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The sheer quantity of beads available to purchase is truly astounding – so as a beginner, where on earth do you begin? It really needn't be so baffling! To defy your state of discombobulation, we've compiled lists of common bead types, materials and finishes that you should expect to regularly find in the jewellery making world.
More often than not, different types of beads are manufactured for particular purposes, techniques and jewellery styles. With that in mind, we've selected a variety of the most prevalent beads in jewellery making, describing their appearances, distinctive features and main uses.
Bicone beads take inspiration from diamonds, offering a similar shape but with a flat top and bottom – resembling two back-to-back cones (or, 'bi-cone'!). These popular beads have a hole dead through the centre, allowing you to easily attach to cord or wire, and feature completely symmetrical facets running down either side to produce a stunning reflective sheen. Usually constructed from crystal or glass, bicones can be purchased in an array colours and can be coated in different ways.
Bugle beads reside with the 'seed bead' family of beads, so are usually found tucked away within seed bead bundles. Often associated with bead weaving and embroidery, these glass beads are tubular in shape and can be cylindrical or twisted in style. Long with a narrow diameter, they can vary in – length typically anywhere between 1.5mm and 35mm and are available in a huge range of colours and finishing styles.
Cabochons are flat-back stones that are domed and polished (instead of faceted) across the decorative face, resembling a gemstone. Usually opaque, these stones are often elliptically-shaped instead of completely round, and are available in a variety of sizes, colours and finishes. As they don't have holes through the centre, these stones aren't technically classed as beads – so should be applied to projects with glue.
Cat's eye beads are constructed from manmade fibre optic glass, so are also sometimes referred to as 'fibre optic beads'. Usually available up to 8mm in size, these round, semi-translucent beads are available in a whole host of colours – each creating an incredible refraction effect as they catch the light. The name derives from their resemblance to a cat's eye, seen with a band of light running right around the diameter which glimmers as the bead is moved around.
Charms are ordinarily constructed from die-cast metal and resemble intricate shapes or designs. Used to create charm bracelets, simple necklaces or even quirky earrings, these beads have an in-built loop to easily attach to projects. For the most part, charm beads are very detailed and available in a whole host of sizes, finishes and shapes, depicting anything from cupcakes and puppies to hearts, Celtic symbols and beyond.
Chatons are pointed-back beads that are faceted across the flat face to resemble a gemstone, featuring symmetric cuts throughout. Most of these stones are foiled on the back with a gold or silver coloured coating to reflect and sustain the brilliance of their shine, as well as aid in the application process. But it's this process which makes them differ from 'regular' beads – instead of featuring a hole drilled through the centre to string onto wire, chatons have to be set. This means that they're either enclosed in a setting, glued into a cavity or set in clay.
Delica beads are part of the 'seed bead' family and are essentially the opposite of bugle beads – instead of being long and narrow, they're short and have large holes. Cylindrical in style, these glass beads come in just two sizes – 8 and 11 – and are preferable for beadweaving and stitching projects. You can discover these Japanese beads in a whole host of colours and finishes.
Donuts are often constructed from semi-precious stones to give an indulgent feel, but are also available made of less expensive materials. These mini pendant-style beads are flat circles with an ample hole in the centre – perfect for making a statement.
Faceted beads are more of a style than a specific type, used to add an element of luxury. Essentially, these beads are cut several times to create a multitude of flat faces across the entire circumference or just one side, producing a stunning sparkling effect. Materials most regularly seen with a faceted effect include glass and semi-precious stones, while popular shapes include round, pear, olive and rondelle – each available with different style cuts.
Fire polished beads are a type of glass bead, originally created to imitate the look of gemstones. To create these distinctive beads, bead-makers form the initial shape, cut facets across the surface, and then pass it through fire to somewhat melt the faces – ultimately creating an incredible shine. Not only are these hugely-desirable beads beautifully cut, but they're also available in a great deal of colours, finishes and sizes.
Flatbacks are available in crystal and pearl varieties, and are an alternative to cord or wire-based jewellery making. These beads have one side featuring stunning detail and colour, while the other side is entirely flat so that you can easily adhere it to your projects.
Lampwork beads are constructed from glass, highly detailed and full of colour, handmade individually for a unique finish every time. To create these characteristic beads, bead-makers melt glass rods using a flame and then delicately wrap the heated glass around coated wire to form the central hole running through the middle. The process often involves multiple layers of coloured glass to create distinctive designs and patterns with a shiny finish.
Pendants are part of the 'charm' family, but much larger and predominantly used as strong focal points in jewellery pieces, such as necklaces. These stand-out elements are available in a huge range of materials, including metal, acrylic, glass and semi-precious stones, and can pretty much depict any shape, style, colour and design imaginable. Pendants will either have a hole built into the design or a loop attached at the top to easily attach to cord or wire.
Rivoli Beads are pointed front and back beads with triangular-shaped, symmetrical facets across the face. They look very similar to chatons, however the key difference between the two is the pointed top on the rivoli's front face – whereas chatons are flatter. These rhinestone-lookalikes are usually foiled on the back to enhance the stone's shine, complementing its reflective characteristics. Rivoli beads don't often have holes through them so instead of looping through wire or cord, these beads are set in clay, enclosed within a special setting or can even be glued into cavities.
