Beads created from all sorts of materials have been used for thousands of years to make ornate, wearable pieces. But did you wonder what types of beads are commonly used to create jewelry? We researched some of the most common types of jewelry beads still in use today. Read on to explore the wondrous world of jewelry beads.
There are various beads used to create exquisite jewelry. Some of the most common types include:
- Bone & Horn
- Semi-Precious Gemstone
Depending on the design and structural needs for a piece of jewelry, different types of beads may be more suitable. Read on to learn about the unique qualities and benefits each bead type possesses!
Beautiful Jewelry Beads
Beads of all types and sizes have been used for over 100,000 years by humanity for jewelry, trading, and displaying wealth. Depending on the shape of a bead, material, finish, and hole-setting, some styles of beads are better suited for earrings, bracelets, necklaces, or embroidery.
Jewelry beads have the following settings, which impact how they can be threaded or attached:
- Half drilled - The hole is drilled to the center point of the bead so it can be attached to a peg as for earrings
- Fully drilled - The bead has a hole down the center that goes all the way through for easy threading
- Head drilled - The topmost part of the bead has a hole going through, allowing the bottom of the bead to hang
- Top drilled - Ideal for wire pieces with hanging beads, a vertical hole measures 1/4 from the top of the head
Now that you know about bead settings, let's learn about various types of beads for jewelry making.
Bone & Horn
Bone, teeth, and horns have been used to create jewelry with an earthy, primitive vibe. Early humans used animal remains to adorn their bodies and made ornamental pieces for trade. Most horn or bone beads are carved by hand and are sourced naturally. You can create bohemian-style jewelry using lightweight, organic beads derived from yaks, cows, buffalo, and reptiles.
In the country of Tibet, now a part of China, malas, or prayer beads of the Buddhist tradition, are created using yak bone. Making jewelry from yak bone comes naturally as no part of the animal is wasted by the people of the region. Yak bone is lightweight, easy to carve, and lasts for years.
A form of Greek jewelry, 'worry beads', also known as Kompoloi, doesn't carry any religious significance. Similar to a mala, they may be made from bone, horn, wood, or natural gemstone beads. Worry beads are a form of practical jewelry to help the wearer pass the time, as an amulet, or used for good luck.
Beads made from ceramic or fired-clay like stoneware or porcelain can be used to make beads of all colors, sizes, and shapes. Japan produced Raku ceramic beads with a unique firing process. Most ceramic beads may have a matte or shiny glaze, be handpainted, or have a metallic outer coating. Ceramic beads are inexpensive and excellent for bracelets, earrings, and necklaces.
Cylinder or tube beads may be made from hand-painted ceramic, hand-carved bone, or fashioned from glass or metal. Tube or cylinder beads have straight sides, large holes, and are useful for jewelry with a smooth, even appearance. Typically cylinder beads are often identified as a type of seed bead and are rounded, unlike square- or hexagonal-shaped tube beads.
Slave or African trade beads are often covered in colorful patterns and have a tube or rounded appearance. Typically, these beads are made of glass, and they were used for trading and financial transactions between the 16th and 20th centuries. Use African trade beads to create boho-style bracelets, vibrant earrings, or eye-catching embroidery.
Beautiful stretch or stackable bracelets are easily created with Heishi beads. These beads originate from New Mexico's Kewa Pueblo people and are made from semi-precious gemstones like turquoise, lapis lazuli, or natural shells. The word 'Heishi' means 'shell' and these short, disc, or tube-shaped beads are commonly used to make necklaces.
Enjoy earrings, bracelets, or a drop charm on a wire with lightweight, shimmering crystal beads. Crystal beads are manufactured from glass, but crystal has a mesmerizing shine because of lead oxide. Crystal beads have been in fashion since the 1200s, but the production of crystal beads and jewelry blossomed in the Czech Republic in the 1500s.
One of the most popular brands of crystal is Swarovski. Daniel Swarovski unveiled a crystal-cutting machine in 1892 which created inexpensive crystal pieces. Today, you can make jewelry with Swarovski crystal beads, or find collectible figurines and chandeliers.
The look of a drop bead is unmistakable. The teardrop-shaped bead has a hole threaded through the topmost part of the bead, allowing the rest to hang freely. Common drop seed beads are Toho and Miyuki. Drop beads may be made from Czech glass, natural gemstone, plastic, or are faceted.
Jewelry makers may choose faceted beads made from plastic or glass, which is an economical alternative to Swarovski crystal beads. Faceted beads are a popular choice because they have multiple sides that look similar to a cut gem. These versatile beads come in many colors and are opaque or translucent.
