The History of Czech Glass Beads

Czech glass beads are beautiful options for your jewelry designs and are available in an endless variety of shapes, styles, and colors. The Czech Republic has long been one of the leading producers of beads in the world. We’re diving into the history of how Czech glass beads came to be as incredible as they are today. Make sure to read to the end to find out how you can win a beautiful selection of Czech glass beads during our giveaway.

The Early Years – 8th-16th Centuries

The area where Czech glass beads are now produced was once known as Bohemia. Evidence of glass bead-making has been found in this area as far back as the 8th and 9th centuries. Celts living in the area were quite skilled at glass making. The glass beads from this era were often found in tombs.

Glass was being produced in the 12th and 13th centuries, as well. Records show orders from abbeys in the area for glass images (most likely mosaics or stained glass) from local factories. Documents from this time period even show orders and levied taxes on glass. Glass factories in the Southwestern part of Bohemia were making beads, specifically rosaries.

Rosary made with Czech glass round beads

Why would Bohemia have such a long tradition of glass making? For one, the area was perfect for glass-making. There was an abundance of good quartz in the mountains to grind down and use for the silica base of glass; cheap labor could be found in plenty; the plethora of forested land meant plenty of wood to burn to produce the high heat needed for the furnaces (the ashes of which could then be used in making potash, an essential ingredient in Czech glass); the numerous streams in the region could also provide water power. Thus, glass making became more and more of a tradition and an industry as the years went on.

It wasn’t until the 16th century, around the 1550s, that glass bead-making became more of a major industry. Beaded costume jewelry became fashionable at this time, mainly around the towns of Jablonec, Stanovsko, and Bedrichov.  At this time, Bohemia saw a boom in cottage industries making beads for larger glass jewelry factories.

Jablonec
The town of Jablonec

Bead Production and Industrial Expansion – The 18th and 19th Centuries

The 18th century was really the beginning of serious bead production. By 1700, Bohemia was known for its glass production, but mostly it was glassware (think vases and cups). Production of glass beads ramped up when stone cutters started to worry about the competition Venetian beads were giving them. Research into the secrets of Venetian glass beads led to the creation of a glass mixture that closely resembled garnets. After this discovery, more inventions essential to the bead-making industry were created, like canes (rods of glass) and pressing tongs.

Czech glassware
Traditional Czech glassware, on display at the Museum of Glass and Costume Jewelry in Jablonec

The industrial expansion of the 19th century led to even more of a boom in glass bead production. By this time, thousands of people were employed in Bohemian glass works and coal was replacing wood as a more economical fuel source. Railroad expansion also made transportation easier. This time also brought improved pressing methods and other new processes. Glass could be blown into molds, a machine was patented that could press beads and buttons, and mandrel pressing also became a new process. A die machine was also invented at this time. These new methods, inventions, and processes allowed mass production and Bohemia turned out more beads at a lower cost. The region was exporting millions and millions of beads a year.

This is also the time when more complex bead shapes, colors, and finishes could be made. Patterned canes with elaborate colors made beads of the same shape look different from each other. The result was the start of amazing glass creations like the Aurora Borealis (AB) finish, fire-polished beads, Picasso beads, and flower beads.

czech glass beads
Different Czech glass shapes and finishes

The bead industry was booming, but it was still an at-home, cottage industry effort. The making of most beads was carried on in homes where small wood furnaces provided heat to melt the canes made by the large manufacturers. After heating, the canes would be pinched off with tongs, drawn out and put into molds. The worker then pressed a bead shape, removed it from the mold and then warmed it in a pot by the fire, where it would slowly cool. After cooling, the mold marks were ground down and the bead would be polished on a rotating wooden disc, often powered by water from an adjacent stream. Small beads might also be fire-polished (re-fired to create shinier facets).

Czech glass fire-polished beads
Fire-polished Czech glass beads

This time period also saw the rise of “Sample Men”. These men were a result of the competition between bead makers in Bohemia and Venice. These men searched for new designs to come up with ideas for new beads. It involved travelling all over the world and gathering information on the style of beads in demand. These Sample Men went so far as Africa, Tibet, and Japan.

With their travels, bead demand grew and production increased. Glass makers’ schools were set up in the region at different locations. Many glass schools founded in the 1800s are still functioning today. Jablonec also emerged at this time as the capital of bead and jewelry production in Bohemia. In fact, one of the most important sources of information on the beads produced by the Bohemian/Czech industry is the collection of the Museum of Glass and Costume Jewelry in Jablonec.

Czech glass bead art
Czech glass bead art on display at the Museum of Glass and Costume Jewelry in Jablonec

Setbacks and Revival – The 20th Century and Now

As the world moved into the 20th century, World War I seriously hurt the industry. When the war ended, a new nation was created: Czechoslovakia, of which Bohemia became a part. However, bead production was still at a peak. In the 1920s, millions of tons of glass were being exported.

When the depression hit, Jablonec and other bead producers were hit hard. World War II followed, this time with Czechoslovakia at the center of it all. When Eastern Europe adopted Communism, the industry changed. All glass works and glass houses were nationalized in the late 1940s and the industry was allowed to decline.

