Seed beads are uniformly shaped, spheroidal beads ranging in size from under a millimetre to several millimetres. “Seed Bead” is a generic term for any small bead. Usually rounded in shape, seed beads are most commonly used for loom and off-loom bead weaving. They may be used for simple stringing, or as spacers between other beads in jewelry. Larger seed beads are used in various fiber crafts for embellishment, or crochet with fiber or soft, flexible wire.
Before World War II, there was a thriving bead industry centered in eastern Europe, especially in Czechoslovakia, which was then known as Bohemia, although Germany, Italy and France were also noted producers of glass beads. Most of these beads were made of glass, but some were made of metal, usually aluminum or steel, and often cut in what is known as “three-cut” faceting; these are popularly known as steel cuts. Many of the old factories were converted or destroyed during World War II. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, treasure troves of old beads made their way to Western markets. These “vintage” beads are highly prized, and are now harder to find.
Most contemporary high-quality seed beeds are made in Japan or the Czech Republic. Japanese seed beads are generally more uniform in size, shape, and finish as well as having larger holes than Czech seed beads of the same size, but the Japanese make fewer styles.
Some seed beads produced in France are available in historic “old-time” colors and are popular for use in repairing or replicating antiquities.
Lesser quality seed beads are produced in India, in People’s Republic of China (PRC) and in Taiwan. Beads from these countries are less uniform in shape, hole size and finish. Dyed seed beads may transfer the dye to clothing or skin. Other seed beads have an external coating that will rub away to reveal a completely different color underneath.
Generally, less expensive beads are more susceptible to the ravages of time no matter their country of origin.