From Oil Lamp to Blow Torch: A Brief History of Lampwork Beads

lampwork market

Have you ever been in a specialty bead store or a craft fair and been blown away by the display of beautifully colored glass beads? They might be small and round, or large and almost like a sculpture. They may have a subtle elegance, with rich but muted tones, or they may boast seemingly impossible designs in bright colors. Whatever the details, they are lampwork beads.

Lampworking is a style of glasswork that, simply put, uses a relatively small, isolated heat source to melt and shape glass. This differs from the practice of glass blowing, which uses a furnace. Originally, the heat source used in Lampworking was an oil lamp, which is where the name derives. Though earlier examples of lampworking have been found, the art form really took off in Europe in the 15th century. The European Renaissance encouraged the development of many art styles, and glassworking was among them. As beads were no longer reserved only for Christian rosaries and other religious items, glass artists in France and Italy were able to explore a wide array of colors and styles.

Today, a blowtorch or flame torch is more often the heating tool of choice, which may not be as romantic as an oil lamp, but the results are just as striking. The generic round shape of lampwork beads is created by gravity and the constant spinning of the glass in production, but tweezers, paddles, and sharp tools can be used to create almost any shape. Designs are added using different colored glass, or even gold, silver or platinum. Sandblasting and faceting are two techniques which have increased in popularity, giving a matte look that contrasts with the usual shine of the glass.

With such a rich history, and with so many different techniques, it is easy to find a lampwork bead that catches your eye. To find beautiful artisan lampwork glass beads or lampwork jewelry, visit the Lampwork Market.