Venetian beads, let’s get to know them
Venetian glass beads are divided first into two categories according to the processing technique: Drawn Glass Beads and Wound Glass beads historically called “Lampwork”.
Drawn Glass Beads: Conteria and Rosetta
Conteria or Seed Beads were created, starting from the manufacture of a perforated cane obtained by blowing a glass bolus, then modelled into a cylinder and, by hot extension, pulled into a long rod which remained perforated along its entire length. Subsequently, when cold, the rods that could be very thin, were cut into fragments, then heat treated again to round the ends, finished and divided by size.
Thus, with many steps of skilled manual processing, performed in specialized Murano furnaces, the seed beads, then destined to the impiraresse (bead stringers) for threading.
The Rosetta is a pulled rod bead that requires an even more complex procedure, for the use of multiple overlapping glass colours, commonly red, blue and white, in layers modelled by means of star molds of increasing sizes, while maintaining, with skill, the initial cylindrical shape and then stretching, pulling the large barrel obtained, while hot. Once the “Rosetta” cane was cooled, it was cut into small pieces and cold-ground with an abrasive belt to give shape and highlight the layers and the star motif that resembles a rose. So the Rosette were born, known all over the world as chevron.
Both the seed beads and the Rosette, once abundantly produced in Venice on the island of Murano, today are no longer produced due to the high costs that are no longer reflected in today’s market.
The mechanized production of glass beads is now delocalized in various countries of the world, the old Venetian productions, however, remain unsurpassed in quality, variety and charm.
The processing of rosette beads is imitated elsewhere, sometimes also in order to reach collector’s markets. Therefore, be careful when buying.
Lampwork beads, wound glass beads
Murano Glass Lampwork Beads, instead, are still successfully produced in Venice, both on the island of Murano and in the historic center of Venice.
They are obtained by melting solid cane glass around a metal rod suitably treated with release pastes, or which is then eliminated in acid if it is a copper tube, preferred for some processes.
They can be of infinite shapes and colours combined with each other, among the best known classic Venetian there are:
Fiorate: elegant beads decorated on the surface with rose motifs and forget-me-not, adorned with thin peaks (strands) of molten glass and often enriched with aventurine (a specialty of Venetian glass based on copper crystals). Western-style, much loved also by Venetian and European ladies.
Millefiori or a thousand flowers: of ancient Roman origins, they had a great expansion for Venetian inventiveness and know-how in the colonial market, especially African, in the period between the late ‘800 and mid-‘ 900.
They are worked by composing hot, mosaic, disks of Murrina glass rod on a base bead in solid color called soul or mother bead.
The Millefiori was a typical bead used as a currency for exchanges; beautiful ones have been produced in the past which today are highly appreciated by collectors, but it is still worked with success, contemporary taste and perfect technique.
Sommerse: small marvels with decorative motifs or with brilliant fragments of aventurine, incorporated in transparent glass (called crystal in Venice even if it does not contain lead) which emphasizes its beauty and brightness, they can be of great refinement when they contain elaborate subjects such as flowers, embroidery spirals and motifs in the most different colours.
My favourite glass beads?
The Tuttifrutti: a personal exclusive of mine, a project developed with my friend Beadmaker Sara, in years of tests and combinations, they are a collection of Murano glass lamp beads designed in hundreds of colourful and cheerful variants.
In their creation, the quality of contemporary Venetian glass and the imagination and technique in inventing new designs are best valued. They are the ideal heirs of the beads of past centuries, and keep intact in the spirit all the prerogatives of aesthetic and economic value and the charm that made our glass beads, the originals made in Venice, famous all over the world.