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A type of bead, mad eof glass, transparent, translucent or opaque, and smooth or faceted, including beads of coloured, colourless, millefiori, enamelled, gilded or iridescent glass, being solid or hollow, and of various shapes and sizes.
The earliest material having the character of glass was sued in Egypt, before c. 4000 BC, as a glaze to cover beads of stone or clay in imitation of coloured precious stones. Later this glaze was used in Egypt to make beads as the earliest objects made wholly of glass, c. 2500 BC.
Glass beads are known from Mycenae from the 16th to the 13th centuries BC. The earliest decorative patterns on glass beads, from c. 1500 BC, were stripes and spots; later developments were eye beads and beads with zigzags and chevrons.
The early glass beads were normally of opaque glass, frequently blue, with decoration often in yellow. The Roman beads followed the Egyptian tradition. In Venice, in the 11th century and subsequently, glass beads were made for trade. Later they became popular in Bohemia and elsewhere, being made in many forms and styles and in various colours. Coloured glass beads may be either inferior varieties coloured only on the surface or made entirely of coloured glass.
Today the principal sources of glass beads are Venice, Japan, and the Goblonz region of Czechoslovakia; some are of good quality and are used for costume jewelry, but vast quantities serve merely as tourist souvenirs.
From: An Illustrated Dictionary of Jewelry, autor: Harold Newman, publishers: Thames and Hudson