What are Lampwork Beads?

Sheri Cyprus

Lampwork beads are handmade and are formed by heating glass with a blowtorch and then working it into many different bead shapes. The colors and styles of lampwork beads vary widely, but the look of a lampwork bead is usually glossy and ornate. The lampwork technique is also used to make glass ornaments and is based on ancient Italian and French glass making methods.

A blowtorch is used in the making of lampwork beads.
A blowtorch is used in the making of lampwork beads.

Creating lampwork beads involves heating glass rods with a blowtorch until they become rope-like. A rope of glass is then wrapped around a clay-coated metal pole. The special clay mixture allows finished beads to be easily removed. After the initial strand of melted glass is placed on the clay pole, more melted glass is added to the original piece. This is where bead making creativity comes in because the design possibilities for creating many different shapes and patterns of lampwork beads are endless.

Glass beads may be made from recycled glass.
Glass beads may be made from recycled glass.

For example, if tiny bits of melted glass are added to the first piece, a spotted look is created. If a pointed tool is used on the spots, designs such as tiny flowers can be made. Unique bead shapes and textures can be formed by blowing on the hot glass or by creating dents with a glass working tool.

Some lampwork bead artists add bits of metal to the glass beads, while others stretch the melted glass to form ears for whimsical animal bead shapes or to create formations such as stars and suns. Creating lampwork beads takes experimentation as well as practice since sometimes the hot glass may crack or break. Adding transparent glass on top of intricate, colored designs on the beads can create a beautiful effect that looks similar to thick, clear glass on top of a piece of art or a photograph.

The designs on many lampwork beads are so detailed that it’s possible to see every tiny stamen in the middle of each small flower. The colors used on a lampwork bead vary from elegant neutrals to candy brights to delicate pastels. Lampwork beads can be used to create many different kinds of bracelets, earrings, hair accessories, rings and necklaces. A large lampwork bead pendant can be so striking and artistic in appearance that it may need only a simple metal choker to make a dramatic finished necklace.

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