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 Some Tips on How to Buy Lampwork Beads

You've found several sets of beads that you just love. How do you choose between them?  What do you look for beyond the initial eye appeal?  Here's my list and this is just the beginning.  I will be adding pictures and addition information so that new lampwork buyers will have no doubt what to look for. 

Ends -  I put ends first because it is so important.  The bead holes should should never, ever have any sharp edges.  On hand shaped beads, puckered or indented ends are desired. Many times I'm not too picky about perfectly puckered ends, but under no circumstance should the bead have sharp ends. Sharp ends can easily cut your thread or beading wire.  Beads made with presses will not puckered ends, which is perfectly acceptable. One exception is the lentil press which will leave too much dimple on the ends. The dimple will make the bead look like a... well, sort of like a derriere.  I call them "Bum" beads when there is too much dimple.  However, a small dimple on the end of a lentil can be desirable as a small spacer bead will fit nicely in the dimple.  When I say small, I mean very small or I will classify the bead as a "Bum" bead. 


Picture above is of the very first beads I made.  I was so scared of the torch!

Dots - Make sure the dots are well anchored on the bead. How do you know if they are anchored by looking at a picture? The dot should not, under any circumstance, look like a mushroom.  In other words, the dot base should be larger than the dot top. If the dot is not anchored properly it can easily pop off.

Chill marks - These are circular ridges on the surface of the bead caused by touching the molten glass to a cold tool or press.  These marks should be removed by carefully reheating the bead after it is pressed.  If the chill marks are on the bead, the bead maker did not take the time to burn them off.  The chill marks are distracting and should always be removed.

Encasing - There is nothing like a perfectly encased bead.  The encasing should have few, if any, bubbles.  Sometimes a bead maker will add bubbles like the bubbles found on plunged florals.  Those are intentional and desired bubbles.  Encasing is difficult and some bead makers avoid encasing all together.  A perfectly encased bead will be free of bubbles and will not have any glass from the base bead pulled up to the surface.  An exception is on organic beads when sometimes a bead maker will want the base glass pulled up to the top of the encasing.  The encasing should also be uniform on the surface.  I'd like to add some pictures here in the future to show you what I mean.  

Colors and cost of the glass - There is a huge difference in the cost of glass depending on color and glass manufacturer. My favorite colors are naturally the expensive ones.  I will be adding additional information on colors and some of the different glass manufacturers.

Here is a Moretti color chart that uses pictures of beads instead of just the glass rod - GemFox Moretti Color Chart

Frit rolled pressed beads - I'm sure many have their own opinion on this point so here is mine. A lampwork bead made by rolling a base bead in frit and pressing it in a mold is a very basic, easy, quickly made bead. Although the bead may be quite nice with beautiful color, it should be considered a basic bead and priced accordingly.  In my opinion it absolutely should be less expensive than a bead made using details including, but not limited to, dots, complex twisties, stringer, murrini and/or encased beads, especially when these details are made using the expensive glass. It takes a tremendous amount of time to make and add these details. In addition, frit is fairly inexpensive, relatively speaking, so a frit rolled, pressed bead is a "nice and easy" bead.  

Hand shaped vs. pressed beads - I almost forgot this one but I have an opinion on this subject too.  I'll just say for now that hand shaped beads like bicones, barrels and even round beads are harder to make and take more time than pressed beads.  Easy, undecorated pressed beads made by an experienced lampworker can be made much faster than any hand shaped beads.  Any bead maker that can make consistent hand shaped beads has put their practice time in and they deserve recognition for it.

Is the seller a S.R.A.? - There are several bead sellers that lead you to believe that they are lampwork S.R.A.'s (Self Representing Artist).  A lampwork S.R.A. can not produce hundreds of sets per week. If the seller has hundreds of sets listed, or thousands even, they are not S.R.A.'s. The seller may make a statement such as, "the beads are made in our studio".  In reality, it is a factory and is not located in the U.S. In addition, there are  misleading statements made by many sellers of these beads that the beads are annealed.  Five years ago, before I made my own beads, I made a whole line of bracelets using these mass produced lampwork beads.  I was horrified when several beads cracked.  Many of the bracelets I had made already sold before I knew about the breaking.  There is a huge market for these factory beads and the beads are often quite nice. The issue I have is that the beads are misrepresented as S.R.A. beads and that the beads are not annealed, or not annealed properly.  Another indicator of factory produced beads is price.  Cheap means, well, cheap.  They may be pretty but they are not made to last. 

Find out more about lampwork S.R.A.'s here:  www.self-representingartist.com.