All About Millefiori Beads
Millefiori is Italian and it translates to ‘one thousand flowers’. Apsley Pellatt was the first person to use the term millefiori. This was in the book ‘Curiosities of Glass Making’ and in 1849 the word was added to the Oxford Dictionary. Millefiori beads come in different designs and colors on glassware. They are characterized by a long shape, longer than most ancient beads. Millefiori beads also go by the name mosaic beads, which was the name used before the adoption of the name ‘millefiori’.
The History of Millefiori Beads
According to archaeological findings, the first mosaic beads were made in Alexandrian and Phoenician times. Some of the discoveries date back to 7th and 8th century. However, millefiori beads were not made in large quantities before the 18th century and the technique of making them was only revived in the 19th century.
Millefiori beads are associated with the Italian city of Venice. However, the name ‘millefiori’ is used for all beads with a mosaic pattern and some were produced in the Far East and others in the Middle East.
The technique is still used today, mostly with polymer clays which are easier to decorate with millefiori patterns than glass because they are more pliable.
In the 19th and early 20th century, millefiori beads were used extensively in Africa. The beads were commissioned by Europeans who used them to trade with Africans. For the beads, the Europeans got different services, goods such as ivory and palm oil, and slaves. Such beads are called millefiori trade beads.
How Millefiori Beads are made
Millefiori beads are made from glass rods or canes called murrine. The murrine has multicolored patterns and since they are handmade, it means no two millefiori beads are the same.
Although the murrine is plain-looking on the outside, when exposed, it has a pattern that looks like a detailed flower pattern. Some murrine have other detailed patterns such as stars and geometric shapes.
The ancient technique of making millefiori beads is still used today, where the murrine is cut into thin vertical slices, heated in a furnace, and pulled until it is very thin, taking care not to loose the cross section design, and then it is cut into slices when it cools. After the slicing, the slices are pressed to a molten glass background to give delicate millefiori glass beads.
After the thin strips of murrine have been added to the surface of the beads, they are headed and then smoothened to make sure the pattern covers the whole bead.
Facts about Millefiori Beads
Most millefiori beads are bright in color and the most popular colors in ancient millefiori beads were different shades of yellow, pink, purple, red, blue, and orange. Today, black, white, and metallic highlighters are used in some millefiori beads.
The most common shape for ancient and modern millefiori beads is a long cylindrical shape.
The millefiori technique is also used for other jewelry items such as pendants, bracelets, and rings.
When buying millefiori beads, note that there are some replicas in the market. However, you can distinguish between replicas and the real thing by looking at the intensity of the color – mass produced millefiori beads tend to have greater color intensity.