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.

Krobo beads from Ghana

From bottles to beads

The beadmaking industry of Ghana is very much alive. Not only do they produce wonderful beads, they are also an example of sustainability and recycling.

In the Dutch Afrikamuseum, I was fortunate enough to join a workshop by beadmaker and entrepeneur Florence Asare from Ghana. She went from selling trade beads in the market, to a beadmaking business with dozens of bead workers. In this post I will show the different steps involved n the making of Krobo beads.

There are three types of beads made from recycled glass. The first are powderglass beads, which are made from bottles that are smashed and ground until they are a very fine powder. They can be mixed with pigments for a whole array of colours. A reusable mold from clay is soaked in kaolin that leaves a powdery finish which serves as a releasing agent. Little sticks of cassave stem are placed in the mold to form the hole in he finished bead. The powdered glass is poured into the mold, and any excess gets wiped off with a feather. The molds go into the oven, and are left there for some time between half an hour and an hour, depending on size and heat. When they are removed form the oven, and cooled, they can be decorated. They are punt on a stick made from a bycicle spoke, wood, and kept in place with a rubber stopper made from old sandals.The decoration is done with a paste of powdered glass with pigment and water. A specific example Florence mentioned: bottles of malibu liquor are used for white powder glass. The decoration is placed on the bead with a pointy wooden stick. It takes a lot of practice to make the pretty designs. Some designs are made to resemble antique trade beads, like millefiori. The stick of beads are dried by the oven, after which they are placed in a bigger mold to be baked in the oven to bake the glass paste. Once finished, they are ground slightly on a rough stone with water, to remove any edges and the kaolin. Finally they are polished with some unscented baby oil.

The second type of beads are made with rough little pieces of glass. Again, it uses crushed bottles, but it is not made as fine as the powderglass. The result is a more transparant bead, they are most often green, brown and blue. The glass is placed in a mold, but without a stick. After the mold has been in the oven for some time, and the glass is red hot, the blob of glass is shaped in the mold by poking a hole in it, turning it over, and trying to make it round. We found this requires quite a bit of skill, and working quickly. Most of the students’ beads of this type were only half round or broken.

The last type of beads are quite similar to the second type, but only one piece of glass is used, They are made with small pieces of glass, that are all cut to the same size. They can be cut from window glass for example. A little square piece is put in a mold, and after baking, a hole is quickly pierced into it with a skewer.
All beads are finished by grinding and washing it on a stone and polished with the oil.

The ovens used are made of mud, on a base of old metal truck parts. They are generally powered by firewood, but Florence is working with a new method of using (part) natural gas, to reduce the effects on the environment.

It is a fascinating process to watch, and even more fascinating to take part in it and make your own beads. It is not something you can easily do at home, but when you are ever in Ghana….visit Florence Asare from TK Beads.