July 15, 2008

About a Bead: Knowing the difference

Do you know the difference? I can hear whispers in the wind..."what is the difference?". And a small tear escapes from my eye.

"What's wrong?" a small voice inside you asks.

A voice on the wind replies, "these words have broken her heart. She read them just now, 'FINALLY, the market has opened up and we don't have to be held hostage by inflated prices!' "

"But what does it mean?" you ask.

"It means that someone doesn't know the difference between art...and mass production," the wind explains as it blows on it's way.

And a tear slips from another eye.

So, do you know the difference? The difference between artisan lampwork beads, and commercially manufactured beads? Some people don't. So I'll help you out.

First, and foremost, artisan lampwork beads are works of art. Made by hand to create something special and unique. Like any other art, really.

Where do mass produced lampwork beads come from, and how are they different?

Mass produced beads come from overseas. Overseas being a country, unlike the United States, that allows people to work in unsafe conditions, for minimal wages. Sound familiar? Hmm, does sweatshop ring a bell? That's the picture that comes to my mind.

These are the kinds of beads that I don't really consider art because the same bead is made in batches of thousands. Nothing unique is being created there. But worse yet, is the fact that glass is not properly anneals to make it durable.

You see, when you heat the glass to make a bead, you change the structure. To make this glass strong and durable it has to be held (we sometimes refer to it as "cooked") at a certain temperature for a certain amount of time. To do this, you need a kiln that can keep your glass around 950 degrees Fahrenheit. Something that is not done with mass produced beads.

Why is this so important? Minute stress cracks will form if the beads are cooled too fast. You may not even be able to see them, but they can cause you a lot of headaches later down the line when you're beads crack and your jewelry is ruined. What a shame to spend so much time on your own work of art, only to have it ruined!

Proper kiln annealing gives the glass enough time for the crystals to align properly, making the glass strong and durable. I can't tell you how many times I've dropped a bead on the floor, or banged my key chain into the door frame! And my beads still live!!

Would I ever recommend mass produced beads? Sure, they're perfect to practice new techniques without spending a ton of money. And they're perfect for younger teens because of the affordability, and the fact that teen styles change with the seasons, so it won't really matter if the item doesn't last forever. They won't care!!

But if you want to create a truly unique item, or to collect something wondrously beautiful, artisan lampwork, by far, offers the inspiration to create something truly awe inspiring.
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