How seedbeads are made

How Seedbeads Are Made. –

The earliest seed beads of European manufacture probably date to about 1490. Around that time, Venetian glassmakers rediscovered the method of making beads by drawing molten glass into long hollow tubes. “Although a great deal of secrecy has always surrounded the drawn-glass beadmaking operations…descriptions written in 1834 and 1919 apparently represent procedures unchanged for centuries.” A description of how the French seed beads are made today closely parallels these early accounts, indicating that even with the modern technology of the late 20th century, the beads you buy today are basically made the same way as those made hundreds of years ago.

In the modern French method, high quality sand is “placed into a cauldron and slowly melted to liquid form over a period of 21 days while the temperature slowly rises to its peak temperature of 1300 c – 1500 c.” At this time, colorants and oxidants “like copper, cobalt, bauxite and even precious materials such as 24ct gold” are added to color the glass to the desired shade. At this point, the molten glass is drawn into long, thin tubes. Historically, “a hollow globe of molten glass was attached to two metal plates with rods. Two men, each holding one of the rods, ran quickly in opposite directions, drawing out a tube of glass at least three hundred feet long. The original bubble of air remained as an orifice or tunnel running the entire length of the tube.” The modern French method is similar but the stretching is performed by a machine instead of the mad-dash method. The stretching phase is quite critical as atmospheric changes can affect the final bead color and the speed of pulling affects the final exterior size and the hole size. “The pulling of the molten glass creates the size difference itself by which the first sections pulled become the small-sized beads since they are pulled farther, while the glass towards the end of the pulling process are larger in size since they are pulled not as far.”

These long tubes are then cut into small sections called “canes.” The canes are sorted for size and then cut into small tubes which will eventually become the final bead. The beads are finished by “reheating techniques (tumbling and constricting) or by lapidary methods (grinding).” In the modern French process, the unfinished beads are “mixed together with crushed charcoal, sand, and liquid plaster” and “placed in another furnace and heated while rotating to 800 c which shrinks the tube to its permanent form of the round bead.” This is another critical step in the process because the heat creates the final roundness and the real color of the bead. Until this final step “the real color of the bead has not been seen. They have been colorless the precedent steps, which also creates the uncertainty if the correct shade has been achieved.”

The beads are now complete and are ready to be cleaned and packaged for shipment. The entire process has taken as long as 60 days to create a single color. As you can see, there are many steps in the process and even a slight variation can have a major effect on the final size, color, and shape of the bead. Hopefully, you now have some insight as to why every batch of beads we get can be a different shade and why it is almost impossible to obtain perfectly sized and shaped seed beads.

Seed beads are uniformly shaped, spheroidal beads ranging in size from under a millimeter to several millimeters. “Seed Bead” is a generic term for any small bead. Usually rounded in shape, seed beads are most commonly used for loom and off-loom bead weaving. They may be used for simple stringing, or as spacers between other beads in jewelry.

National origin

Before World War II, there was a thriving bead industry centered in eastern Europe, especially in Czechoslovakia, which was then known as Bohemia, although Germany, Italy and France were also noted producers of glass beads. Most of these beads were made of glass, but some were made of metal, usually aluminum or steel, and often cut in what is known as “three-cut” faceting; these are popularly known as steel cuts. Many of the old factories were converted or destroyed during World War II. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, treasure troves of old beads made their way to Western markets. These “vintage” beads are highly prized, and are now harder to find.

Most contemporary high-quality seed beads are made in Japan or the Czech Republic. Japanese seed beads are generally more uniform in size, shape, and finish as well as having larger holes than Czech seed beads of the same size, but the Japanese make fewer styles.

Some seed beads produced in France are available in historic “old-time” colors and are popular for use in repairing or replicating antiquities.

Lesser quality seed beads are produced in India, in People’s Republic of China (PRC) and in Taiwan. Beads from these countries are less uniform in shape, hole size and finish. Dyed seed beads may transfer the dye to clothing or skin. Other seed beads have an external coating that will rub away to reveal a completely different color underneath.

Colors and Finishes

* Color lined – a color coating is applied inside the beads; sometimes this is not very durable and the color of finished work may appear very different in a short time
* Transparent – the glass is see-through
* Translucent – one can see light through the bead, although the light is diffused
* Opaque – the solid color prevents light from passing through the bead
* Matte – the bead is textured on a microscopic level to result in a matte finish
* Silver-lined – a silvery coating which reflects light is applied to the inside of the seed bead
* Copper-lined – a coppery coating which reflects a reddish light is applied to the inside of the seed bead
* Bronze-lined – a bronzy coating which reflects a brown light is applied to the inside of the seed bead
* Luster or lustre – a transparent “pearl” effect applied to the surface of the seed bead
* AB or aurora borealis – a rainbow effect applied to the surface of a seed bead

Cylinder beads

During the last decade, a new shape of Japanese seed bead, the cylinder bead, has become increasingly popular. Unlike regular rounded seed beads, the cylinder beads are quite uniform in shape and size and have large holes for their size. Because the ends are flat instead of rounded, work created with cylinder beads has a flat, smooth texture. Wikt:Rows and columns in weaving line up more uniformly, so pattern work comes out more accurate and even.

There are now 3 versions of cylinder beads:

* Delica made by Miyuki. Delicas are currently made in four sizes: 15/0 (the smallest), 11/0, 10/0, and 8/0. Delica varieties include a “cut” Delica that reflects light from flat facets.
* Treasures (formerly Antiques) made by Toho
* Aiko – an all new, extremely precise bead made by Toho, introduced in 2005

Charlotte cut beads

Charlotte cuts are seed beads that have part of the surface of the bead cut (or “faceted”) to produce more shine. Charlotte is specifically a term for single faceted beads but can also be used when 2 or 3 facets are added to the bead to add more sparkle. Charlotte’s with 2 or 3 cuts to the surface are also known as “two-cut” or “three cut” beads but “Charlotte” is the generally accepted term for this group of seed beads. Some beaders however choose to use the term more specifically for beads with 1 cut surface, preferring “two-cut” or “three-cut” to be used for the other variations.

The most popular seed bead size is 11/0 (“eleven-aught”), but sizes range from 24/0 (believed to be the smallest) to 6/0 or 5/0 (the largest). The term “aught” refers to how many beads can fit into a standard unit.


History of Beads, Lois Sherr Dubn


Aught Size Mm Diameter Beads per inch
6/0 3.3 10
8/0 2.5 13
9/0 2.2 15
10/0 2.0 16
11/0 1.8 20
13/0 1.5 27
14/0 1.4 25
15/0 1.3 24
delica 1.8 20