The Mass-Production: Chinese Millefiori Beads

China is a big producer and a big market for millefiori beads. The trade beads are usually mass produced, but the ancient technique of making the beads is still used by some artisans.

China and Millefiori Beads

Millefiori, which means a thousand flowers in Italian, is usually associated with Venetian glassware. However, the term has been in the Oxford Dictionary ever since 1849 and it is a blanket word for all beads with a floral/mosaic pattern, from anywhere in the world. Chinese millefiore beads are cheaper than Venetian millefiori because of the cheaper labor cost and because Venetian millefiori beads are in higher demand.

In china, artisans still make millefiori beads using the ancient techniques. The process involves the dipping of a molten glass globule, which is attached on a long steel pole, into pots of different-colored molten glass. Bright colors are most widely used colors and they include different shades of red, orange, yellow, pink, purple, and blue. The globule grows in size with each dipping and develops into a sphere.

Canes called murrine are used to give the beads their intricate floral patterns. Next, the sphere is given a shiny and round exterior by being dipped into transparent molten glass. The sphere is attached to another steel pole, about 1.5 meters in length, and the molten glass is pulled into a rod of the required diameter. The rod is then sliced into beads. The beads are placed in a flame to give them their shape and they are then put on a kiln and then annealing is done.

China and Mass-Produced Millefiori beads

China is the base for mass-produced millefiori beads. This is partly because China has a large labor force that is relatively cheap, because of recent technological advances, because of a culture of imitating what is already in the market, and because there is a ready market in China, which has a population of more than one billion people, and in the rest of the world.

The world is after mass-produced millefiori beads because ancient beads are too expensive and they are not readily available. Ancient millefiori beads were used by Europeans to trade with Africans from the mid 1800s to early 1900s. This means there is a limited supply and the fact that many people are treating them as collector items has driven up prices.

There is a ready market for mass-produced beads by hobbyists and by people who do not understand or appreciate the importance of having ancient millefiori beads. The demand for the beads was fueled by popular culture and it started in the late 1960s.

Mass production of millefiori beads takes a shorter time compared to the ancient method. The differences between mass-produces and ancient millefiori beads are that mass produced beads are flawless and the patterns in ancient beads makes them unique.

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