Pressed glass beads are becoming increasingly popular because of their versatility and limitless possibilities. This category not only includes the basic necessity bead shapes such as druks, daggers, rondells, and drops; but also unique, abstract, and novelty shapes as well. We have well over 1,500 inventoried shapes to choose from, not including the different sizes available per shape! Plus there are over 800 commonly used glass colors to combine with the hundreds of coatings, lusters and metallic finishes available. Literally millions of combinations are possible! New technology in glass making has made it possible to combine glass colors in new and innovative ways. HurriCane glass, for example, is the combination of multiple glass colors that change appearance and swirl patterns based on the conditions at the time of pressing. Each batch is unique and very difficult to reproduce.
The Pressed Glass Bead Making Process
Forming intricately detailed shapes full of vibrant swirls of color with clarity and shine takes years of training and practice. The quality of the product relies mostly on the skill level of the master bead pressers. The difference in overall quality is strikingly apparent from one craftsman to another.
The end of a long rod of glass cane is heated in a gas furnace until it is red hot. It is then inserted into a pressing machine which resembles and old fashioned sewing machine. The molten glass is quickly pressed into a mold while a needle is simultaneously inserted to form the hole. Only a few beads can be pressed before the rod must be heated again; therefore, the bead maker alternates between multiple heated glass canes in order to produce continuously. The pressed glass cools slowly as it makes its way down a slide and into a holding container. At this point the pressings do not resemble beads at all; they are still connected together by the excess glass surrounding the edges of the beads. The beads then go through two-stages of tumbling; one which breaks off the large pieces of excess glass and another which smoothes out surface imperfections.
Fire polished beads are considered by many to be one of the most essential components for jewelry making. The Czech bead makers are famous for their exquisitely crafted yet relatively inexpensive faceted beads.
The Czech region of Bohemia has been the center of bead making and has led the glass bead industry for hundred of years because of its quality fire polished styles. Faceted rounds are by far the most popular because of their timeless look and sparkle. Classic, more stylized shapes such as cathedral beads, triangles and octagonal faceted beads are popular for vintage style jewelry and rosaries. There are many new fire polished shapes being created such as donut fire-polish and renaissance fire-polish. There are also vintage styles reemerging into the market such as rosebud fire-polish and fluted fire-polish.
Faceting Fire-Polish Beads
Facets - flat, polished surfaces
To make fire-polished round beads, the manufacturer starts with round pressed beads (druks). The beads are sifted onto a pronged board that is then fed into a faceting machine which angles the beads onto a grinding wheel. After all sides of the beads have been faceted their surface looks rough and matted. The polished finish is attained by laying the beads on a conveyer belt that feeds them into an extremely hot oven. The beads are heated to the point that their surfaces begins to melt, creating a naturally shiny finish.
Window Cut Beads - Also known as table cuts, these beads go through a similar process as fire-polish, however they are differentiated by the fact that they only have facets on two sides.