The Quest for the Perfect Lampwork Bead
by Joan Prichard
First it’s important to understand the artistic process behind making a quality bead. While there is an abundance of inexpensive beads on the market, be aware that you do tend to get what you pay for.
Some of the more complex beads that have intricate designs, use foils, special reactive glasses or murrini may command a higher price due to the cost of materials as well as the skill level and time involved.
If you are buying a bead set, check to ensure the beads fit nicely against each other and that they are all basically a uniform size and shape. Often when a lamp worker uses a mold or press to shape the bead, the molten glass meeting the cold surface of the mold can create a pattern of ripples on the surface of the bead called chill marks. An experienced lampwork artist will “heat polish” these marks away with the heat of the flame.
Look for cracks especially around the bead hole, and also make sure the bead is free of nicks and burrs. Jagged edges around the bead hole can fray or even break beading materials. Also check the bead hole to ensure that all bead release has been removed.
Lampworkers use a coating of bead release on the mandrel. The release keeps the bead from sticking to the mandrel so that it can easily be removed. After the bead is cooled, the lamp worker should remove all traces of bead release. Otherwise, this substance can coat your stringing materials and flake onto clothing.
Evaluate the bead’s overall appearance. If it is round is it balanced? Granted, lampwork beads are handcrafted. However, the bead should be pleasing from all sides and the design should be symmetrical.
More experienced lampworkers tend to concentrate more on the finished elements of the bead such as a pleasing shape. Beginning lampworkers are more focused on the overall mechanics of operating the torch and are less focused on the finer details.
Ask if the bead has been annealed. Why is annealing important? The annealing process involves heating a bead in a kiln to a specific temperature and allowing the bead to slowly cool and relieve internal stresses. You are basically changing the internal structure of the glass to improve its durability. Glass beads that have not been annealed are more likely to crack or shatter when subjected to small temperature changes. Therefore, annealing is critical to their durability. It is an important sign of a quality bead that it has been annealed. And if you think about it, a reputable artist who has spent hours making a beautiful bead should want to improve the lifespan and durability of their miniature work of art.
Hopefully these few tips will make your venture into finding the perfect bead less stressful and more productive. No matter if you’re spending a small amount of money or large, you still should pursue quality beads. After all, you not only have money invested, but also your time in creating beautiful jewelry.
About the Artist
Joan Prichard’s love for glass started close to 20 years ago when she took a stained glass class in Columbia, SC. She later became intrigued with glass beads while attending the Glass Craft and Bead Expo in Las Vegas.
A demonstration by a glass artist at the show was her introduction to these delicate works of art and she began her own venture into crafting her own art glass beads. In 2008 she expanded her love for glass to enamels and began creating cloisonné as well as lampwork beads and jewelry. In 2010 she launched her online website for Sand and Surf Beads. Joan lives in Navarre, Florida with her precious kitty Havana.
Her work is published in Art Jewelry Magazines January 2011 Gallery and in The 2010 Flow’s Women in Glass.