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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

ABC's of Creativity - V is Venetian

Just as I was about to write about Venetian beads from the historical point of view, Stefani Ogden of Bead Den at the TBS Bead Fair  gave me a quick lesson on contemporary Murano beads. 
Selection of Venetian beads at Bead Den at TBS Bead Fair, 2013 
Murano glass is known around the world for its beauty and clarity. Venetian bead making dates back to early 1300s when beads were produced by hand with the famous Moretti glass. These beads became known worldwide as Venetian Beads.  
(l). Blown Venetian beads; (r.) double blown beads.
Orchid glass pendant.
Several glassmaking techniques such as millefiori (thousand flowers), sommerso (submerged), filigrana (threads of different colours), frit (tiny pieces of crushed glass and aventurina (goldstone) have been developed over the centuries and the bead makers of today use the same techniques as were used in the 11th Century.  Genuine Venetian/Murano beads are made by hand using fine quality materials such as 24 carat gold, .925 sterling silver as well as Moretti glass.
Geometric Foil collection. 24K gold and .925 sterling silver is used in Murano beads
Pendant with 24K foil and millefiori fish
Twisted beads with 24K gold
Pendants with frit, 24K gold. Teardrop pendant.

Red Murano beads with 24K. Some gold is added to make the red colour.
(top) Heart pendants with millefiore; (lower) Frit aand fused pendants

Klimt-style Murano beads with 24K gold
  Sommerso floral garden beads
Murano beads with large holes for sliding over bracelets.
Mini Murano teardrop pendants
This Murano teardrop pendant with 24K was stamped MURANO 
The name MURANO is stamped into hot glass of larger, thicker pieces.

From the historic side, Chevron beads were created by the end of the 14th century. Venetian chevron beads are drawn beads, made from glass canes, which are shaped using specifically constructed star moulds. The first chevron beads consisted of 7 layers of alternating colours. They usually have 6 facets. By the beginning of the 20th century, 4 and 6-layer chevron beads appear on various sample cards. Read more about how the layers are created, colours and  how pattern is exposed. 

Early small Venetian chevrons, circa 16th century 
Chevron beads can be composed of a varied number of consecutive layers of colored glasses. The initial core is formed from a molten ball of glass (called a "gather") that was melted in a furnace. If the glassworker is making beads, an air bubble is blown into the center of the gather via a blowpipe, thus creating an opening, the future bead's perforation. 

Chevron Venetian Six Layer Trade Beads Big Africna, late 1800's early 1900'x

When making solid multilayered cane intended to be used for decorating millefiori beads no air bubble is inserted. The gather (with the air bubble in its center) is plunged into a star-shaped mould, which can have anywhere between five and fifteen points. Several layers of glass can be applied, returning to the mould as desired, to create either a star-shaped or smooth effect for each layer. 

Most of the Venetian chevron beads made for export to West Africa and to the Americas have layers in red, blue, and white. A smaller number of chevron beads were produced with other colors such as green, black and yellow. Venetian chevron beads have been traded throughout the world, most heavily in West Africa. These beads are referred to as "trade" beads. While researching this topic, it's amazing how many Venetian chevron and millefiori are out there for sale through E-bay. Some asking prices seem amazing, but adds to the appreciation of how precious Venetian beads are.

Millefiori is an Italian word meaning " a thousand flowers".  Millefiori beads are also known as "mosiac" beads throughout the world.  The making of millefiori beads is a two step process.  First the murrine or cane is made and then these are applied to a molten wound glass core and made into beads. 

Illustration of steps for making Millefioeri beads

Millefiori pendants. (top) flat matter millefiori pendant. See Murano label below
Murano Label on back of flat millefiori pendant
Venetian bead were very highly prized world-wide. They made their way to Ukraine and were strung and finished off with a “chepraha”, a unique metal clasp. By our standards, it may seem oversize, but it was used exclusively with Venetian beads. Status was shown by how many strand and styles of beads were worn for holidays. The more strands of beads, “korail”, pearls, “zgardy”, metal crosses or coins, the higher the status of the girl. This was especially evident on bridal wear, the fanciest variation of the local folk costume with unique headdresses.
Hutsul bride wearing 5 strings of Venetian beads amongst a beadwoven 'sylianka' choker, 'zgardy' with coins', 'korali'  with metal beads, 2006
Nat. Museum of Hutsulshchyna and Pokuttya, Kolomyya, Ukraine
Venetian bead necklaces catalogued in the 3rd floor collection of the
Nat. Museum of Hutsulshchyna and Pokuttya, Kolomyya, Ukraine, 2006
Seed bead 'gerdan' and metal 'zgardy" necklace from Western Ukraine.
Two strings of Venetian beads; lower string are "wedding cake" beads.
On display at Museum of Decorative Folk Arts, Kyiv, Ukraine, 2013
Hutsul metal crosses strung between Venetian beads.
Since they are so prized, the beads are carefully placed in the design.
Kosiv Museum, Ukraine, 2011
Check out the incredible Venetian beads out there! Surf the net and be amazed by the variety of Trade and Millefiori beads from the past and marvel at the prices they're fetching.  

Better yet, pick up a contemporary Murano bead and create your masterpiece.

Photos of Bead Den's Murano Beads: Maria Rypan

Happy beading,


  1. Lots of great information and amazing pictures.

  2. Thanks! I learned a lot quickly and this is just the tip of the iceberg!

  3. came from the FB page~the beads are amazing!!! I invite you to check out my blog`

  4. Hi, I was looking for something and came across your blog....I was startled because almost all the beads and pendants are from our store.