How to Buy Lampwork Glass Beads
Lampwork glass beads are miniature works of art that are painstakingly crafted, passionately used in jewelry design, and lovingly collected. Learn how they’re made, along with the history of lampwork glass with Darryle Jadaa, lampworker and editor of Soda Lime Times in Beadwork October/November 2019. In her article, Darryle shares photos of gorgeous lampwork beads from a variety of talented contemporary artists, plus, illustrations from the renowned Corning Museum of Glass.
Darryle admits that she’s a self-professed craftaholic who has tried more crafts that she can count. But, once she fell in love with glass, she was all-in. In this issue, Darryle shares the process of making lampwork beads, how to set up your glass studio, and why it’s good to connect with the lampworking community.
As a #1 fan of artist-made beads, Darryle has buying tips for adding new lampwork beads to your collection. As she says, “Art glass beads are usually created with a higher level of craftmanship and attention to detail than factory glass beads. This guide will help you to know how to identify high-quality glass beads so that your money is well-spent.”
5 Tips for Buying Lampwork Glass Beads
1. Bead Holes
The holes of the beads should have a nice indentation in the surface surrounding the hole, like a little pucker. The edges should be smooth so that your stringing material will not be cut by any sharp edges of glass. The interior of the hole should be free of bead release (a clay-like substance that is used in the lampwork process). Depending on the artist’s design, the hole should be in the center of the bead to allow for a nice balance when placed on a chain or other cording.
2. Air Bubbles and Cracks
Air bubbles in the bead may be part of the artist’s design. This may be easily identifiable as the bubbles may be symmetrical or logical in the design. However, if there are a large number of bubbles or bubbles that are close to the surface, the structural integrity of the bead may be weakened. Sometimes it is difficult to determine if the bubbles are intentional, but this is the great thing about buying from an individual, you can just ask them! Also, a reputable artist should stand behind the integrity of his or her work and will likely have a policy in place to deal with problems. There should never be any cracks in the beads. These cracks show poor workmanship and quality and make the bead undesirable.
Annealing is the slow cooling of hot glass objects that relieves internal stresses and improves the durability of the glass. A kiln is programed to hold the temperature for a specific time and then slowly reduce the temperature at a specific rate. Proper annealing can only be done with a kiln. If the beads you are purchasing have not been kiln-annealed, the chance of them cracking at a later date are much greater than that of a kiln-annealed bead.
Properly annealed glass will endure a lot of rough handling. The best way to determine if the beads have been kiln-annealed is to ask the artist. If the artist has taken the time to kiln anneal, they will happily tell you. There is a good bit of expense and trouble to ensure that their beads will stand the test of time and they want you to know that, too!
4. Talk to the Seller
Shop from a reputable seller and ask them how the beads where made, where, and by whom. If you’re not sure, here are some things to look for: Often, if there are large numbers of the same bead, some of which may be chipped or broken, this is an indication of factory-made beads. Artisans will generally not produce huge quantities of the same design. Ask the seller if the beads have been annealed in a kiln (see Kiln-Annealed for an explanation of proper annealing). If they respond that the beads have been annealed in vermiculite, a fiber blanket, or flame annealed, understand that this is not what you are looking for.
Artisan glass beads take a great deal of time to create. The artisan has usually studied glass for years before they sell their work, often taking many classes to perfect their skill. There is a great deal of time invested in each bead, as well as the cost of equipment and raw materials. The artisan glass bead will likely always cost more than factory-made beads, but it is truly a case where “you get what you pay for.” I would prefer to put my money into a one-of-a-kind, artisan-crafted stunning creation that will bring me joy for years to come.
We Heart Lampwork Beads
As Darryle Jadaa says, “One caveat before you begin: it’s easy to fall in love with melting glass!” I’d argue that it’s just as easy to fall in love with the melted glass beads themselves. I haven’t taken up glass bead making yet, but some of my favorite treasures are lampwork beads that I’ve purchased directly from the artists.
Be sure to check out Beadwork October/November 2019 for Darryle’s how-to and history of lampwork glass beads. She says, “Glass creates a lot of opportunities for self-expression.” Along with more photos of gorgeous handmade beads, you’ll also find beautiful projects from Hannah Rosner and Stephanie Sersich that feature lampwork glass focal elements. Of course, there are also a variety of bead weaving jewelry designs throughout the issue. You’re going to love it!
Interim Managing Editor of Beadwork