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The Venerable Bead

A classic round necklace c1900

While we are on our travels (and we go on a fair few trips and excursions) there are a few things which always catch our attention.

As you might see from a quick peruse of our catalogue, there are is a sizable collection of brooches, earrings, accessories and more recently some fine arts and collectables have been introduced. Mostly though we always seem to come back to necklaces and beads. Beads of all descriptions yes –  gems like carnelian and malachite, plastic – including the odd bit of Bakelite and a lot of glass – but one of our particular penchants is for Millefiori.

This is a particular style of glass making which creates a plethora of designs and always with vivid, stunning results. The term Millefiori, literally translated, is Italian for million flowers and it is fairly much a prescriptive name. Early examples have been found on Roman sites and even, so I’m told, at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk so there is an obvious tradition at work here.

Single bead with intricate patchwork
Put simply (and I am not claiming to be an expert in glass making) the technique involves coloured rods of glass, stretched very thin and bound to form small intricate designs. These rods are then placed into molten glass and sliced. The glass is then reheated and dipped to seal the design and the result is moulded into its final shape.

More popularly perhaps this was used to make paperweights, and before the mid 19th century was called mosaic work (it is interesting to note that despite having existed since Roman times, the art was lost for a period).While paperweights can be stunning it is the intricacy and skill involved in bead making which always makes for an exciting find.

They weren’t always round

The best known examples are Italian, particularly the Venetian glass-men and Murano although England and the US also had a fair crack at the whip. A good set of antique or vintage Millefiori beads (and be careful of modern reproductions, they’re never quite the same) is a privilege to find. Knowing you hold a true piece of artisan jewellery which has taken years to perfect is a humbling concept.

Millefiori is where jewellery and art collide in a splash of colour; their brightness and joyous abstract design sets these beads apart and we will never tire of finding them. A humble glass bead perhaps but a venerable bead none-the-less.
Browse our shop for some beautiful Millefiori beads here

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