|Fire Polish Beads
Sandra J. Paluzzi
Fire polished (facetted) beads are made of glass. They are
machine made, then polished over an open fire. By nature, they are
slightly imperfect and some people consider this a part of their charm.
Unlike Austrian facetted crystals, they contain no lead. The polishing
process gives them their glow and brilliance. They present a much
softer appearance than leaded crystal. Of course, they are used for
jewelry. But they also frequently appear in prayer beads, such as the
Fire polished beads have been made for over 200 years in the area of the Czech Republic that was then known as Bohemia. Originally they were a cottage industry with farmers and villagers doing much of the work at home. That is no longer the case. Now all of the Czech facetted beads are made in a factory.
Beads were such a big part of the Czech industry that the Communist regime formed a state agency, Jablonex, in 1945 to distribute the beads. At one time, Jablonex came under a lot of criticism for using forced prison labor to make some of the beads they distributed. Jablonex discontinued the use of prison labor to create bead around 1989.
The break up of the USSR saw the growth of private enterprise. Today there are many companies that export the Czech facetted beads to over 80 countries. These start up companies are helped by the fact that Jablonex is not currently taking on new U.S. distributors for their beads.
The most commonly seen Czech facetted shape is the 'round' bead. A Czech fire polished round is actually more of an oblong than a round. These beads are also made in several other shapes, including bicone , rondelle, roller, roundlet, pear and parachute.
Czech fire polish come in a large color range, and to me, the beauty of the Czech fire polish lies in the richness of their color. The color of the bead intensifies with the size of the bead (the larger the bead the more intense the color). A 4 mm bead and an 8mm bead of the same color and dye lot will look like slightly different colors. Also the shades of Czech fire polish vary from dye lot to dye lot so it is wise to buy enough for the whole project when you buy.
Metals are also applied to the surface of the beads. Aluminum and tin give the beads a silver coated appearance while gold itself is used for the gold coated beads. Pearlized finishes are also common, mirrored beads are currently in vogue, and the list goes on. It is important to note that while the beauty of the color of a Czech fire polish bead does not fade over time, the finishes themselves can become scratched.
The Czech also play with the color of the beads and two-tone fire polish are 'hot'. Another variation of the color play is putting a dotted matte finish on the brilliant color of the background, creating 'polka dotted' beads.
When most people think of Fire Polish, they instinctively think of the Czech Fire Polished. Many people erroneously believe that all fire polished beads are made in the Czech Republic. In the last decade or so, the Indians have bought old Czech dies and are producing facetted fire polished beads. However, the glass used by the Indians is not as good as the glass used by the Czech. For fire polished crystals, the Czech still reign supreme.
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