Although we've been using Czech beads for years, we've never really delved into the story of these beautiful little treasures. Personally, I never even really thought much about where the beads actually come from and how they're made. So I launched a little investigation, and here's what I learned.
1. They really are from the Czech Republic.
It's not just a name. Czech glass has been famous for over 150 years. Authentic Czech glass beads are produced in the Czech Republic from various small factories. A landlocked Eastern European country surrounded by Poland, Germany, Austria and Slovakia, the Czech Republic is well-known in the jewelry-making industry for producing top-quality glass beads. The style of Czech glass beads is also sought after because of the uniform smooth holes that help with stringing.
2. They're manufactured in small, family (or family group) factories.
Many beaders prefer to work with Czech fire-polished beads because they know the manufacturing process involves and supports individual families. The small factories and villages are a domestic style of subcontracting work. It supports small groups that are working out of factories, community centers and villages. One of the biggest benefits to the workers of small factories is that they are able to gain additional income and work very close to home in non-metropolitan villages. This is very helpful to many of the single women who can't find work elsewhere, yet still need to provide for their children and household. This causes the manufacturing process to be distinctive in that the entire line of products isn't produced within the walls of a single factory. For this reason there may be a natural variance in colors, shapes or sizes.
3. Czech Fire-Polished Beads are made of glass and processed with heat.
The parent company sends glass rods to separate small factories for production. Each bead is individually pressed. The beads are then placed into an oven which enhances the color and melts away most scratches while smoothing out the edges, which results in the famous "fire-polish." Once the beads are finished, they are hand-strung by workers of the surrounding villages, and returned for distribution.
4. Czech bead color often varies from strand to strand, and for good reason.
One of the reasons Czech beads often vary from strand to strand is that they are fired twice at separate locations. Each location may have a different style oven, producing slightly different temperatures; and they aren't all heated for the exact same amount of time. These variances are what can cause the beads and strands to differ. This is the beauty of Czech glass bead products; they can have slight variations and an quality of 'uniqueness', or 'individuality'. It may sound like standardized process, but it takes great dedication with a good eye and skilled hand to produce such fascinating beads. Offering a dynamic color change, as well as a softer look with an alluring fire-polish, these beads are highly requested by customers and gratefully provided from those in the small factories of the Czech Republic.
If you'd like to know more, here's a great article about the history of Czech glass bead manufacturing from BigBeadLittleBead:
Nirvana Beads specializes in Czech beads and they know this field and carry beautiful product. Not only this, they are amazingly 'socially conscious', reserving a portion of every customer dollar for investment in artists, craftswomen and men, and entire communities.
Fire Mountain Gems is a comprehensive online beading and jewelry supply business, offering not only Czech beads but much more, including gemstones, wire, beads of all shapes, materials and sizes, etc.
I've included a sampling of some of my favorite jewelry artisans from Etsy who work with Czech beads. From the top down, you are seeing:
Czech glass bead, Rose Quartz & Aqua Glass bead earrings from DrunkInMoon
Czech glass flower bead earrings from BraceletsofBlueRidge