Rondelle beads belong to the 'spacer bead' family and are essentially flattened round beads that retain a recognisable curved shape. Available in a huge range of materials (such a glass or metal), these beads are predominantly used as spacers between larger round beads to add definition to a design or act as a break in colour or pattern repetitiveness. Rondelles can be bought in a whole host of sizes, colours and finishes, as well as being either faceted or smooth.
Seed beads are essentials in jewellery making projects. These versatile little beads most commonly have a rounded shape (called 'rocailles') and can be purchased in practically any material and colour. Available in a great range of sizes, seed beads are usually used in bead weaving projects as well as embroidery, and can often be bought in bulk at very reasonable prices.
Shamballa style beads are constructed from clay and have numerous tiny crystals systematically set across the entire surface area, thus producing an incredibly sparkly, stand-out finished bead. Available in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours, these beads are predominantly used to create shamballa style jewellery pieces, in which they're knotted using the macramé method.
Spacer beads are often constructed from metal or acrylic and are essentially used to break chains of bead colours, patterns or sizes within a jewellery design. These relatively flat beads are available in a multitude of shapes, sizes and designs, each designed to complement and highlight other beads within a design.
It's apparent that there are many, many types and styles of bead, but what are they all actually made from? Using different materials in jewellery making projects boasts different benefits, so it's key that you really think about how the material you use can affect the appearance of your finished piece. We've selected the top materials you'll expect to find, providing examples of each.
Acrylic beads are regularly found within bead kits and jewellery bundles as they're incredibly easy to accommodate into jewellery projects. The term itself doesn't describe a specific type of bead, but is moreover an umbrella term for beads constructed of plastic – this means they're often light and inexpensive, available in a whole host of colours, shapes, sizes and finishes.
Crystal beads are constructed from high quality glass, so are sometimes also referred to as 'glass beads'. Usually facetted, these beads have incredible shine and lean towards the more luxurious end of the bead market. Crystal beads are available in many sizes, colours and shapes, such as bicones and chatons, with the most frequently recognised crystals being Swarovski and Czech.
Gemstone beads (or 'semi-precious beads') are constructed from semi-precious stones, such as amethyst, hematite and agate, and are highly desired elements for elegant jewellery projects. These organic minerals are often irregular in shape to produce unique looks every time. Available in a variety of colours, shapes and sizes, these natural treasures have a distinctive appearance and a lovely shine.
Metal beads provide a powerful characteristic to jewellery making projects with a strong, impactful presence. This robust material can be presented as plain metal, cast into shapes or engraved with sharp definition for a vintage look. There are many types of metal beads available to purchase, such as gold finished, silver plated, brass, gunmetal and pewter, each providing a different finish.
Pearl beads have a quintessentially classic appearance, favoured for formal jewellery pieces. There are essentially three types of pearls available: saltwater, freshwater or coated glass pearls. Genuine pearls aren't often pure white in colour, but are peach, pale pink, cream or mauve, which means they're usually dyed to a more visually pleasing hue. Pearls are available in a fabulous array of colours and sizes, but are customarily rounded in shape.
Wooden beads are a natural alternative to manmade materials, often favoured due to their rustic charm. These trendy beads can be constructed from ebony, palmwood, rosewood and bayong, among many other types of wood, to produce lightweight beads with a strong visual impact. Wooden beads can be manipulated to a range of shapes, sizes and designs, and can be bought with a variety of finishes, including dyed and varnished.
But it's not all about the type of bead! Product descriptions often describe the way beads they look after they've been formed, providing details on how they've been finished or what they've been coated with. Thus, here's a list of popular bead styles, explaining exactly what each term means.
Sometimes you'll come across the term 'AB' in the description of a bead – this stands from Aurora Borealis, so takes inspiration from the Northern Lights. This shiny coating is often also described as 'iridescent' as it reflects a radiant rainbow of colours as the light hits it at different angles.
Constructed from transparent glass, lined beads have their insides coated with colour to produce a dual-tone effect. There are two main types of lined beads: colour-lined and silver-lined. Colour-lined beads have opaque dye lined inner walls, while silver-lined beads have a mirror-like inside coating for a reflective effect.
Lustre beads have a distinct shiny finish with a pearl-like sheen, gleaming as they catch the light. These beads can be solid in colour, transparent or opaque, and have a transparent finish applied to them to produce the glossy effect.
Matte beads have an almost powdered texture and muted or frosted finish to hinder their ability to reflect light. These beads are mostly used to complement focal beads, to add another texture to projects, or to create jewellery pieces with a little quirk.
Metallic beads truly stand out from the crowd, offering a bright, vibrant finish. These beads aren't necessarily made of metal, but offer the visual characteristics of the material when coated with a metal-like glaze, usually a form of bake-on paint.
Opal beads have a cloudy, milky or translucent appearance with a sort of glow about them. Due to their ability to transmit light, they can feature small patches of shifting colour as the light moves through them.
Opaque beads are solid blocks of colour that don't transmit any light, usually featuring a shiny appearance with a gemstone-like finish.
Translucent beads are made from cloudy glass or acrylic that can transmit light, but aren't transparent enough to clearly see through them.
Transparent beads are made from glass or acrylic that transmits light truly and purely, allowing you to see directly through them – even if they're coloured!
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