New book: Beads from Tucson

Sooner or later, every bead collector, jewelry maker or rock enthousiast will hear about Tucson. Each year, the world meets in Tucson for beads, stones and jewelry at an amazing set of events: The Tucson Gem Shows. Over 40 shows are set up late january/early february and they are all different. You can visit a fancy show with high end jewelry and diamonds, a parking lot filled with stalls selling huge fossils and rocks in barrels and an African village, all in the same day.

When I visited the show early 2012, I wanted to learn more about not only the shows, but also the people that make up the Tucson experience. What does it mean to sell and buy at this show? How has it changed over the years? What is good advice for first time visitors? All of this and more can be found in my new book: Beads from Tucson. It is available in print from the publisher Blurb.

Order your book here

I have learned so much from people willing to share their experiences with the Tucson shows and beads in general, that I want the information in this book to be available to as many people as possible. That is why the book is also available for downloading (in a compressed image format) for free. Please note, downloading may take a while as it is a large file size.
Edit: I have also added the full pdf version, which is 33 mb, and has good quality images.

You can download Beads from Tucson here in compressed pdf format (12 mb)

You can download Beads from Tucson here in large pdf format (33 mb)
Please comment, share the book, and let me know what your Tucson experiences are!


A city with a heart of beads: Jablonec Nad Nisou

Beads and glass items have been made in the Czech Republic, before known as Bohemia, as early as the 16th century. Gablonz or Jablonec Nad Nisou is and was the main centre for beadmaking in this area. Molded beads, cut crystal beads, lampworked beads, blown beads and Christmas ornaments: The Czech industry in Jablonec Nad Nisou was extensive in both variety and quantity. The records held by the local authorities give detailed accounts of what was made, when, by whom and who worked where. The book ‘ Beads from Gablonz’ by Waltraud Neuwirth, and Austrian glass historian, goes into great detail with the techniques and records of the industry. An example from the statistics in 1870 that were recorded: “The production as raw glass rods, prisms, press-molded and composition glass amounted to 60,438 ctr (A ctr is 50 kilograms), worth fl. 907,000. 268 cutting works, which used water power for the most part, were counted. In these cutting works , some 2,859 men, 975 women and 140 children, a total of 3,974 workers were employed” (Neuwirth, page 23)

This summer I visited Jablonec Nad Nisou. I specifically wanted to find out more about prosser and molded beads, but also get a general idea of what a place with so much bead history is like. It was both impressive and slightly saddening. Let’s start with the sad part. Even though the industry is known for it’s ups and downs, the current competion from cheap Chinese beads is a real test to the Czech beadmakers. Both labour and materials are cheaply available in China, and the prices are so low, that the Czech beads are struggling to compete. For someone who looks closely, you can often (but not always) see the difference in quality. But not everybody is willing to pay for this difference. From the tourist information office we were given a glossy leaflet which listed all the different retail and wholesale bead and bijouterie stores. The leaflet was made in 2009, but when we went around to these places, about one third of them had shut down. Some of the retail shops still around were selling Chinese beads as if they were Czech, instead the actual Czech beads made less than a mile away. The boggest company, Jablonex, has now been taken over by another company, and the offices and factories are empty.

However, as I said, the beadmaking industry in Bohemia has had it’s ups and downs before. The competition from the French, with their cheap Prosser beads in the 1870’s, the competition the Venice with their fancy beads, and with the expulsion of the ‘Sudeten German’ beadmakers after WWII. Who knows what the Czechs will come up with this time to fight off the competition?

Jablonec left a great impression on me, which I think it will do on any beadcollector. Most striking is how the bead industry is at the heart of the town and it’s people. Everybody seems to have links to the industry, and everywhere around you glass workshops are hidden away. This was most onbvious to me at the appartment we were staying at. There are not too many places to stay in Jablonec Nad Nisou, and I pretty randomly picked an appartment.  ‘The Pinks Street House’ was rented out by a Czech woman who now lived in the UK. Still not quite sure if it was a coincidence or just the way this town works, but it showed us we were staying at the heart of the bead industry. The building was built by Konrad Weberlich, a glassmaker, at the end of the 19th century. People who lived there from the 50’s onwards had been working from home, stringing beads. And the Czech woman who grew up there and owns the building could put me in touch with a very helpful lady still working at a bead factory.We arrived at the appartment only to find the soil of the garden mixed with beads, and big rods of glass used to put plants up. I could not have asked for a more appropriate place to stay. The beads in the garden were discarded by the people who worked at home, stringing beads. Sitting under the lovely pear tree, stringing jewelry, and throwing away beads that were not perfect.If only the beads would sprout, and produce bead trees!

