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European Beads

Venetian and Dutch Beads

The Eastern Mediterranean bead centers were largely destroyed during the Mongol invasions and the Crusades from the 10th to the 12th Century. It was in Venice, or more precisely, on the island of Murano in 1291 that European bead production began. This was through more efficient techniques by drawing the glass thus producing many beads of the same size and color. By the 16th and the 17th Centuries Venetian beads were finding their way to West Africa and the Americas. In this period of time the glass making and glass working techniques improved greatly. Beads of complex design, such as the legendary chevron, were being produced.

Other countries in Europe were taking note of the success of the Venetians in this new industry and attempted to lure bead makers away from Venice. Holland, France, Austria and others wanted to have their own bead industry. Holland was the first to create its own glass bead centers and produced beads in the style of the Venetians. They successfully produced monochrome glass beads, for example, beads in pentagonal sections, the “mulberry” design, some with simple decoration, and others until about 1750.

Czech Beads

The greatest challenge to Venice would be the bead industry that developed in Bohemia in what is now the Czech Republic. Stone workers there became glass workers when an inexpensive replacement for pyrope garnets had to be found. By the beginning of the 18th Century the first red glass beads were being faceted. Soon this business spread in the surrounding area and other gemstones were being imitated in glass. However, the Bohemian bead makers found their greatest success in copying native African beads, glass beads and ornaments for the Islamic world, and a wide variety of beads for India. They became hugely successful.

The first half of the 20th Century brought Communism and great disruption of the Bohemian bead business. Many Bohemian bead makers fled to Austria and Germany. Daniel Swarovski settled in Innsbuck and produced the very fine Austrian cut crystal beads. He also helped re-settle other Czech bead makers in Bavaria. Originally the German bead production had also grown out of stone working. The earliest efforts were re-worked Venetian beads from the 14th Century. Blown and silvered beads, false pearls and rosary beads were produced through the 1800s.

Other European Beads

Limited numbers of beads were produced in Russia, Belgium, Britain and Spain. The beads that Columbus brought to the new world were produced in Spain. In France bead making began in the 15th Century and was soon producing imitation pearl and black mourning beads. In the last century seed beads and other ornamental beads were still being produced for the French fashion industry.