Most Venetian beads we see out and about were produced over a flame, one-by-one, by a glass lampwork artist. And while experienced beadmakers can produce prodigious numbers of beads in a day, the skills that go into making these glorious beads can take years to perfect.
The beads that people call wedding cake beads - the ones decorated with flowers -- are actually (for the most part) called "fiorato" or flowered beads.
Some of the more recognizable Venetian bead styles include:
Sommerso, as in "submerged -- colored glass beads that are encased in a thick and visible coating (that's why they look like they're submerged or under water,) often with foil or aventurine (copper filings that look like gold) center. Newer versions are often given a matte final finish, which makes the interior color or foil really glow.
Millefiori, or Thousand Flower beads -- this design looks lie a patchwork of flowery roundish sliced decorations, all melted in around a solid (typically black glass) core.
Trade beads (beads made for the African trade -- oftentimes produced by Venetian beadmakers) are often decorated this way.
Contributed by Anne Morrissey
Make a Foil Bead with Pat Frantz
Lampworking is a type of glasswork that uses a gas fueled torch to melt rods and tubes of clear and colored glass. Once in a molten state, the glass is formed by blowing and shaping with a variety of tools and hand movements. It is also known as flameworking or torchworking, as the modern practice no longer uses oil-fueled lamps.
A great place to start in learning to date is to familiarize yourself with beading trends -- e.g. steel cut sautoirs from the early 1900s, Czech and German press-molded beads from the 30s, then the explosion of plastics from all over Europe in the 50s and beyond, to name a few big ones.
Some more tips on dating beads. Of course there are exceptions to ever one of these guidelines; I'm just trying to share typical characteristics of jewelry from different ages:
Strand lengths --
Old, single-colored molded beads with knots between each one on very, very
bead are often Flapper age. Reference books show little quirky things like "suntan" colored pearls as popular 20s trends.
Short- or almost too short to wear! - single strands of molded beads were popular in the 30s and often imported from Germany.
Multi-strand mixed graduated glass and plastic beads had their heyday in the 50s .
Before then, multi-stranders are most usually all one material (glass, Bakelite, pearl, metal)
Bookchain necklaces with odd drops (brass, Bakelite, pearls) were popular in the 1930s - early 40s. Once metals were restricted to war use, novelty jewelry manufacturers turned to innovative alternatives, such as leather, cord, paper, shells, wood - even macaroni!
Fishing line for stringing came into use in the 50s.
Certain Swarovski colors are good clues on a piece's age:
Mass-produced AB crystal was introduced in the mid-50s
The desirable brown AB Mink color was a 50s-60s phenomenon
A whole new slew of intriguing colors has been introduced by Swarovski over the past few years -- take a look at the in-season colors on their site -- many of these colors have never been introduced before.
Look for Depression glass colors in beaded piece of the 1930s
The huge new trend of high-quality, artisan-made lampwork and glass cane handmade beads started here in the 80s and 90s and continues today with the most complex beads selling for hundreds of dollars each.
Love beads -- popularized in the 60s -- led to a re-discovery and popularization of African trade beads, too, as artisans incorporated these collectible treasures into ethnic-looking beaded collars and bracelets. Dealers selling hundreds of strands of trade beads to the public became common sites at popular venues such as the Brimfield market.
There is a big business now in reproducing ancient-looking ethnic beads that are such good facsimiles, they often fool even seasoned collectors. As in vintage jewelry, it pays to know your stuff -- and to do business with dealers who share provenance info.
Contributed by Anne Morrissey