Tuesday, August 30, 2011

How the Czech Bead and Glass Industry was formed

Courtesy of Vladimir Sulc, Preciosa Ornela USA rep

The story goes like this: Glass manufacturing arrived to Europe from North Africa via the Mediterranena Sea in late 13th century. Glass beads (seed beads) were used in the decoration of mummies in Egyptian pyramids (you can still see them today). With the development of city-states of Italy glass manufacturing migrated to Venice, the center of commerce of that time. The island of Murano, right next to Venice, became a center of Eurpean glassmaking.

In early 18th century people from Northern Bohemia (mainly peasants who were idle during the winter months) started coming south to Venice in search of work for the winter. There they gradually learned the trade of glass making. Northern Bohemia thus got all that was needed for glassmaking: wood for heating the ovens, running water for cooling and, most importantly, the know how "borrowed" from the Venetians. By the late 18th century (the period you are talking about) both Murano and Northern Bohemia were centers of European glassmaking. While Murano concentrated more and more on art glass, Northern Bohemia became the center of industrial scale production.

Beads were used as a form of currency in trade with many indigenous peoples - mostly in Africa (chevrons from Murano became a srandard) but as well on the coast of Alaska, BC and WA. Russian fur traders were the first white people to visit this territory and they traded cobalt blue beads, which remain to be poplular in the Northwest, for furs. Although it is impossible to prove, it is almost certain that these beads came from Northern Bohemia via Russain bead traders and fur traders to Alaskan native tribes.

If you are ever in Jablonec nad Nisou, there is a real nice museum of beads and jewelry. There you would probably find beads from that period of time. The industry during those years was fragmented. It was both in German and Czech hands. Big part of it was a cottege industry - individuals making glass beads at home over the winter months. There was one German family - the Riedl family, which build over many generations several factories on an industrial scale (mainly seed beads). It is possible these the cobalt beads were made by the Riedl factory, but it is a pure speculation on my part.

If you are interested to find more about it, you would probably need to go to Jablonec, research the museum and talk to the people there. They would, I am sure, be able to give you more information.

I hope this helps.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hurricane??? Good time to blog

Times like these, with natural disaster warnings being posted all over TV, alerts by our Mayor, who is closing our subways and bridges as I blog, it's a good time to be reflective -- and what better topic than beads. A bead is a symbol of history. It too is exposed to climate and natural forces just like we are. As well, beads have timelines -- marked by their place, exposure and importance in our history (fashion, politics or personal). Thanks to Susan's question regarding our Pink Crow Beads, http://www.yorkbeads.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=Y&Product_Code=Z6006%2FPINK&Category_Code=


our 7x7mm large hole faceted beads, http://www.yorkbeads.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=Y&Product_Code=Z3%2F7+COBALT&Category_Code=

I present you a history of these two beads, both imported by our company during my tenure, and a little snapshot about their present and a glimpse of their future in the world of Vintage beads and life in general:

I know what people label as vintage is a liberal evaluation. I have been in the bead business a good part of my life but officially started 1987. Crow beads and other Sintered beads were made by Preciosa (the crystal company). 1987 was toward the very end of the communist era and they announced that they were closing this factory, which also made tile beads and some geometric shapes (mostly seen with some brown spotted Picasso-like coatings) around 1989. These beads were mostly opaque and vibrant in hippie fashion and well as rosary and ethnic fashion jewelry. Sintered glass, I believe, are a powder mixture baked in a mold as opposed to other Czech glass which is pressed, chopped, polished, etc. Yorkbeads (Est. 1924) placed one last crow bead order based on demand at the time just before the factory closed. We were told this was our last chance, as the factory was closing and all machinery was being put in storage. This was told to us by JABLONEX. Jablonex was simply a government agency that marketed Czech Glass beads, including Preciosa's, to the world. Once communism ended the individual factories were able to take control of their own marketing. Preciosa is an example of marketing success. The crow bead was a secondary item to us at the time. Elliot Greene was the biggest crow bead importer at the time. Pink was a little more expensive (these were so cheap back then, maybe $4-$5 a mille or kilo so other colors were maybe $1.00 less) and had that aura of "hard to get" so, of all colors YORK ordered, for some reason pink remained in stock. (I guess 'cause we thought it more valuable and ordered more, even if used mostly for native American fashion and not general fashion.) The color is very vintage, because it contains gold dust. I think it is impossible to get that color any more. In seed beads they try to do a color-fast dyed alternative now. Attempts of seed beads in that color are purple-casted now. (We have a decent amount of 10/0 and 11/0 ones from the JABLONEX era, a little darker than crow but not bad.) Anyway, the Crow bead production ceased. Roller beads, India and China alternatives hit the market and over time the Czech versions have diminished in bulk. Today, 9mm Pony beads are a major component of fashion jewelry dedicated to youth, and the Czech crow bead has slowly disappeared while alternatives (Fimo, wood and more) are in abundant access to overseas jewelry manufacturers. I have no doubt this a vintage bead. I see many beads on E bay termed "vintage". My interpretation of vintage is determined by 3 questions. First, can that bead or color be made today? Second, can the quality be duplicated? And third, is the factory that made them still in business? We can examine the usage of vintage more thoroughly with the second bead Susan mentioned in her email.