Then, in 1958, the decision to let the industry decline was reversed and bead making was revived. The value of beads, costume jewelry, and other glass products was recognized once more, and the export of these goods was encouraged. At this time, huge nationalized factories were built.

Although Czech bead making suffered setbacks during the two World Wars, The Great Depression, and Communist rule, the late 1980s brought the end of Communist control. Czechoslovakia split into two countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The region that was once North Bohemia was now part of the Czech Republic. The bead making industry revived. This time saw a return to small scale production with individuals supplying local factories. Machine methods very similar to the ones used in the 19th century emerged, but with improved technology. Jablonec, where the earliest industries began, is still the center of the Czech bead industry.

Recently, the historic cottage style of bead making has been once again hit hard by the emergence of large scale producers and direct competition from India, China, and Japan. It’s hard to say where the future of Czech glass lies, but we do know we still have beautiful Czech glass beads made with techniques passed down and refined from all those centuries ago in Bohemia. You can explore the many beautiful shapes and colors we sell here. You can learn more about the art of making Czech glass beads in today’s industry with Lenka from Raven’s Journey in this Artbeads Cafe episode.

A Czech Glass Giveaway

Win Czech glass beads!

Now that you’ve learned more about the history of Czech glass, we want to give away some of these beautiful beads. You could win some beautiful Raven’s Journey goddess beads (an ancient symbol full of history), flowers, and coin beads, along with CzechMates QuadraTile and Quadralentil Beads, Ginkgo Leaf Beads, teardrop beads, classic rounds, daggers, fire-polished beads, and more. To enter for your chance to win, just follow the prompts below. You’ll have until the night of January 29th, 2020 to enter. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sources: Beadresearch.org provides fascinating and helpful insight into the many different histories of beads around the world. You can learn more about Czech glass beads in this PDF from their publications of the Center for Bead Research. You can also learn more about the history of Czech glass and see beautiful jewelry designs made with Czech glass beads in this blog post from Shadow Dog Designs.

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Comments

    • Elizabeth A Rittenhouse
    • January 25, 2020
    Reply

    I do love the beads you sell. Now I’m more educated in the history.

    • Carol Baer
    • January 25, 2020
    Reply

    I’ve purchased several styles of Czech glass only made a few pieces.

    • Carol
    • January 25, 2020
    Reply

    I love the Czech glass beads, they are fun and whimsical and beautiful colours

    • Carolyn
    • January 25, 2020
    Reply

    Purple and green are my favourite colours. I use Czech beads almost every day.

    • Dianne
    • January 25, 2020
    Reply

    Haven’t found a thing I don’t love from Artbeads!!! And every order is like a 🎁!

    • Statia Lewis
    • January 25, 2020
    Reply

    Love Czech glass beads

  1. Reply

    Thank you for hosting the fab giveaways! Also thank you for keeping your shipping cost to Canada low.
    You guys are awesome!

    • Loree Lemieux
    • January 25, 2020
    Reply

    Love this article.
    The beads are beautiful !

    • Wanda
    • January 26, 2020
    Reply

    I love Czech Firepolish beads. I’ve made bracelets, earrings, and necklaces with them they come in so many different beautiful colors and I love the sparkle they add to the peices.

    • Jeanette Richmond
    • January 26, 2020
    Reply

    Czech glass is a mainstay in my bead supplies.

    • Denise Mayer
    • January 26, 2020
    Reply

    That’s quite a history! I didn’t know glass bead making started that long ago.

    • Kyla Nimick
    • January 26, 2020
    Reply

    Thank you for the opportunity to win some of these gorgeous beads, I love the Czech glass beads, they’re colors, and different shapes and sizes are awesome & whimsical. Especially love the flowers.

    • Kyla Nimick
    • January 26, 2020
    Reply

    My nationality is Bohemian so I found this information extremely interesting and I did not know any of this, so again Thank You Very Much for sharing this history of Czech glass beads.

    • Susan Picken
    • January 26, 2020
    Reply

    Reading about the History of Czech glass beads is very interesting. Thanks for the information. I love working with the Czech glass beads and now have a deeper appreciation of Czech beads!
    Susan

    • Cyndi
    • January 26, 2020
    Reply

    Great, informative article. Thanks!

    • Sandra McClelland
    • January 26, 2020
    Reply

    I love to use firepolish, floral and rondelle beads in my designs. The colours are stunning.

    • Karen
    • January 26, 2020
    Reply

    My 30+ years of beading have been focused on Czech beads. I love that you put this history together for the young headers coming up.

    • Alice Hunter-Kelly
    • January 26, 2020
    Reply

    I love fire polish beads and have used them in many bracelets. Peach, turquoise. Brown, lime green…and many others are favorites.

    • Sharon Rubin
    • January 27, 2020
    Reply

    What a fascinating history! Thanks for sharing this. I love all the Czech glass beads I have tried. I have wire wrapped cages for the cat beads and bird stamped beads. I’ve use the table cut flowers in bracelets and necklaces. I use Czech glass rounds in Kumihimo and stringing projects. Etc,etc. I love that there are so many colors to choose from. I can’t decide on my favorite!

