Article: Czech Beads

Hobby Beading:  What is a Czech Bead?

Glass making and glass bead making within the Czech Republic is dated back as far as the early bronze age, when the region was settled by Celts who possessed the skills of glass-making and enameling. Not only were the Celts involved in bead making and glass making, but so were the Monks in Benedictine monasteries. A glass mosaic titled “Day of Judgment” which embellishes the golden gate of St.Vitus's Cathedral in Prague is a testament to the skill of these medieval glass-makers.

Czech glass can be found in Corinthian excavations dating back to the 11th and 12th centuries. During this time, the art of glass making ceased to the solely the milieu of Monks and it moved out into the forests where many cottage glass-works arose. Vast quantities of wood were needed to fuel the furnaces, so the densest forests became the centers for this early art form.

The forest glass-works created "forest glass" of a greenish color created by imperfect refining of raw the materials potash and quartz sand—the main ingredients in glass.

In 1588, Emperor Rudolf the 2nd invited Mr. Ottavio Miseroni, the first person to perfect the art of cutting and shaping diamonds, to Prague. Miseroni opened a workshop for cutting diamonds. With his diamond cutters, he discovered a way to decorate glass by using stone or copper wheels. Engraving was born. The most important craftsman in Prague to come from Miseroni's workshop was Caspar Lehmann, who became an Imperial Court engraver. Rudolf the 2nd became a generous sponsor and Prague became the center of this new glass craft. From Prague, the craft spread to all of Europe.

During the 1600s, the popularity of engraved glass continued to increase and by the end of the 17th Century, Czech glass achieved world wide recognition. Particularly fire-polished beads, have been produced in the area of the Czech Republic for over 200 years. This craft started as a cottage industry with the forest glass makers, but today the art of crafting Czech faceted beads is done in a factory.

They are such a huge part of Czech industry that the Soviet Union created a state agency called Jablonex to distribute the beads. The breakup of the USSR saw a resurgence of onesproduced in cottage industries. Today, there are many companies that export Czech facetted beads to over 80 countries. The small enterprises are greatly assisted by the fact that Jablonex is no longer taking on any new United States clients.

The most common shape for the Czech bead is round, although the fire polished beads are more oblong. They are available in other shapes, too: bicone, rondelle, roller, roundlet, pear and parachute. The fire polished ones come in a variety of colors. The richness of color is one of the earmarks of Czech beads.

Most people think all fire polished beads come from the Czech Republic. In the last ten years or so, India has begun producing them too. Fire polished beads are distinguishable by there soft rounded edges on the face.

Karen Vertigan Pope writes for Ciniva Systems, an award winning Virginia web design company.