7x7mm (4mm hole) cobalt fire polish ovals were termed "Ornelka" in the mid-nineties by JABLONEX, named after the factory Ornela. They were replicas of so-called "Russian" beads, which were popular Czech trade beads traded to Russia for fur coats as the story goes. (You may want to check out Picard materials for a more complete history.) These beads were made and cut by Ornela, JABLONEX's seed bead factory. Again, JABLONEX was just a marketing brand, Ornela the seed bead factory. The beads were chopped from glass rods like seed beads but were faceted by pins like fire polish. JABLONEX closed 2 years ago. According to my criteria this means the beads are vintage. But, maybe not?? The beads were made in the JABLONEX era. The term "Ornelka" came from Ornela, which is still open today, and whose sister factory Zasada makes all the glass rods in the region. Preciosa did not buy JABLONEX, but they sort-of bailed them out of bank debt. In return Preciosa got control of the Ornela and Zasada factories and formed a company Preciosa-Ornela. I buy all my seed bead products from Preciosa Ornela. Technically, they can make these 7x7mm "Ornelka" beads. But, at least in North America, between pricing and the downturn of these beads in fashion, "Ornelka" beads are disappearing. We do not have much left. So, if these are not vintage like the crow beads you can definitely make a case for them, and real soon, in my opinion.

The hurricane will hit in about twelve hours and let's hope it will pass with no major damage. It is a great time to reflect and to catch up on reading, or maybe like with this blog, your past. Our pasts are as varied as our beads, and what is vintage and dear to some may not be to others. Facts may get distorted but beauty does not!!

I'd love to hear your thoughts about what "vintage" means to you. Be safe.


Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Every bead counts , especially these days. If you do not know we sold the building(Dad did), and we had to take 10,000 square feet and consolidate them into 6,000 square feet of beads (also desk, computers, etc). You may not think we have that much space now but we have the whole basement below us. It is complicated task, consolidating lots of odd lots of inventory into an older and smaller space of shelves, making them accesible to fill orders. Shelving location codes really do help!! Its nice knowing what we have, no matter how much i think i can remember every bead. Can really see my 25 year bead reflection through this process. Why did I buy this, why did this not sell, oh that is ugly.Humbling experience indeed, but i do look forward to some new beads in my future!!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Random Facts


Farfalle are made like regular seed beads but when the glass is drawn out of the oven the shape is created by a peanut size metal mold while regular seed beads have been drawn out of oven through a round metal tube.

Generally most colors are created in ovens in processes up to a week. Black and crystal are most common glass and black specifically is used often to clean out the ovens. Technically black is the darkest amethyst possible. Changes in color tone are related to exposure to heat and fire. We have all heard of blue topaz (looks like sapphire) well generally the difference in certain glass is the amount of heat or fire, so topaz glass production may end with so called "blue topaz" glass production as the formulas of heating the glass evolve. So lite sapphire production may eventually turn to cobalt, aqua to Capri and most difficult as explained below hyacinth into Ruby.

Red, Pink, Orange even "nice" purple are hardest glass to make. Red for example in transparent glass, i.e ruby Siam or garnet can not be made in chambers or ovens cause they are sensitive to heat. We have all seen inconsistent burnt red seed beads and off shades of pink these colors are mixed, more by hand, sensitively away from the heat.

Currently natural red and pink farfalles are not produced. It is believed to be technically possible but due the heating process and the more awkward shape it has not been attempted yet, which is why you may see pinks or purples in coated colors not natural colors.


Picasso, otherwise called travertine (Marble Stone), is a kind of luster. Liquid is mixed in a pot
, then beads put in this liquid and mixed properly. Some layer remains on the surface of beads. Then they have to go into oven ( the temperature, is about 400-600 Celsius). Then the beads can be cut or beads remain and as is fully coated like pressed beads.

Beads that are cut, Czech uses term though cut. Cut through the glass. So the base color of bead shows in center and the Picasso is used around the perimeter. Generally this is for fire polish.

Seed beads are coated same way and cuts can be one cut, which is Charlotte in theory, or three cut which would refer more toward fire polish cutting. A three cut and Charlotte are special forms of cutting as well as through cut Fire Polish cause the base bead maintains its original shape. Generally tools maintain the amount of cutting. Tools that rotate fully apply facets evenly, 3 cut bead beads perhaps have gaps set while bead rotates and Charlotte or one cuts do not rotate.


Hex is a Japanese term. Two Cut a Czech term. Hex means Six Sided. Regardless, the cuts or sides are created from a metal tube. When the Pixies stick size glass is drawn out of the oven it goes through this tube or mold and the shape is formed as the glass cools. The farfalle is a Peanut Shaped tube and of course a normal rocaille or round seed beads is drawn through a round tube. See this link below for more Czech seed bead shapes:


Metal tubes create all these shapes. Extra facets are applied in a fire polishing process, beads are put on wires then scratched by needles during a wheel churning technique while the beads are hot. The facet's surface is created as it cools. Due to the "wheel" faceting process only beads with center holes can be faceted, i.e. a magatama seed beads or top drilled pressed beads or briolettes cannot be faceted by a fire polishing process. They are top heavy and will break off the wire or a facet at the hole side will destroy the bead.


