Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Buying Handmade Glass Beads

Handmade Glass Bead Frog Jewelry Frog BeadsWhen you are in the market for handmade glass beads, or handcrafted jewelry with glass beads, there are some details you should be aware of. Glass beads can be bought locally, imported from overseas, or handmade by the jewelry artists themselves.

Lampwork Beads
Lampwork glass beads are usually made by an artisan using colorful glass rods. The rods are heating with a tabletop torch and wound around a steel welding rod, known as a mandrel. The mandrel is not only used as a holding tool, but it also created the hole, making it a bead.

Annealing (Heating and Cooling Glass Beads)
Glass beads need to be properly kiln annealed. The glass needs to be heated to a molten state before it can be made into a bead, then it needs to be placed into a kiln, usually heated between 900-1000° F, depending on the brand of glass being used. Different types of glass require different cooling processes. The kiln is an environment for the glass beads to
stay very hot, but not hot enough for the glass to slump, or become a glass puddle. The beads maintain at a the required temperature, which strengthens the glass by eliminating its interior stress When the bead is finished, or the day of bead making is over, the kiln is cooled very slowly so the beads aren't shocked, which causes cracking.

Annealing beads can take 6-10 hours, depending on the type of glass being used, the heating and cooling process required, and it depends on your kiln. For larger glass objects, the annealing process takes longer, from a few days to a week or more!

Tell me again, why should glass beads cool slowly?

If a glass bead cooled at room temperature, the exterior of the glass bead would cool faster than the interior, causing stress, which causes the bead to crack or even shatter. For example, when you run an ice cube under hot water, it cracks, but if you run it under cold water and gradually make the water warmer, the ice cube simply melts. In the same way, glass needs to be heated and cooled slowly, to prevent cracking.

Side Note:
Why can you put a Pyrex dish in the oven without it cracking?
Pyrex is a
brand which was originally made from borosilicate glass, which requires a unique heating and cooling process. Borosilicate is more resistant to thermal shock than any other type of glass. It's the same glass used in labs for beakers and test tubes, as well as your Pyrex cookware. Unlike other types of glass, Borosilicate is is placed in a kiln at room temperature, then it heats up to 1150° F, which releases the interior stress. Then it's cooled slowly.

Clear Borosilicate is the most common, but colored Borosilicate has been developed for the glass art market. It is commonly used in sculptural pieces such as ornaments, paper weights and figurines. The glass mermaid ornaments, starfish ornaments and starfish ornaments at kincaidesigns.com are made from Borosilicate glass, and it's actually the Pyrex brand.

Unfortunately, the Pyrex brand kitchen glassware is not longer made from Borosilicate, but the similar soda-lime-silica glass. Borosilicate is a better quality, so if you bought your Pyrex cookware before 1998, then hold onto it. Soda-lime-silica glass is still a high quality and durable glass, and it's used for windowpanes, glass containers, bottles and jars for beverages, food, and some commodity items. However, Borosilicate is still the superior type of glass, and it's unfortunate that they've switched.

Do you use Pyrex glass for your glass beads?
No, I don't use Pyrex for glass beads, but I do use it for glass ornaments, including starfish, mermaids and seahorses. You can shop for these Pyrex glass ornaments on our website at kincaidesigns.com. Al the glass beads at kincaidesigns.com are made out of Moretti or Bullseye glass. These brands have a vast selection of colors, and they are the preferred brands by most bead makers. This glass can't be used for larger objects because they don't have as much resistance to thermal shock. Larger objects take longer to make and the entire object can't always be heated evenly as glass beads are, so Pyrex is a great alternative for this.

What to ask the bead maker

• Do you make your own lampwork glass beads?

• If not, where are your beads from?

• Are your beads properly kiln annealed?

• Do your glass beads and jewelry come with a guarantee?

• How long have your been making lampwork glass beads?

• Do you clean out the bead release?

• Are you beads properly inspected before use in your jewelry designs?

Imported glass beads
Lampwork beads imported from India or China are usually mass produced and have not been properly kiln annealed. There are some things to look for to identify these imported glass beads. Many of these beads have cracks, and although the bead isn't broken in 2 pieces, it will break at some point, leaving you with worthless glass beads or jewelry that needs replacement beads. You can also look for a glass seam, which means these beads have been made in a mold and melted in a kiln. You may also notice the glass is less pure, with a grainy substance such as dust or bead release mixed in. This is because enough attention isn't being paid to each bead, as they are commonly made in a factory in mass quantities.

