Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Lampwork Beads


To my eye, lampwork beads are the most beautiful of all. Each one is individually handmade and no two are exactly alike. Lampwork beads are made on a metal rod called a mandrel. The mandrel is coated with a white powder that will allow the bead to be taken off the rod when the bead is finished. Molten glass is wound around the mandrel and the mandrel is placed over the flame (originally it was the flame of a gas LAMP). The bead is shaped and decorated. It is then annealed (allowed to cool evenly and slowly) to add durability.
There are lampwork beads designed to fit your every mood, from fun to funky to elegant or classy. There are lampwork beads made to fit every fashion trend and there are lampwork bead styles that have endured through the centuries.
While lampwork beads have been made since 1300 BC in Greece, Venice is considered the birthplace of modern lampwork beads. During the Renaissaince, Italy was the undisputed glass capitol of the world. The glassworks were centered in the city of Venice and glass making secrets were jealously guarded.
Glass making was divided up into tasks so that each person only knew part of the process. Telling the secrets of glass or bead production was considered an act of treason punishable by death. In the late 13th century, the glass making industry moved from Venice to the island of Murano, Italy. Folklore says that the reason glass production moved from Venice to Murano was that an island was better able to isolate the craftspeople and thus the secret process. While this is a romantic notion, it's a myth. In fact, lampworking was extremely dangerous and resulted in many fires. The glass production was moved out of the city of Venice to the Island of Murano to control the spread of fire. It was in Murano that lampwork beads first became widely produced in the 19th century. Lampwork bead making is a cottage industry all around the globe.



There is a huge disparity in the price of lampwork beads. Some can be bought for less than .10 USD. Others fetch prices in the hundreds. Several factors account for this difference.
First of all, the more detailed the bead and the more colors used to make the bead, the more expensive it is.
The type of glass used also contributes to the price of the bead. Murano (Effetre) glass is more expensive than Indian glass. It is also much more beautiful, giving the most gorgeous colors.
Another factor that goes into the pricing of the bead is its country of origin. Labor is cheaper in India than it is in the USA. Also, different countries typically produce different quality levels. The key word is typically. Some Italian bead makers import cheap glass and then label their beads as Made In Murano. It is also possible to get some Indian beads made from Murano glass.
The preciseness of the size and pattern of the beads will also weigh heavily into costing a bead. For example, the handwork on the Czech beads is beautifully done. By comparison, most mass produced Indian beads are sloppy. While each lampwork bead is hand made and they all vary slightly from each other, this variance will be more pronounced in a cheaper bead. The final factor that gets weighed into the costing mix is the annealing process used to finish the bead. Today there are kilns available with computerized temperature controls that allow precise annealing. Ideally, lampwork beads are annealed overnight.

When selecting lampwork beads for my personal collection, I look first for a bead that 'calls to me'. Then I ask what type of glass was used and how it was annealed. I personally have bought some very inexpensive lampwork beads that I love. On the other hand, I have spent a great deal of money on one single bead that I just had to have. In my humble opinion, there is a use and a need for lampwork beads in all different price ranges.


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