The Basics of Venetian Millefiori Beads

Venetian millefiori beads, as the name suggests, were made in Venice, Italy, but they are still being made today. The term millefiori is Italian and it is a combination of two words, ‘mille’, meaning one thousand, and ‘fiori’, meaning flower. The term was first used in the book ‘Curiosities of Glass Making’ by Apsley Pellatt and it found its way into the Oxford Dictionary in 1849. In Venice, millefiori beads are known as mosaic beads.

Millefiori technique is used for beads and other glassware products. Today, the technique is mostly used in polymer clays because there is no need for heating for fusion, thereby making the process very easy.

History of Venetian Millefiori Beads

The Venetians are renowned in the commercial production of large quantities of glass beads for many years. Although the Venetians had been producing glass beads for hundreds of years, Venetian millefiori beads were first made in the 15th century. However, for many years between the 15th and the 18th century, the beads were not made. Venetian millefiori beads were re-introduced towards the end of the 19th century and they were extensively used in that period and in early 20th century.

The re-introduction of Venetian millefiori beads was as a direct result of increased trade with Africa, slave trade, and the partition and colonization of Africa. Europeans wanted to trade with Africans for slaves, goods such as palm oil and ivory, and services such as carrying cargo around and to win the hearts of Africans through gifts.

Europeans from around the continent commissioned Venetian millefiori beads in large quantities. Africans were enthusiastic about Venetian millefiori beads, also called Venetian millefiori trade beads, and the Africans used them to trade, as decorations, as store of wealth, and as a show of status in the society.

Making Venetian Millefiori beads

The process of making Venetian millefiori beads has not changed over the years. Glass is used for all Venetian millefiori beads.

Today, making of Venetian millefiori beads takes two craftsmen. One craftsman makes the cane in the glass factory and sells the slices of the cane to the bead maker. The craftsmen have to highly skilful because the beads are entirely handmade and they usually spend several years of apprenticeship.

The first step in making the beads is to shape a globule of a molten glass into a sphere – this is done on a steel pole. The globule is dipped into molten multi-colored glass to for a sphere with several layers.

The next step is to use a mold made from a cane to give the sphere its pattern. The cane used has floral, star, or geometric patterns on the inside. The sphere is pushed into the cane to get its basic shape and pattern.

Next, the flower-shaped sphere is dipped into transparent molten glass to give a smoother, rounder exterior. The artisan pulls the sphere into a rod of the required dimensions. The rod is sliced and the slices given the shape of a bead using frames.

The beads are placed into a kiln for fusion and then annealing is done.

Facts about Venetian Millefiori Beads

The current popularity of Venetian millefiori beads started with the hippies in the late 1960s and the early 1970s. Air travel became affordable and the hippies visited Africa and other countries with Venetian millefiori beads and started incorporating them in their clothes and using them as jewelry. This soon caught on and people started searching everywhere for them.

The increased interest of Venetian millefiori beads led reenergized the Venetian millefiori beads industry. However, many collectors and other people are after the original millefiori beads and this has led to an annual appreciation of 10%.

There has been considerable mass production of Venetian millefiori beads, mostly from Asia. To curb this, a consortium of glassmakers in Venice has trademarked their beads and other millefiori products.

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