Cracked beads

Usually beads have cracks because they haven't been properly annealed. However, occasionally a lampwork artisan bead isn't put into the kiln in an adequate amount of time, and the bead was doomed before it entered the kiln. Most artisans will find these cracked beads immediately and throw them away. However, when lampwork beads are mass produced, they don't have the resources or patience to check every single bead, and you end up with a number of unusable
glass beads. So if you are in a craft store and you see a beading kit that includes a mixture of glass beads, beware, these are mass produced and many of them will be unusable, cracked and not properly kiln annealed. It's worth the extra money to buy quality, handcrafted, lampwork artisan glass beads.

Bead release
Bead release is a clay-like substance that the mandrel is dipped in before the glass is melted onto it. If glass were melted directly onto the mandrel, then the glass would be permanently attached to it. The bead release allows the bead to come off the mandrel easily, however, the substance remains coated on the hole of your bead. Most mass produced lampwork beads will still have the bead release stick to the inside of the bead's hole because they commonly miss the proper steps needed to make glass beads. If you are buying individual glass beads, you can easily see the bead release if it hasn't been removed. However, if you are buying a finished piece, you make not notice it as much. But the bead release can start to come off with the wear of your jewelry, and you'll find a dust like substance your clothing here and there. The artisan should have individually cleaned the bead release off their lampwork glass beads, so look closely. If they aren't cleaned, you should ask yourself what other steps were missed in the lampwork glass bead process.

Shapes and design
Glass artist have varied talent and taste, some prefer to make elaborate focal pieces while others use more simple glass beads as accents. The taste of the artisan doesn't determine their talent, however, are the shapes and designs pleasing to you? Does each bead fit neatly against each other? Symmetry, or lack of, is very noticeable in earrings, if a glass beads is uneven, the earring will hand crooked. This doesn't prove the jewelry artist has much attention to detail. Keep in mind that each bead is individually handcrafted, so there will be some variance. However, quality jewelry is only as good as the artisan who designed it. If they have an attention to detail and a high quality standard, it definitely shows.

Gold Leaf Lampwork Glass Bead Focal Glass BeadGold and Silver Leaf
Some gl
ass beads have silver or gold leaf embedded inside them. This creates a unique reflection of light in the glass beads and is used for various effects. It also adds value to the individual glass bead because the leafing is actually silver or gold. At kincaidesigns.com, gold or silver leaf is used to make large focal beads. See an example of a focal glass bead. They are also used in the glass fish beads to create the illusion of scales. See an example of a glass fish bead.

Sharp edges

A sign of well-made glass beads are smooth edges. The edges are the area where the exterior of the glass bead meets the outer edge of bead's hole. If they are sharp, or come to a point, they may cut your stringing material. You can usually identify these beads just by look or touch.


Bubbles in glass bead can be intentional and beautiful, or a sign of bad craftsmanship. How do you tell the difference? If a glass bead has random, multiple bubbles, then it probably wasn't intentional. These bubbles can weaken the strength of the beads structure. Bubbles usually happen when air is caught between the glass as the glass rod is being wrapped around the mandrel. However, when the glass rod gets too hot, it boils, and those bubbles from the boiling glass can cause tiny bubbles that look like spit. This is also not intentional, and it doesn't look pretty either.

Bubbles can be intentional though, so look for a pattern or specific use for the bubbles. Lampwork artist will often capture a bubble in the plundge of a flower, or create bubble around a fish bead design. These can be extremely beautiful and add a unique detail to their glass design. If you see intentionally placed bubbles, it's a sure sign of good craftsmanship.

To sum up

Most artisan lampwork glass beads aren't cheap, you can pay anywhere from $3-$100 per glass bead, depending on the size, details, and additional materials such as gold leaf. If you find yourself being sucked in to a variety pack of glass beads that are extremely cheap, be aware, only a handful will be usable and they wont have the same charm as artisan crafted lampwork beads. They will also lack the proper care in annealing and cleaning, so, is it really worth it?

When buying artisan glass beads, shop around and look for a lampwork glass artist that fits your tastes. Look at the beads overall appearance, shape and design. Check the glass beads for bubbles, bead release and sharp edges. And don't forget that artisan glass beads are a truly unique work of art, and each bead will have unique characteristics because close attention was paid to each individual glass bead.

Find quality handmade glass beads at kincaidesigns.com. We have glass frog beads, silver and gold leaf glass beads, fish beads, unique focal beads, ladybug beads and glass beaded jewelry. We have beautiful handmade jewelry for casual everyday wear, for brides and bridal parties, and even for babies. You can also buy individual handmade glass beads to make your own jewelry. Not sure what to buy for a gift? We have handmade glass bead wine charms, keychains, glass ornaments, or buy a gift certificate if you are more confused than before. Visit kincaidesigns.com for a truly unique shopping experience.

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