Jewelry makers have enjoyed sourcing glass beads to create their creations ranging from Bugle, Lampwork, and Venetian beads. Glass beads are versatile in color, size, style, and are very inexpensive. You can find beads made from fired glass, recycled glass, and crystal with an opaque look or transfixing shine.
Glass Venetian beads are often in a tube or cylindrical shape, but they may also be fashioned into round or teardrop shapes. The creation of Venetian glass dates back over 1,500 years and the center of production was Murano. Venetian glass comes in various colors, sizes, and often features intricate designs. Lightweight jewelry pieces like necklaces and bracelets often use Venetian beads.
Common metal beads are made from pewter, copper, bronze, and silver. Metal beads come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Specific types of metal beads like Bali beads are used as spacers or decorative accents in a piece of jewelry.
Millefiori beads are instantly recognized for their delightful, colorful repeating patterns. The style of Millefiori beads is explained by its name, as 'mille' is Italian for 'thousand' and 'fiori' means 'flowers.' The technique to create this unique type of bead dates back to the days of the ancient Romans and Phoenicians. Traditionally, millefiori beads were made from glass, but you can find modern millefiori beads made from polymer.
You can make paper beads using craft or found paper at home or purchase paper beads from a retailer. Typically, paper beads have a craft aesthetic and are formed by wrapping a long strip of paper over a rod. Paper beads are sustainable, utilize recycled paper, and make lightweight bracelets, earrings, and statement jewelry.
Plastic beads are some of the most affordable jewelry beads on the market and are often made from acrylic. These beads come in teardrop shapes, faceted, round, tubular, and other styles. One of the most common types of plastic beads is pony beads. Pony beads are a larger seed bead, with a large hole for easy threading, come in multiple colors, and are opaque. Pony beads are used to make simple friendship bracelets, key chains, necklaces, and other craft projects.
Seed beads are small in size and extremely colorful. Some types of seed beads are called Baroque or Charlotte, and they are common in Indigenous American jewelry and embroidery. Seed beads are delicate, tiny, made from glass, and they look similar to seeds, thus their moniker. Use seed beads for making intricate earrings, decorative bracelets, armbands, or collar-style necklaces.
Natural & Semi-Precious Gemstone
Jewelry beads from the natural world come in round, cylindrical, chipped, tear-dropped, and square shapes. It is common to find natural gemstones made from quartz, jasper, tiger-eye, lapis lazuli, and citrine. Depending on the quality and type of stone, cut, and size, the price varies.
Additionally, some precious gemstone beads may be synthetic or created. Cowrie shells and freshwater pearls are often gleaned from waterways. However, some pearls and gemstones from the sea and earth may be created in a lab, driving the price down.
Spacer beads have a function that is reflected in their name. They may be made from silver, such as Bali beads, or Rondelle beads made from plastic, glass, ceramic, wood, or bone. Spacer beads are used to break apart a design and create visual interest.
Wooden beads are cost-effective and make beautiful jewelry. Unlike more costly metal or gemstone beads, you can create lightweight and colorful jewelry with wooden beads. Common wood beads include ebony, palmwood, redwood, rosewood, Bayong, and jackfruit. Wood beads can be dyed or left in natural hues of gold, ruddy brown, grey, or black.
What is a Toho Bead?
Toho is a respected Japanese brand of bead manufacturers. These distinctive glass seed beads have extra-large holes for easy threading, loom work, and embroidery. Toho beads display a superior level of quality, uniformity, color, and do not require augmentation.
Can You Make Your Own Mala Beads?
There are many beautiful malas from various traditions, but have you considered making your own mala? If you know the number of beads you need to mark prayers or the time, you can make a custom mala. String together your mala using beads of your choice and spacer beads.
What Are Krobo Beads?
Krobo beads come from the African country of Ghana. Artisans create Krobo beads using finely powdered glass taken from recycled bottles and jars. The powder is fashioned and molded into colorful beads with varying patterns.
What Are Crimp Beads?
When finishing off a piece of jewelry, artisans can choose to use a knot or crimp beads. Crimp beads are made from a malleable metal and are pinched using special pliers to help keep clasps secure.
The art of joining beads together on wire, string, or threading into intricate designs has carried on for thousands of years. Today's jewelry makers and craft enthusiasts can make earrings, necklaces, brooches, anklets, rings, and more using varying types of beads.
Beads made from natural and synthetic materials lends itself to versatile and timeless pieces. Most types of beads are affordable, have a rich history, and can be purchased at various retailers. Enjoy your jewelry-making!