~ A "Trained" Eye ~

Ah, I see I need to do a rewrite on this article! It was written back in 2000 and a LOT has changed (including my beads and choice of material), but a lot has also stayed the same. It was written when I was making dichroic beads. While the "bones" of it is still accurate, some things have changed, such as how I do my pictures and of course, what type of glass I am now using.

Sometimes it is difficult and "scary" to purchase a bead from a picture, especially if it is an expensive one. It is always a gamble no matter how well you know a person's work. Even if you are confident that an artist produces a quality product you can't always be sure that the colors are how they are portrayed in a picture. It is sometimes impossible to capture the "real" bead. Face it, most of the pictures of beads that you are looking at on personal websites, auction houses or wherever, are taken by "artists turned photographer by necessity". Most of us never thought that making lampwork beads would also involve having to develop knowledge and skills for photography.

I try very hard to accurately portray my beads. My husband thinks obsessively so :->. I want you to be happy. Sometimes I take several shots of one bead in order to try to duplicate the colors as closely as possible. Most of the time the beads will look better in person because you (or at least I)just can't capture the depth in most beads with a picture. Sometimes the beads might look better in the picture for reasons that are beyond my control and which I will explain in my "hints" below.

I guess, the purpose of this is I want you to be as prepared as possible when shopping for my beads or any other beads on the internet. In the case of my beads, I want you to be happy with your purchase so you won't buy just one bead, you will buy LOTS of my beads for years to come. (I can dream can't I??)

What Size Is It Really?

Looks can be deceiving. What might look like a huge bead in a picture, might actually only be the size of a pea. If the description doesn't give the dimension of the bead, email the seller and ask for the specifics. Don't assume. If the picture shows a coin as a reference to the size, go get a coin and really look at it and imagine what the bead would look like next to it IN PERSON. Just looking at the comparison on a computer screen can be really deceiving because the dime looks huge up there also. (The mind is a strange, tricky fella) If the dimensions of a bead are given, I recommend that you compare them with a bead or other similarly shaped object to really understand what size it is. Put it in perspective! Even using a gauge or ruler isn't as good as comparing with a 3-dimensional object.

Glitter & Glow?

When you view a bead online, keep in mind that the bead was more than likely photographed in good light, using either flash, photofloods, scanner, or the natural light of outdoors. Unfortunately, I have seen many pictures that were taken in less than adequate light and they really don't do the beads justice. In order for you to be able to make out the colors and designs in a picture, good lighting is essential.


At times it is just plain impossible to capture the true color of a bead in a scan or photograph. Dichroic and borosilicate are especially difficult. I have gotten to the point where I can do a fairly good job of photographing dichroic but there are times when they still appear more "washed out" than they really are (typically the blues and greens).Many times the beads appear more dull in the picture than they actually are because I have to use a special filter to reduce the glare on the dichroic. Sometimes the golds and coppers take on a more intense color in the photograph. Especially hard to photograph at times are the design elements that I typically describe as "floating" on the surface. The scanner and camera just shoot right through them. Most of the time, with all of my beads, dichroic or not, I try to put in the description if the color varies wildly from what you see on the screen. Of course, describing color is fairly subjective. Also, the colors might not appear the same on your screen as they do on mine.

Read the Fine Print!

When you are looking at a bead that has a lot of fine detail in it (fine lines, little flowers, etc.) remember that these will appear magnified on the computer screen. If the bead is 2 inches on the screen but only inch in real life, the design will also be in a much smaller scale than it appears. Hold your "representative" size bead up to the screen and visualize the design on the actual size. Bigger isn't necessarily better, just different.

Bead Holes!

There are varying opinions about what a bead hole should look like. If you look at many of the Venetian beads, many have pointy ends, not the dimpled ends that some people recommend. Does this fact make them any less valuable? No. I am not sure where the idea came from that all "valuable" beads should have dimpled ends. It surely doesn't apply to beads in history nor even some modern day beads. What about Swarovski crystal? I personally prefer to make smooth, dimpled ends but I don't feel that it is absolutely necessary and I don't think you should pass on any artists beads simply because the ends are not dimpled. A nice, even, undimpled end can also be attractive.

