Did You Know? About fire-polished beads

What does “fire-polished” mean?

from The Bead Scoop Vol. II Issue 2 July 2008

“Fire-polished” refers to a process applied in glass beadmaking primarily in the Czech Republic. The beads are first pressed in a mold and machine faceted, then run through a furnace at a high temperature, barely melting the surface. This fire polishing creates a glossy finish without hand-polishing. The most recognized fire polished beads are a round, faceted shape but the technique is used for lots of different shapes, cuts and styles.

Many fire polished beads also have additional coatings to make the glass reflect light in different ways. A common finish is called “Aurora Borealis” or “AB” which reflects a rainbow of color on the coated surface. Metals are also applied to the bead surface for a metallic sheen, as well as pearlized finishes, mirrored finishes, matte finishes and so on. As demand for variety in the bead market increases, so do the styles of glass beads. Besides unusual coatings, new fire polished beads are arriving on the market with unusual colors or color combinations like two-tone beads, speckled glass, “hurricane” glass, etc. The new cuts are always a pleasant surprise as well – shapes with names like “cathedral-cut”, “window glass”, “duck-bill”, “dog-bone” or “pinch beads” are just a few. The more we beaders demand, the more these fabulous bead designers and factories produce!

While the technique is now used all over the world, fire polished beads have been made in the Czech Republic (Bohemia) for over 200 years. It was created as an alternative to the more expensive, hand-cut crystal and gemstones popular in Germany, Austria and Venice. The city of Jablonec and Nisou became the center of the bead industry in the Czech Republic. Artisans there became known for their unmatched ability to facet glass and to remove the seams created by molds, and eventually for their beautiful finishes as well.

After World War II, Czechoslovakia became a Communist nation and in 1945 all the bead factories in the country were joined under the state-run company Jablonex. Communism left and the country became the Czech Republic in 1989. The glass beadmaking industry became privatized once again and the number of smaller enterprises grew. While Jablonex is still in operation and is probably the largest distributor in the Czech Republic, it resists establishing new accounts allowing for the smaller start-up distributors to grow. Some of the most interesting new glass beads come from these smaller factories as bead designers create and follow new trends.