|The Lampwork Process
With a fuel and oxygen torch, colored glass rods and various metals are wound onto steel wire and into tiny works of art! The beads are formed, decorated and finished in the flame, then placed in a high temperature oven, or kiln, to anneal and cool slowly for many hours to ensure strength and longevity. Every bead is made one at a time, so no two are ever exactly alike. This particular characteristic has contributed to the growing popularity of lampwork glass beads, as well as the freedom of the glass artist to be shamelessly creative and without boundaries!
Back when I first started, I was always happy to try and explain this process to folks who asked "What a great necklace! Where did you get those beads?" I would reply "I made them", and would attempt to describe how. Even after explaining the process and about the torch and glass rods, the usual reply would be "So you paint them." Or "So you glue those dots onto the beads you bought". The most recent and amusing one was "So, you make the bead, and then color it with a pen?" After hearing this so many times, I now just leave it at "I made them", and only attempt to explain if they ask how. I never want to be rude, but sometimes it's less frustrating to just leave it at that. Of course, I was just as clueless at one time!
Fortunately, many bead buyers are more educated these days about this process and have some understanding of what work goes into making these beads. Many bead store owners have put some emphasis on educating their staff and their customers and can better explain the sometimes high prices that are associated with lampwork beads made by individual artists. Yes, beads from India or China, for example, are much cheaper, however many are not annealed and upon closer inspection you can see cracks and sometimes you will find a broken bead where a whole bead once was in your bead box. While some of these beads are quite attractive, they are mass produced and are very common. (This is not to say that someone cannot make something really incredible with beads from India!) Many bead buyers and jewelry artists are now more able to make the distinction between foreign mass produced beads and beads made by individual artists with great attention to quality. Keep in mind that there are many individual lampwork artists all over the world that do this for the artistic fulfillment.
Important Information About Lampwork Glass Beads
When buying glass beads, it is important to ask if they are annealed (please read below).
Annealing: (definition in the most understandable terms I can muster)
The purpose of annealing is to realign and organize the glass structure into a more comfortable one, on a molecular level. Manipulating hot glass causes stress due to the expansion and contraction (heating and cooling) during the working process, and the glass will alleviate its stress by cracking if it is not annealed. Annealing happens when a bead (or any hot glass work) is placed in a high temperature oven known as a kiln or annealer. It is held at a certain temperature for a period of time to "soak". This soak time and temperature differs according to the specific glass type (each kind of glass has it's own), and size of the piece. The temperature is not hot enough to melt the glass, but hot enough to cause the microscopic particles to move. This process is not visible to the naked eye, and you cannot tell the difference between an annealed bead and an unannealed bead just by looking at it.
Please note that even the most carefully annealed beads (or any glass object, for that matter) can break or crack when thrown, dropped on cement, stone or ceramic tile, stepped on, or run over with your tractor-trailer. All the annealing in the world will not prevent damage to beads that have been treated with such disrespect and disregard for their physical properties. They are glass, after all, and glass is fragile. Be kind to your glass beads and they will last longer than you.
Borosilicate Glass Beads (Also known as "pyrex" or "hard glass")
Colored borosilicate, or boro, glass is really something special! Some of the colors are so versatile in that many different colors can be achieved from one rod of glass by using flame chemistry (more/less fuel or oxygen), and can rarely be duplicated exactly. (That is, unless the glass worker has alot of experience and knows what they are doing - which does not exactly describe me when it comes to borosilicate glass! I do whatever feels right, let the glass do what it wants, and I'm rarely disappointed with the end result.) Many of the colors are translucent, so combining and layering colors has an effect on the color of the piece, and leads to entirely different colors. Borosilicate glass is colorful, per se, but more muted than the bright crayon colors of soft glass, and is at its most vibrant when viewed in bright light or sunlight. Borosilicate glass is also very useful for both large and small sculptural works and odd shapes, since it is more resistant to thermal shock (fractures from dramatic temperature changes). It is also resistant to harsh chemicals and acids and won't etch.
The borosilicate glass palette has grown considerably over the last few years. I use both Glass Alchemy and Northstar brands. This glass is much more expensive than Moretti glass, and the beads can take nearly twice as long to make, so the bead prices reflect this difference. I encase most of my boro beads in clear because the colors develop better under a layer of clear glass. Most of my boro beads are larger than my soda-lime beads, and are different from my soda-lime beads as far as design is concerned. Some of my soda-lime designs cannot be executed with boro glass, and vice-versa.
Effetre (Moretti) and Vetrofond Soda-Lime Glass Beads (Also known as "soft glass")
This glass is imported from Italy, where it has been made for many, many years. The colors are vibrant and are available in opaque, translucent and transparent colors. This glass has a low melting point and is easier to manipulate with less heat. This is my favorite glass, because it offers such contrast and eye-popping color!
Bullseye Glass (from the United States)
Other brands of soda-lime glass are Lauscha, Spectrum, Satake, Kinari, and glass from the Czech Republic. I currently do not use these types of glass. Not because I don't like them, but I only have so much room...
You will notice in my gallery and auctions, the glass type is noted near the pictures, so that you will be able to tell what kind of glass my beads were made from.