Some artists have expressed concern that a bead without a dimpled end could cut the stringing material. I think that one with a dimpled end could do this just as easily. Look at the hole in a dimpled end. Down inside where the string would still be hitting a "straight" edge, where it had originally come into contact with the bead mandrel that it was formed on. Still a "sharp" edge no matter what. Sometimes the shape, style, or size of a bead makes it nearly impossible to get a dimpled end. What I am more concerned about is "pointy" ends that have less glass on them that will make them weaker and more subject to breaking. If you buy a bead like this, it can still be beautiful, just beware of the risks and treat it appropriately.

Design Elements!

When you are purchasing a bead that has raised dots on it, look at it carefully. The more rounded the dots are, the more risk that they will break off. The most stable dots are shaped like an upside down U, with no undercuts. The ones that you see that look like little BB's resting on the surface of the bead are the most susceptible to snapping off. Then there are the ones that lie somewhere in between. If you like the appearance of the "BB" ones, just know the risk. Any raised element that does not have a smooth connection (no undercuts) with the bead has a greater risk of breaking off. That doesn't mean that it will definitely happen but the possibility is greater.

Stress (the bead's, not yours!)

Stress in a bead is what can cause it to suddenly break on it's own. It could be just sitting there in a drawer, seemingly "stress-free" when all of a sudden it just can't take it anymore, there is a tell-tale "ping" and the bead just breaks in two. Too much stress in a bead can also make it more susceptible to breaking when placed under additional stress (ie, locked in a hot car, bounced on the tile counter, high pitched screaming at your kids, etc.) Anytime you work with hot glass you introduce stress. The more rapid the change of temperature, the greater the amount of stress. Your bead needs time to adjust. Proper annealing should reduce the stress in your bead. Correctly done, it should give you a lifetime of enjoyment from your bead.


Simply put, annealing is a step by step process of holding a glass item at a determined temperature then SLOWLY cooling the bead down to room temperature. I won't bore you with the details of the time, temp. etc. of the annealing process but will just give you an overview. The best way to anneal a bead to reduce risk of loss is to place it in a HOT annealing kiln directly from the torch. It is held at the appropriate temperature for "maximum stress relief" for a period of time then slowly "ramped" down to room temperature through a series of calculated steps. I WOULD NOT BUY A BEAD THAT HAS NOT BEEN ANNEALED IN THIS WAY. The other methods used by some to anneal beads are: 1) Placing the bead in a pan of vermiculite (or a special insulating "blanket") that is on a hot plate or electric skillet. This is what I was taught when I was first learning to make beads. About 15 minutes after placing the bead in vermiculite, the bead would have cooled enough that I could hold it in my hand. The initial temperature that the bead was held was way too low and the cooling down happened way too fast! There is no way that the stress that was built into the bead could be relieved. This was NOT annealing. The process that I use now takes HOURS to bring my beads down to room temperature. Another method used by some is to place the bead in a pan of vermiculite or special fiber blanket, let it cool, and then, at a later time, place it in a cool kiln, bringing it up to annealing temperature and go through all of the annealing steps. While this is better than just placing it in vermiculite, it is NOT a substitute for placing the bead directly in a hot annealer. The bead maker is taking additional risk that the bead will break before being properly annealed. Some bead makers say that they "flame anneal" their beads. What they are doing is not annealing it. You would have to know exactly what temperature the bead was while being held in the flame and hold it there MUCH longer than most of us would want to :-> in addition to letting it SLOWLY cool down to room temperature. What "flame annealing" is useful for is equalizing the temperature of the bead to make it less susceptible to breaking before you have a chance to properly anneal it.

Now, after having said all of that, I will say that you could buy a bead that has not been annealed properly, and it could last a hundred years or it could break tomorrow. If you are paying a lot for a bead, you should want to know how it has been annealed. The better the process of annealing, the less stress is introduced into the bead, the more confidence you can have that your bead won't break suddenly, without warning. The whole point is minimizing risk and protecting your investment. You want your beads to have the best chance for survival. Believe me, no beadmaker should want to spend time on a bead without giving it the best chance for survival. I personally will not sell you a bead without doing everything humanly possible to ensure that you will not be disappointed in the future by a broken bead. I will not sell you something that I wouldn't buy, and, as said before, I wouldn't buy a bead that hasn't been properly annealed, no matter how special I thought it was.

Buy What You Like!

After all is said and done, the most important thing is, educate yourself about what you are buying and then....


Copyright 2000-2011, Mary Ann Williams
All rights reserved

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