In another blogpost I will go into more detail about the beadmaking process, the museum and recommendations for when you visit this town. For now…..Here is the wonderful advertisement of a beadmaking company on the main road when you enter the town.

Millefiori trade beads from Venice and their friends

Millefiori trade beads from Venice are pretty popular beads, both in West Africa, where they were shipped to in the late 19th, early 20th century, but also in Europe and North America. These ‘thousand flowers’ beads are made by placing slices of glass canes on a core of molten glass. In the last thirty years or so, the price of these beads has risen dramatically, with some of the rarer patterns going up to $30 or more per bead. But also the more common millefiori beads are usually several dollars each. It is no wonder that in places like China and Indoneasia, they started making copies of Venetian millefiori beads.
In this article I will go into the differences between the Venetian millefioris and the copies from India, Indonesia and China. I will give specific point that allow you to distinguish one from another, so you will not get fooled. I will show several pairs of beads: one Venetian, one replica.  I will go into more detail of the Venetian millefiori beads in a later article.

Indian Beads
The Indians have been making beads for ages, and they really started making beads that resemble Venetian trade beads in bulk from 1980 onwards. The styles they make have only slightly changed since then. Some general ways to tell a bead is Indian is that the perforation is large, usually more than 3 mm. They are also often badly finished at the perforation with sharp edges. The millefiori beads are a quite a bit bigger than the Venetian ones. The colours and patterns are different from Venetian beads, and they are mostly darker. Some millefiori beads from India are mostly one colour, and only have a few cane slices on them. The slices are often stretched, placed without much thought to the overall look, or are badly cut. Most Indian made beads have a white residu in the perforation. Generally, once you have seen the comparison, it should not be too difficult to tell them apart.

On this picture you see an Indian bead on the left, and a Venetian one on the right.

These two pictures show three Indian beads and their perforations.

Indonesian Beads
Indonesia has quite a history in beadmaking, with Jatim beads that could be considered as ancient millefioris. However, they have not been making ‘Venetian style millefiori beads’ for that long. Most of these beads have been made no earlier than 1995, and after 2005, they are getting more varied and with better colours. Some of the beads are made to really resemple the patterns on their Venetian counterparts. Other beads are obviously inspired by the trade beads, but have their own colours, patterns and shapes. The two best ways to tell them apart is by their finish and their size. The glass used in most Indonesian Millefiori beads is slightly more transparant and has a somewhat greasy finish. They are also generally longer and wider than most Venetian beads.

These pictures show an Indonesian bead on the left, and a Venetian one on the right.

Below are all Indonesian beads

Chinese beads
The Chinese have almost perfected their replicas of Venetian millefiori beads. They specifically copy the patterns of the trade beads and try to come as close to the shape and colours as they can. The latest type of Chinese replica beads was first presented at the Tucson Bead shows in 2009. There are still some things that tell the beads apart. The way the ends are finished is neater than most Venetian beads. Also, most Chinese beads are cut at a straight angle, while a lot of the Venetian millefiori beads are cut at a slight angle.The colours are sometimes not quite right. Especially the yellow is too bright and slightly green, and the red colour is too bright as well. The finish is slightly different, also because they are new. However, this can easily be altered by sellers who want the beads to look older. Most beads show a bit of a white residue in the perforation. If you see the Chinese beads together, you will be able to tell them apart. However if they are mixed into a strand of Venetian millefioris, they are easy to miss.

In the pictures below, the Chinese one is on the left.

All Chinese beads:

A general note on replica millefiori beads. I think there is nothing wrong with replica beads, as long as they are sold as such. However sometimes they are sold as Venetian trade beads, either by people who do not know what they are selling, or by people aiming to make a profit. Have a good look at the differences, but also try to buy a few replicas, so you can study them in detail. Look at their shape, the colours, the finish, and simply feel them between your fingers. It will help you know what you are buying.

Finally, some mixed beads. Can you tell which one is from which country?