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Boro beads are beads made from borosilicate glass, a very hard, durable glass which was originally developed for laboratory glass and cookware. Borosilicate beads are, as a result, very durable and hardy, and they can be used in a wide variety of ways. Many craft stores sell boro beads, and such beads are also made by glassblowers and hobbyists, who may sell some of their bead sets to the public. One excellent source for boro beads is craft fairs, where smaller glassblowing companies may have their products on display.
Borosilicate glass was developed in the late 1800s, and initially it was primarily available in clear form. In the 1980s, however, several glass companies began making and selling colored borosilicate glass, creating a market for art glass items made from borosilicate, such as lampshades, vases, and beads. Northstar Glassworks is a well known producer of colored borosilicate beads for the art glass trade, producing a range of colors including opalescent borosilicates for crafters to work with.
Art glass boro beads can be extremely elaborate, and sometimes quite costly. They typically feature a swirl of colors, and they may vary widely in size; because such beads are hand-blown, they are typically one of a kind. When a glass blower sits down to make a set, he or she makes the entire set at one sitting, to keep conditions as consistent as possible, thereby ensuring that the beads will match, even though they all look slightly different. It is also possible to find less expensive commercially produced boro beads, which may lack the fine detail and artistic nature of art glass, but still be perfectly adequate for many projects.
These beads are also sometimes known as Pyrex beads, referring to a popular brand name of borosilicate glass. They can be used in a wide variety of beadwork projects, from necklaces to hairpieces, and many people like working with boro beads because they can be quite striking in appearance, and they are less subject to cracking and breakage than other beads.
As a general rule, boro beads look best under natural light, preferably on a bright day. Indoors, the beads can look a bit dark and dull, muffling the vivid colors and designs used. When shopping for boro beads, you may want to consider this. If you can, take the beads into the light of a window or outdoors, if the shopkeeper will let you, to see what they look like under natural light, as you might be surprised by the richness of the colors.