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Bead Materials: Glass


Glass beads are made with silica (usually from sand) in the glassy state. It is an early synthetic material and the premier bead material. Glass was invented in the Middle East some 4500 years ago. Its technology spread slowly, but by about 1000 BC it was being made in the Middle East, Europe, India and China.


Glass is sharp when knocked against your teeth. It can be scratched by a steel file but not a pen knife. It is not as cold to the touch as stone. If there is a chip it is conchoidal (shaped something like a ribbed clam).

Glass is sometimes confused with stone. The perforation is the key. Glass beads often have perforation deposits, either black (furnace-wound) or powdery (lamp-wound, see below). Stone beads are drilled, and you can feel the join of the drill with a pin.

Glass can be made in almost any color and worked into a great variety of decorations, as with this Venetian millefiori.

Glass always has bubbles, best seen on transparent glass. Not all are as bubbly as this Chinese ring, however.

The perforation on glass beads is straight; you can feel it with a pin or see it on broken beads, like this one from Korea.

The small beads used in beadwork are glass, not plastic as many people mistakenly think. Made by a young boy in the Ivory Coast.


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