    • Renee K.
    • January 27, 2020
    Reply

    Such an interesting history. Czech glass Fire-polished beads are my favorite. I love them in all colors. I’ve made necklaces and bracelets.

    • Cheryl Scalice
    • January 27, 2020
    Reply

    I’m so addicted to ordering from Artbeads!! Your company has the best sales & member rewards program!! Love love love Artbeads!!💙

    • Juanita B
    • January 27, 2020
    Reply

    Love, love, love them!!!❤

    • Emily McIsaac
    • January 27, 2020
    Reply

    This is great! I think I need to add Czech Republic to my travel bucket list 🙂

    • Kelly Hudak
    • January 27, 2020
    Reply

    Love Czech glass beads. Never enough!

    • Jan Johnson
    • January 27, 2020
    Reply

    Such a long and interesting history! I love Czech beads!

    • Jan
    • January 28, 2020
    Reply

    I need to go back some day, there was no time left for the museum with all the bead shops and factories to visit!

    • Judy S
    • January 29, 2020
    Reply

    Love Czech glass and Artbeads!

    • Lena
    • January 29, 2020
    Reply

    Love the colors and textures of Czech Beads..great quality afforadable prices.❤

    • Nicole Boudreau
    • January 29, 2020
    Reply

    Czech beads are some of my favourite beads, so many colours and shapes available. Love them!

    • Jeanie N
    • January 29, 2020
    Reply

    Czech are my fav beads! 😁

    • Donna Duff
    • January 29, 2020
    Reply

    I love Czech glass beads!

    • Tammy Craven
    • January 29, 2020
    Reply

    Hope I win! love Czech beads and Artbeads

    • Rita Hajjar
    • January 29, 2020
    Reply

    I love all Czech glass bead beads.but I am so crazy about the flower 🌺 I,fire polish ,super duo ❤️❤️❤️❤️

    • Jen Ren
    • January 29, 2020
    Reply

    Czech beads are my favorite! I’ve made a ton of earrings, necklaces, and bracelets with them.

    • Anna Hock
    • January 29, 2020
    Reply

    I love the versatile use of these beads!

  2. Reply

    I love the rich look of Czech beads. I use them in all my jewelry pieces.

    • Debbie Carney
    • January 29, 2020
    Reply

    Purple and blue are my favorite colors. Would love to win this always enter your contest never win any

    • Viki
    • January 29, 2020
    Reply

    Loved your article about my fav beads. Great info and Thank you!

    • Pat
    • January 29, 2020
    Reply

    I always receive compliments when wearing the many medical ID bracelets I have made with Czech Glass beads. It’s nice to learn more about the product!

    • Laurena Whitwer
    • January 29, 2020
    Reply

    Love Czech glass! In the planning phase but I may actually get to vist the glass museum in Jablonec later this year. Fingers crossed!

      • Jan
      • January 30, 2020
      Reply

      I went to Jablonec about a year and a half ago. If you need any info in the planning phase, I might be able to help (many hours were poured in to researching the trip).

    • Gwen Dugan
    • January 29, 2020
    Reply

    Love Czech glass beads ! Artbeads is the best, your giveaways are amazing !

    • Michele Morris
    • January 29, 2020
    Reply

    I have always been fascinated by glass and I have collected glass paperweights, handmade glass marbles and milk glass pieces for quite a while. After reading your blog, I am so interested in adding more glass beads to my jewelry pieces! Thank you for the history lesson!

    • Sharon McClellan
    • January 29, 2020
    Reply

    Thank you for sharing the history of Czech glass bead-making, and the photographs are so beautiful! I have always thought that the Czech glass beads were the sparkliest of all the beads. But I also love the little opaque beads that look like tiny carved works of art. I may have to get me one of the little cats, but I probably wouldn’t use it in anything; I would just hold it and admire it! Maybe I need more than one.

    • Giselle
    • January 29, 2020
    Reply

    I love using superduo from Czech. Always the same use and just an amazing bead to use for anything really.

    • Faith
    • January 29, 2020
    Reply

    Artbeads has such beautiful products, and GREAT give-aways.

    • wendy
    • January 29, 2020
    Reply

    This is a great article on the history of these wonderful beads! Thanks so much!

    • Dona
    • January 29, 2020
    Reply

    I’ve used mostly fire-polished beads, superduos, and quadratiles so far. I’ve purchased many others and am anxious to work with them all! I visit your design studio often, and I’ve found many patterns I want to try. So many beautiful and creative pieces, it’s hard to know what to make next!!

    • Jackie
    • January 29, 2020
    Reply

    I’ve always loved czech glass but never knew their history. This was very cool to learn! Good luck everyone!

    • Tracy P.
    • January 29, 2020
    Reply

    I like the jewel tone colors the best. Also the metal tones. Czech beads are great to use bc they are so uniform.

    • Johnnie H
    • February 13, 2020
    Reply

    Very interesting.

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