A Brief History of Czech Glass Bead Making

         Design Ideas NA38, NH2Q

The Czech Republic--bordering glass-making powerhouses Austria and Germany--is a country with a rich history of glass all its own. Its beads are valued for their quality and variety, featured in everything from modern designs to valuable heirloom treasures.

The history of Czech glass beads, it is thought, goes back as far as the 3rd century BCE when the Celts began to produce the first glass beads in Bohemia, now known as the Czech Republic. In the middle of the 16th century, glass workshops sprung up across the Jizera mountains, eventually dubbed "the Crystal Valley." From here, Czech glassmakers expanded their trade, exporting glass beads globally.

Creating beads in the early days was a painstaking process, with each bead cut, strung and polished by hand. It was also a cottage industry for centuries, employing whole families. One small dwelling might house as many as six cutting and polishing machines, leaving little room for furniture. It wasn’t until the 1830s that machines began producing glass beads.

Over the next several centuries techniques progressed, heavily influenced by Venetian craftsmen. Czech artisans soon adopted these revered methods while also cultivating skills like fire-polished finishes, pressed glass and mass production. These techniques, combined with proximity to trade routes and ample access to natural resources, led to Bohemia becoming a prominent player in the glass world.

In the 19th century, Josef Riedel--known as the glass king of the Jizera Mountains--settled in the area and established a company that offered beads in over 200 colors and 19 sizes. Ever inventive, Riedel built a factory to produce mechanically cut perfectly round seed beads.

Today, what was once a labor-intensive cottage industry employing entire families is primarily produced in industrialized bead factories. Based in Jablonec nad Nisou, Preciosa is one notable producer of glass and seed beads. Founded in 1948--with the merging of 25 different companies into one national company-- it continues to manufacture jewelry components that are loved the world over.

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