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         ||   P.O. Box 356  ~  Browns Valley, CA 95918  ~  Tel: (530) 743-1339   ||   

Faceted Glass Beads - Fire Polish
Posted 7/6/05

Faceting of stone beads has been going on for a long time, and in Germany faceted beads out of Idar Oberstein are world known as the best in existence. Glass beads are a more recent occurrence, relatively speaking, as pressed beads only came into existence in Gablonz, Austria in 1829, when the first molded beads were shown at a trade fair in Prague. After that, round glass beads would have been faceted using the same techniques as stone faceting in Idar Oberstein. The technicians lay face down on a bench and pressed the beads onto a stone grinding wheel, with water running over the stone to keep the dust down. These early glass faceted beads would have been used in the African trade market, and can still be found today for sale by African Traders at the various shows around the country.

These early attempts at faceting were rather primitive, as glass was not considered very valuable or worthy of much effort in polishing, as the stone beads were. So, being innovative, the German bead makers invented firepolishing.

After the glass bead has been pressed in a mold, and faceted into the desired amount of cuts, it is run through a heating furnace that is actually not a flame at all, just an extremely high temperature, that puts a gloss on the faceted surface of the beads, in effect polishing it. The machine itself looks like a 20 foot long metal box, with a conveyor belt running through it. The beads are placed on metal pie trays, one layer of beads deep, and run through the heating box. The name firepolish is actually a misnomer, it should be called heatpolished.

Then after they are cooled down, any extra coatings are attached to them, if required. Examples of different coatings would be AB, vetrails, pearlized, or bronzing. These coatings would either be dipped, or sprayed, and then either heated or baked on, or laquered over, if it is a pearlized coating.

The first firepolish was just your basic transparent and opague glass, in 3mm, 4mm, 6mm and 8mm round shapes. Currently, round facetted firepolish comes in those sizes as well as 10mm, 12mm, 14mm, 18mm, 20mm and 22mm. There are also teardrop shapes offered in 7x5mm, and 9x7mm.

The technique used today in Czech Republic is basically the same as in Germany, but now the technician stands up straight in front of the grinding wheel, which is approximately 8 feet in diameter. There is a ratchet attached to the wheel, which has an attachable piece of equipment with multiple holes in a line on it. The technician scoops this piece of equipment into the bucket of glass beads at his/her side, and the beads fall part way into the holes. The technician secures the beads so they wont fall out, attaches the equipment to the ratchet, and presses it against the revolving grinding wheel. Water is run over the wheel, and the bead is ground against the wheel for a few seconds, then released, the ratchet is applied, the beads turn a little, pressure is again applied to the wheel on a new section of the bead, and this is done until the bead is totally faceted all the way around. The equipment is then unattached from the rachet, the beads dumped into another bucket, and the procedure is repeated. The room in which this is done might have up to 20 or more wheels, and the noise is deafening. The air is hot and moist from the water and all the machinery running, and is most uncomfortable to be in for any length of time.

Talking to the managers or owners of the different faceting departments of the firepolish factories, it was brought to my attention that Czech workers refuse to perform these duties, and foreign workers from Poland, Slovakia and the Ukraine are the people who do most of the faceting.

Once the beads are finished being coated, firepolished, inspected, etc… they are then strung on cotton thread. This can be done either by machine or by hand. The factories we deal with farm out the work to people in the local villages who supplement their income by stringing the beads on a part time basis. The factory drops off sacks of beads with instructions on how they are to be strung; ie: 25 beads to a strand, 12 strands to a bundle, 4 bundles to a mass, x number of masses to the sack they are given. When the job is done, the factory comes back and picks up the beads, and pays off the workers. Usually it is the women and children who do this work. If the beads are round, they can use a machine that looks like a treadle sewing machine, but with a large bowl on top. The beads are poured into the bowl, and 12 needles are laid into the bowl, which is spun around and beads get threaded onto the needles and run along miles of thread. When a large amount of beads are on the thread, the strands are measured off in the quantity required and tied off.

Some of the factories we use are so small that all the work is done cottage industry style. The beads are pressed at one place, by an experienced presser, then it is shipped off to a faceter, then taken to a larger factory where it is firepolished, then distributed to the stringers. If a coating needs to be applied, the beads might then first be sent to a coating facility, then baked, then strung. If the bead maker is too small to handle his own exporting, he will then take the beads to a packer, who will pack the beads, then to an export agent who will prepare the documents and handle the financing.

When you consider all the steps taken above to produce these beads, it is amazing really how inexpensive they are to purchase. They should be much higher.


Wild Things Beads  ~  P.O. Box 356  ~  Browns Valley, CA 95918  ~  Tel: (530) 743-1339

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