What Unique Lampwork Jewelry Is (and Where to Get It)

Lampworker creating bead with gas torch

Unique lampwork jewelry items can easily become some of your favorite pieces.

About Lampwork Jewelry

Lampwork jewelry is created by melting glass rods, typically very narrow ones, to form amazing beads. In order to master this art form, you must be patient and very cautious, since the rods are melted by using an open torch flame.

Once a glass rod is melted, the artisan wraps it around a mandrel, which is a metal rod thin enough to form a hole throughout the bead. The colors of the rods selected for each piece are usually vivid. The first rod is twisted and twirled around the mandrel to create the beginning of the bead. This is repeated until the artisan has the correct bead size she wishes to use.

The artisan isn't limited to a round or oblong bead shape. Many have signature-sized beads that are square or triangle, while others create stars and hearts. The unique lampwork jewelry look is created by using additional colored rods to decorate the newly formed bead. Some of the popular techniques are to create stripes or spirals with various colors wrapping around the bead. Other designs use tiny glass dots or geometric shape. Beads can be decorated with any motif, including plants, animals, people, or even inanimate objects like cars, trains, bowls, utensils, and so on.

Using a Kiln for Lampwork Jewelry

You may be surprised to learn that the lampwork beads are placed into a kiln. This is done so that all of the smaller parts that have been added to the bead can be evenly heated. This ensures that the glass embellishments won't later become separated from the bead and fall off.

As the glass cools, it shrinks, and the bead can be slipped from the mandrel. You don't want the glass to cool too quickly or it can crack. When working with glass, especially lampwork, the glass is heated and cooled at different stages, and as a result, it's very uneven. These differences in applying heated glass to cooling glass can also cause the beads and beadwork to crack. To ensure that doesn't happen, the glasswork is placed into a kiln where the heat is slowly reduced and the glass cools slowly and evenly, a process known as kiln annealing.

Once the glass is cooled, the rod slips out easily, leaving a perfect opening for stringing with jeweler's wire, clear line, or some other threading. These beads are used in combinations with other beads to create necklaces, or as a centerpiece for bracelets, pendants, or earrings.

Unique Lampwork Jewelry

The artistry of lampwork beads in the hands of experienced glass workers can become truly unique designs. Tiny detailed decorative beads display the artisans' talents. You can find a stunning array of art styles when it comes to lampwork jewelry. If butterflies are your favorite icon, or certain flowers, you can find jewelry that features these and more in beadwork.

Lampwork jewelry is typically a mixture of various jewelry mediums. It's common to find lampwork beads mixed with Bali beads, wood beads, or various styles of metal beads. Many bracelets and necklaces incorporate charms and findings to add a whimsical feel to the design.

Some lampwork artisans combine their creations with gemstones and various colored pearls for a truly unique and colorful style. Black pearls and Swarovski crystals are a great design complement to some lampwork beads.

Buying and Using Lampwork Beads

There are some lampwork designers who also sell individual beads to those who prefer to make their own jewelry pieces. These can become a collector item if you have a special lampwork designer. You can make a one-of-a-kind bracelet or necklace by using other symbols and beads that have special and unique meanings to you.

If you want to create a special piece of jewelry as a gift, select a few beads from a favorite designer. Choose other elements, embellishments, findings, and charms that have a significant meaning for you and the recipient.

While you may want truly authentic hand-crafted lampwork jewelry, some of the pieces that you find on the market -especially large wholesale companies- don't always carry handcrafted lampwork beads. In fact, many sell mass-produced beads, since no two handcrafted beads are ever the same. With mass-produced beads, you can have matching sets. However, part of the allure of lampwork jewelry is the fact that each design was created by an individual artisan.

Where to Purchase

There are many stores and websites that offer hand-crafted lampwork jewelry. Here are a few sites to help you get started:

Works of Art

Most people who purchase lampwork jewelry are intrigued by the obvious skill required to make each piece by hand. When you purchase a piece of lampwork jewelry, you are investing in personal artwear.

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