Seed beads have a tale as old as time itself; a tale lost in its earliest invention. What is known is that the bead industry was thriving in Eastern Europe long before the Second World War around 1918. As part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Republic of Czechoslovakia, the first noted producers of beads had a well-oiled trade system that spread their production far and wide to the likes of Germany, Italy, France and subsequently, across the world. Initially while most beads were made from glass, some also had a metal construct of aluminum and steel. These metallic bead cuts came to be known as the “steel cuts” as they had a prominent 3 cut faceting. Post World War II, many of these bead factories were either destroyed or converted to be used for the manufacturing of more essential items which then made countries like India and Japan the main producers, somewhat by default. Even at present, these two countries, China, Taiwan and the Czech Republic are the largest producers of contemporary beads. While Japan is known for its uniformity and high quality seed beads, it lacks in variety of styles and finished products that use it. India and China on the other hand, are known for lesser quality, inexpensive produce but a far greater variety of cuts, colors and overall seed bead chain patterns.
Seed bead is a generic name for small beads that are spherical in form and range in size from under a millimeter to several millimeters. They are usually rounded in shape, uniformly, and commonly used for hand or loom weaving. The unit of measurement used to categorize their sizes is called an “aught.” The largest size of a bead is one aught and the smallest can go down to 24 aught, which is approximately the size of a single grain of sand. A variety of products are made from seed beads from embellishment on garments, anklets, belts, bracelets to all sorts of necklaces and chains. Seed bead chains in particular though, come in a variety of color and finishes making their uses even more versatile. The larger end of seed beads, that start at a size of about 6 aught, can be used for crochet and as adornment on a number of décor products whereas the smallest of seed beads which are 13 to 15 aught, are mainly used for simple stringing or then as fillers or spacers between bigger jewelry beads. However, in the 1890s the class of 15 aught seed beads declined in production, mostly from a lack of demand and dwindling production value and any ones found today are considered antiques.
Specifically in India, the manufacturing of seed beads is a craft that has taken a life of its own. Employing thousands of workers, the variety of beads and the products embellished with beads is endless. The types of colors and finishes also dictate their price as glass, natural dyes and metallic finishes cost more to produce. The types of finishes include; color lined, transparent, translucent, opaque, matte, silver lined, copper lined, bronze lined, aurora borealis and with various levels of luster. The seed bead chain designs can also range from traditional, contemporary, vintage and ethnic and they are patterned accordingly. The Daisy chain seed bead pattern was perhaps the most popular style during its evolution, especially in the 60s and lasted through the 90s. Its Daisy flower motif, at its origin, was symbolic of peace, flower power and the “flower child” of the hippie era. Today the kinds of patterns worn are decided according to their purpose which can be ceremonial, religious, casual or party wear.
Styles and Trends of the Seed Bead Chain
Seed bead chains, over the years, have ebbed and flowed in its production and their designs diluted in inspiration but not in their charm. Hence, they are worn all across the world in various ways for all kinds of occasions. The shapes, cuts and colors of seed beads have more variety than ever before so its usage in necklace patterns is immense. Bright colored seed bead chains, whether singular, multiple or in geometric or tribal patterns can be worn casually with tunics and salwars on a daily basis to add a subtle element of ethnicity. Religious or ceremonial events call for seed bead chains that have an earthy finish and are either very long or have multiple chains of various lengths attached to the same hook. Party wear chains call for seed beads in metallic finishes and their designs are limitless; single beaded chains with a Kundan pendant or multiple chains studded in gold or diamonds are perfect accessories to pair with formal sarees, lehengas and dresses.