180 BC in Mesopotamia and the Caucasus, Wicker believed that glass essentially was a fad in provincial Roman workshops in the Rhineland that came together with garnets that came to Europe through Roman trade during 100 BC to 400 AD.

Glass Beads in Ancient Jewelry

Ancient Jewelry Making Techniques

During those times, jewelry making techniques came in raw and glass beads supplies were not that abundant. Ancient Romans made their jewelry by either casting or fabrication. The surfaces are further adorned using various decoration techniques, including granulation, filigree, and inlays of stones or glass. Filigree, also known as wire work, consists of patterns of plain or decorative beaded wires soldered to the surface of a piece of jewelry. In the fifth and sixth centuries, wire was made by techniques called strip twisting and block twisting, in which a strip of metal is twisted, rolled, and hammered until it is approximately circular in section like a drinking straw. Drawn wire, manufactured by pulling a thin metal strip through a series of successively smaller round-sectioned holes in a draw plate, gradually replaced strip- or block-twisted wire from the seventh through the ninth centuries in northern Europe.

Enameling in Glass Beads Making

In using glass beads, they used enameling and they inlaid colored stones. Of course, cut glass are employed to be able to improve the exterior and gain more visual appeal of the jewelry. In this case, glass beads during those times imbibed multifarious colors or polychrome effects. There's also a method called cloisonné - this is a technique in which materials are set into small cells (cloisons) fabricated by soldering upright strips of metal onto the surface of the jewelry. Cloisonné is frequently practiced within the early medieval period. In fact, garnet cloisonné was adopted extensively in Merovingian jewelry. Examples of well-known Early Anglo-Saxon jewelry contain shoulder clasps from Sutton Hoo, in which cut garnets as well as millefiori glass, composed of colored glass rods fused together and sliced into thin sections, are placed in cell work. To achieve enameling during the early medieval period, Romans installed broken or powdered glass within cells, which were then warmed up, as well as the glass was permitted to melt and blend with the metal jewelry surface. Ultimately, glass has become an effective means to make colorful, patterned beads, as evidenced from workshops at Ribe in Denmark.

Venice Glass Era and Modern Glass Beads Making

When glass making came into full circle during the Venice Glass era in the 1200s, glass factories were transferred to Murano. Since then, glass beads making technologies were passed on to artisans and until now, glass beads makers still employ wounding and molding methods to produce lampwork glass beads, dchroic glass and furnace glass. These are basically the types of glass beads you can usually find sold in bead stores at present.

Source and Image from:
Wicker, Nancy L. "Jewelry." Ancient Europe, 8000 B.C. to A.D. 1000: Encyclopedia of the Barbarian World. Ed. Peter Bogucki and Pam J. Crabtree. Vol. 2: Bronze Age to Early Middle Ages (c. 3000 B.C. - A.D. 1000). New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2004. 426-429.


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