Monday, March 7, 2011

The Garment Center and Beads

99% of Beads Imported into the City before World War Two were for garments. As time passed, local embroidery prices rose, and the shift in the accessories market move more toward jewelry. Swarovski brought there expertise in rhinestones, and applied that technology to beads and crystals. Then as the hippie and ethnic markets emerged, other materials emerged, like wood and shell ,but in glass, my favorite of course, so called African Trade beads as my dad says "got hot". Trade bead dealers, unlike today, were stationed out of Harlem. We could get 200-500 strands any given day if available, and they were out the door before you knew it. These were old strands, 1930's and prior. As the trade bead dealers disappeared, taking their earning back to Africa, we attempted to Import copies, from Venice, in the sixties and seventies (see cards) which also became "trade beads". I found these YORK made sample boards in my dad's office, in these wooden display cases( see pics), which were used by our salesman to show Miriam Haskel or Carol Dauplaise to name a few, the current trends(beads that could be reordered unlike the Harlem dealer's stuff).Carl Schimel, formerly of Kim's Craftman fame, and now with CJS Sales, http://www.cjssales.com/, told me during this time period the juniors sections of department stores were becoming more vital, and sales to younger crowds were where you wanted to be. Today as the garment centers continues to recede, Jewelry Crafts and manufacturing still evolves.

Friday, February 18, 2011

People and Places are Vintage Too!!!

Hello All,

First want to thank all of you who came to visit us in Tucson. Phil and I had a great time!
Surprisingly a few people came up to me and asked "why don't I blog more". Easy answers are: Time, Inspiration and Time. Time is a funny thing in the bead business. I have bought many a bead book over my 25 years in the business. One thing that amazed me was the documentation, or sample cards even, from companies that no longer existed. These were relevant companies in their day(or time). What happened??? Where did they go, did they reform into a new entity, more Importantly why did they vanish: technology, family hardship or did they just plain retire or close up shop. The Internet, social media, bead making technology and most Important, you, the bead artist, or purveyor, has changed over time. York Novelty or www.yorkbeads.com is changing too.

We are getting rid of the Old Offices and working on new Ones. We are rediscovering the old beads and re coating them into new, as well as searching out all the new coating and technologies of today.

Will keep you posted....


Friday, January 7, 2011

Tucson or Bust,! (so to speak)

Happy New Year,

Have been going to Tucson for 20 years, just the last five or so as a vendor. Amazing experience. Used to love seeing Beads Galore of Tempe, at the Howard Johnson's on Speedway(Bernie was always most gracious), we would walk up the road, a 1/2 mile desert walk, to what my wife and I called African Village. If you were a collector or grew up with trade beads, it was a sight to see. Learned so much that I bought a old strand of "Russian Blue" trade beads from Picard.

Times have changed. First time in 30 years Beads Galore is no longer showing, the construction on the highway removed African Village and now a load of us east coast companies exhibit. We will be at To Bead True Blue Jan 31st, 2011 - February 5th, 2011 and Tuscon Bead Show 2011 February 5th - 8th, 2011. Booth : GP 239 & 240.

Each year we put some time and effort putting something new together for Tucson. This year is no exception. Expect to see this year: Last years big hit, peacock daggers, an expanded farfalle butterfly seed bead selection, unusual Picasso seed beads, bugle beads, fire polished and pressed. Some items are vintage base colors that were coated especially for us. We will also have an amazing selection of 2mm and 4mm Round fire polish featuring elusive metallic, opaque and specially treated colors that will knock your socks off. Not to mention , Size 15 Czech real metal Charlottes will be on hand this year, a yorkbeads.com exclusive!!! More Tucson surprises soon to be announced, real soon!


Perry (PBeads)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Pablo Picasso vs Czech Picasso

Why is it called a Picasso Bead?? Not sure but has a nice ring to it. Picasso usually is either a marbled travertine effect or heavy luminous coating with spotted accents. Either way, the purpose of the coating is to give that popular semi precious look we all deem precious. Generally this finish is most popular in turquoise, but sells well in beige and even better in a mix. Some glass color just do not take the coatings well: finish is weak. Mixes, can be an assorted mix of solid colors. Here, the weaker finishes blend in with the stronger ones and create a great potpourri look. Or we can combine 2 or more glass rods while pressing a bead, and the blend of the color may create a great base canvas for this coating. Beige is a great glass for this purpose. Individually the coating make the strongest most popular travertine finish but combined with the a second glass partner some magic can happen. Our new Navy/Beige combination rocks

Not sure what old Pablo thinks about all this and how he got dragged in, seems like Hans Hoffman has more in common with this process. It ain't paint but when you splash melted glass rods together something wonderful can happen!!