Bead Vault is an online bead store based in Australia which specialises in Czech glass beads with a focus on unique and bold. We stock over five hundred different Czech pressed glass beads. These affordable beads are available in an extraordinary range of signature finishes and traditional and modern shapes.
What Shapes Are Available in Czech Pressed Glass Bead? Round is not everything. Shapes include coins, cubes, medallions, daggers, diamond, hearts, ovals, petals, flowers, leaves, pointed ovals, octagons, nuggets, drops, squares rectangles, triangles, tubes, tri nugget, and of course round. Use the beads in jewellery making, hand sewing, beaded embellishment, and crafting projects and all all available online.
Why we Love Czech Glass Beads and You will Too!
Glass makers experimented and perfected techniques that made Czech beads famous for their beauty, variety, and consistently high quality.
- Their diversity: colour, shape, finish, and size
- Their quality: uniform hole and durability. The colours are colour fast, i.e., mostly colour comes from the glass and not dye.
- Their heritage: Czech tradition since the 16thC of bead making.
- Their design possibilities: they are perfect for both modern designs and recreating vintage style and nature such as the colours and finishes of precious stones, the shapes and designs of snake vertebrae and shells etc.
- Their surface coatings and linings: may be glossy, matte, pearl, metallic, silver lined, or colour lined.
How Are Czech Glass Rods Made?
Glass is made of accessible, basic ingredients – a fusion of fire, sand, soda, and lime. It is the only raw material, unlike wood, fibre, stone, and clay, which is made, and because of its nature, i.e., molten, it does not allow considered and slow crafting. The technical description of glass is known as ‘rigid liquid.’ Glass goes with the flow, when things heat up and then it just chills at room temperature.
The effect of changing shades within the glass is fascinating, whether it is a bowl, a vase or bead. These finishes are achieved by one of the following manufacturing processes:
- Chemical processes, for example, vacuum coating the surface of the bead. This can be a full or half coating.
- Physical combination of two or more colours combinations. Satin finish, for example, is the result of combining opaque and transparent molten glass rods within one cane. It is also known as moonstone or moonshine.
- Striking by reheating the glass, to change its colour, when only part of the glass is reheated, produce two colours within the one piece.
How Are Czech Pressed Glass Beads Made?
Czech bead manufacturing has an impressive legacy of experimentation by cottage artisans for hundreds of years that delivers consistent beads in shape, size, and beauty. Pressed glass beads are made by skilled artisans who work with molten glass rods which is poured into a mould. The molten glass takes the shape of the mould.
The History of Czech Glass Beads
Despite globalisation, and a history of disruption from war, freedom fighters, Gestapo and communist dictators the countryside is dotted with two chimney cottages, indicating that a glass furnace is making beads continuing hundreds of years of glass bead making tradition.
The 19th century saw a period of industrial innovation. In the Czech Republic, the first automated machines were patented in the late 19th century. New technical advances in machinery produced a vast variety of beads, by a process of pressing molten glass rods into a heated mould. This meant that thousands of identical beads could be turned out quickly and inexpensively.
Although there have been improvements in working conditions, the critical processes of bead manufacture remain unchanged. The only limiting factor in the 19th century was the process of manufacturing the moulds, which was both difficult and precise. Cottage artisans made beads to order for their local factory until about until 1945. It was then under the communist regime in Czechoslovakia that the entire glass making industry was nationalised. Since the 1990’s there has been a return to cottage artisan bead making.
Did You Know?
Beads have been made in Bohemia (modern day Czech Republic and Germany) since Roman times, but it was an intermittent industry.
- 1400s North Bohemia becomes a glass manufacturing centre with abundance of natural resources required to make glass such as water, quartz, lime, and sand.
- 1550s when costume jewellery become fashionable, glass makers started producing beads to be used more decoratively, in the towns of Jablonec, Stanovsko, and Bedrichov.
- 1700s “Sample men” travelled globally from Africa to Tibet to trade glass beads. It is this enterprising spirit and their curiosity to experiment and make beads that mimicked nature.
- 1800s The Industrial Revolution. Machines allowed mass production of moulded pressed glass beads.
- 1829 The first recorded showing at a trade show in Prague of pressed glass beads.
- 1860s The Czech bead industry had surpassed its rival, Venice.
- 1928 Czechoslovakia was the largest exporter of beads and jewellery in the world.
- 1948 The Communist government nationalised the bead industry which became a single state-run monopoly. Penal labour was used at the core of the bead making production and jewellery assembly in Communist Czechoslovakia.
When Jablonec the great bead, button and jewellery making hub in now what is known as the Czech Republic became part of the Russian bloc, at the end of World War II, (1945) the Germans, known as the Suduten Deutsch, (Germany had called that region of Bohemia Sudutenland) were forced out of their homes and businesses literally overnight. Taking few possessions with them, with only 48 hours’ notice of their expulsion, they left everything behind. Their furniture, their china, their livelihoods. Everything! The German refugees walked into war torn Germany, and the bead makers settled in Bavaria more than 600km away from Jablonec.
To maintain the survival of bead industry and their livelihoods a bombed-out factory was purchased in the newly named town of Neu Gablonz, i.e., New Jablonec, located in the US Zone of Occupied Germany, between 1945 and 1949. There were four zones (French, American, British and Russian) Eventually the three western zones combined to form the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) in 1949, whilst the Soviets formed the Germany Democratic Republic (GDR).
The “Made in Germany US Zone” marking is understood to encompass most of southern Germany and covers the time between the end date of WWII and the formation of the Federal Republic of Germany, i.e., 1945 to 1949
Meanwhile in 1945 in communist Czechoslovakia the entire glass making industry was nationalised into a single state-run monopoly. Jablonex, as it was named, controlled all sales, marketing and exports including glassware, glass jewellery and glass beads, where previously at its height there had been over 2,000 agents exporting glass. In 2009 the Jablonex Group was sold to Preciosa a glass cutting company.
European Glass Trade Beads – A History
Beads found their way into Africa by the thousands of trade caravans that crossed the Sahara from the 7 century AD. Muslim Arabs conquered Mediterranean Africa and began exchanging brass, cloth, stones, glass beads and Baltic amber for West African gold, ivory and slaves. Thus began the development of Islamic empires within north and West Africa notable Ghana and Mali.
The Arab coastal trade into east Africa and the Portuguese exploration of African coastline in the 15th century. A string of Muslim city states, notably Timbuktu and Djenne in Mali, Mogadishu and Kilwa on the mainland in Northwest Africa and later the island of Zanzibar on the east coast which emerged as part of an Indian Ocean trading network.
Glass beads were traded for incense, ivory, tortoise shell, rhino horn, palm and coconut oils, timber, iron and gold. Between 1500s and 1867 slavers shipped an estimated fifteen million Africans to the Americas; routinely exchanging European made glass beads for their human cargo.
Early European Bead Production
The dawn of the colonial era late 19th century saw an explosion of European bead production and trade. Glass factories in Venice and Czech Republic became expert in catering for African tastes and preferences. Sample cards were prepared and distributed. Knowledge of what type of bead was popular in different regions was vital for would be explorers since a miscalculation would leave them with heavy sacks of untradeable beads and no means of buying vital supplies.
When sticking up in Zanzibar from the shiploads of beads imported from Europe, the explorer Henry Morten Stanley wrote in 1872 his calculations for his journey to Lake Tanganyika noting a “total of 22 sacks of beads in 11 varieties.” Among the most popular types were tiny glass seed beads from Jablonec in Czechoslovakia and the multi coloured Venetian millefiori and the layered blue, red and white chevron made in both Venice and Amsterdam since the 16th century.