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Porcelain Beads

Sandra J. Paluzzi
The Bead Peddler

Porcelain gradually evolved out of pottery in China, probably during the T'Ang dynasty (618-907).  Porcelain differs from other ceramics by its materials and the manufacturing process.  It is characterized by a translucent appearance. 

The Chinese began painting on porcelain during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).  The paintings were originally done in cobalt blue on white and were often symbolic.  For example, the bamboo plant represents longevity. 

Today, shards of original Ming Dynasty porcelain are often used as pendants on beaded necklaces.   The Chinese still make hand painted porcelain beads.   Porcelain beads are either molded or thrown on a potters wheel.  They are then baked in a kiln.  Finally, they are  painstakingly hand painted.

 Ebay seller daniellesdesigns combines Ming Dynasty shards with contemporary hand painted blue on white porcelain beads in her designs.

Click on picture to see enlargement

The materials and techniques used to create porcelain made their way to Europe as early as 1100 AD.  At first, it was too rare and valuable for any but the extremely wealthy.  Porcelain became prevalent in Europe in the 17th century.   The original European porcelain copied the Oriental designs, particularly the Japanese. 

Today we live in a global economy and people all over the world are making hand painted porcelain beads, some of which are in traditional bead shapes and some of which are in the shapes of animals and flowers  The Chinese are still the world's largest producer and exporter of porcelain beads. 

We also live in a world of knock offs and several manufacturers are flooding the market with porcelain beads decorated with decals instead of hand painting.  It is important that buyers know what they're purchasing.  Obviously, hand painting adds to the price of the bead.  The level of detail also adds to the price.   

Porcelain beads are not just prized for their beauty.  Through the years, they have also performed a utilitarian function.    In the latter part of the 19th century,  porcelain tile beads were mass produced in France and Germany.   The Czech (Bohemia) were quick to jump on this craze and start a line of tile beads for export.  A tile bead is a plain, undecorated rectangular bead which is molded and then fired in the kiln. Tile beads  are cheap to produce.  These beads also have large holes which made them perfect for use as buttons - zippers had not yet been invented.  What consumers really liked about the porcelain beads  were their smooth edges.  Traditional glass buttons often cut through the thread, porcelain did not. 

Tile beads  endured beyond the advent of the  zipper.  In the 1930s, it was fashionable to make table mats from  porcelain  beads.  

The strength and heat resistance of porcelain tile beads made them perfect for protecting the table from hot dishes.  

Click on picture to see enlargement. 

Porcelain tile beads are still made today.  Their large holes are  prized for use with the thicker rubber tubing,  leather and hemp threads that are currently in vogue.  

Contemporary bead makers are also still capitalizing on  the physical properties of porcelain to create utilitarian beads. At least one modern bead maker, Catherine Faber,  makes porcelain beads to be used as aromatherapy vessels.  Her porcelain beads are only glazed on the outside.  Therefore, the inside of the beads are porous.  She recommends putting a few drops of your favorite aromatherapy inside the bead and wearing it close to your heart.  Your body heat will release the oils for several days.

Catherine lives in Sante Fe, New Mexico, USA.  The Southwestern influence is evident in her aromatherapy vessels.  Her beads can be viewed at

Click on the picture to see a larger view.

Symbolism of the pictures used in painted porcelain

History of porcelain

History of tile beads
Book - Baubles, Buttons and Beads by Sibylle Jargstorf

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