Blog

History of Czech Glass jewelry

 

Bohemia, which is now a part of the Czech Republic, played an important role in the history of glass jewelry. 

In the 1550’s a major glass industry was founded in the cities of Jablonec, Stanovsko, and Bedrichov (modern Reichenberg) in Bohemia (in the current Czech Republic). 

Other notable Czech sites of glass-making throughout the ages are Skalice, Železný Brod, Poděbrady, Karlovy Vary, Kamenický Šenov and Nový Bor. Several of these towns have their own glass museums with many items dating to around 1600. Jablonec nad Nisou in particular is famous for the local tradition of manufacturing glass costume jewelry. Its long history is documented by large collections in the Museum of Glass and Jewellery in Jablonec nad Nisou. 

North regions of Bohemia were rich on quartz deposits that were easily mined and expansive Bohemian forests, offered source for wood to heat the large furnaces required to melt glass.. The wood burned in the furnaces created the ash that was later collected to make all the potash that was needed. The Bohemian factories produced mainly glassware and cut glass stones. Beads were a secondary product.

From earliest times there have been many ways of forming glass beads. The earliest was to wind molten glass around a form and allow it to set and cool, creating round beads. The glass can also be blown into a form or mold, creating hollow shapes in the beads which are lighter than wound ones. A third method is to create blown glass beads without a mold. Beads made in this way are the lightest and most delicate. All these methods have been known for thousands of years, but it was not until 1860 that the first pressed glass molds were developed in Bohemia, producing a product that is more durable and robust than earlier methods.

It was in glass center of Gablonz (nowadays Jablonec nad Nisou, north Bohe), at the end of the Victorian Era, that Austrian jeweler Daniel Swarovski introduced the first cut-glass crystals to successfully imitate the look of diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds.

Bohemian costume jewelers also pioneered a technique for replicating the look of precious and semi-precious stones, which were enormously popular at the beginning of the 20th century. 

Glass beads production remains the Bohemia region’s most important contribution to costume jewelry.  Pristinely clear glass (crystal) changes the art of glassmaking all over the world and makes the Bohemian Kingdom a glass superpower. Soon glassmakers in other countries begin to emulate the Bohemian artisans. From this period forward, Bohemian Crystal becomes one of this land’s primary traditional products.

For many centuries, the foundries of former Czechoslovakia had been renowned for their impressive Czech crystal, glass and jewelry making craftsmanship. Before the Second World War, numerous factories all over the country produced rhinestone jewelry, costumes appliques and various decoration, and a work of Bohemian jewelers was admired all over the world. Unfortunately, many of these factories were closed during the war and haven’t been reopened since then.

Between the mid-1920s and the 1950s, a jewelry made in Czechoslovakia was heavily soldered. Copper and pot metal, which is a mixture of semi-precious metals, were used in the soldering processes. The dots of solder on the reverses of most jewelry pieces were not remains after repairing, but they were preventive strengthening measures which were undertaken to prevent potential damage or fragmentation.

Hollywood was famous for covering their starlets with shiny jewelry and Czech artists and jewelers were experts at creating elaborate, luxurious designs which showed absolute brilliance and shine. Before the Second World War, the nation was known as Bohemia, and Bohemian crystals were already known worldwide for their beauty. Czech jewelers had many centuries of practice and experience in setting, designing and creating one of the world’s finest crystal gems which have always carried a significant Czech style, with its unusual and beautiful design.

 

Rhinestone Decoration

 

Originally, rhinestones were rock crystals gathered from the river Rhine, hence the name, but today the name “rhinestone” applies only to varieties of lead glass known as crystal glass. The availability was greatly increased in the 18th century when the Alsatian jeweler Georg Friedrich Strass had the idea to imitate diamonds by coating the lower side of lead glass with metal powder. Hence, rhinestones are called strass in many European languages. Rhinestones can be used as imitations of diamonds. Typically, crystal rhinestones have been used on costumes, on dress and as jewelry. Crystal rhinestones are produced mainly in Austria by Swarovski and in the Czech Republic by Preciosa and a few other glassworks in northern Bohemia.

As opposed to the classic rhinestones, which had a metal powder coating on the bottom side only, several companies have opted to mass-produce iridescent lead glass, by reducing the metal coating thickness and applying it uniformly, not using metal powder with a binder but by applying various forms of metal deposition (thin foil, vapor deposition, etc.).

The original procedure in the making of the so called “Strass” jewelry uses mixtures of bismuth and thallium to improve the refractive quality of crystal stone imitations, and altered their colors with metal salts. Glass stones are made of strongly lead glass with a high refractive index. The gems have a glued metal foil behind them. This foil was later replaced with a vapor-deposited mirror coating.

Our company keeps the original and traditional manufacturing techniques of rhinestone jewelry and decoration, which you can see in our e-shop. 

Sources, Further reading

Foulds, D. E.: A guide to Czech and Slovak Glass making, European Community Imports Ltd, 1995.

Francis, P.: Czech Bead Story – World of Beads, Monograph Series 2, Lapis Route Books, 1979.

Francis, P.: Beads of the World, Schiffer, 1999.

Geary, T. F.: The Illustrated Bead Bible: Terms, Tips & Techniques. New York, 2008.

Jargstorf, S.: Baubles, Buttons and Beads: The Heritage of Bohemia, Schiffer Publ. Ltd, 1997.

Kurz, S., Packer, M. S.: Strass, Internationaler Modeschmuck von den Anfängen bis heute, Heine, 1997.

Sherr Dubin, L.: The History of Beads from 30 000 B.C. to the Present, Harry N. Abrams, 1987.