Face beads

Face beads have fascinated bead makers for millennia. We find face beads in many cultures from the Mediterranean to  the Far East. When Iook at examples I sometimes wonder whether the beads were traded, or the techniques were transmitted, or did each culture invent a face bead for itself

The challenge for a bead maker faces is that the techniques needed are sometimes quite complex and to make something small and wearable using the hot plastic glass is great. Bead makers responded and examples of their invention can be found from as early as 500 BC.

In this article I shall try to illustrate the various types of beads, their history and the techniques used.

Mosaic Face Beads

The revitalization of the mosaic technique by Roman glass makers in the 1st century BC led to the creation of one of the best-known types of mosaic beads: the face bead. The primary feature of these beads is the miniature human faces painstakingly rendered through the cold bundling of rods or the hot working of pre-made parts to form the visage, which was then stretched to make a cane that could produce, in sliced sections, identical faces.

Two Roman face beads. 100BC to 100AD

Face beads were sometimes produced in a spherical shape , with more than one cane slice placed around the center of the bead on a wound matrix, or simply as an individual cane slice that was perforated. 

The bead shown here, also Roman, is a square slice of a cane that combines the checkerboard design and the female face, including the shoulders and a necklace. The face and background are slightly off-center against the checkerboard, which covers all four corners of the bead. The bead is complex and distinctive, a true masterpiece of the mosaic technique. Corning Museum access no. 66.1.45 

Something like this technique of bead making was also practiced in Java. as illustrated  in this bead below which is possibly from the era  600 to 1000AD. When I look at it I suspect that the maker made his cane with the face and then applied that to the red coil bead base,

Javanese face bead. 600 to 1000 AD.The bead has been repaired.

Unfortunately we did not buy this example because it was damaged and also the asking price was too high

This is a bead using the same techniques and of the same age that we DID buy. On a cream colored base bead a cane face and a star have been applied. The stripe is most probably made with a compex cane by lamp work.

This bead is using the mosaic technique all over. This too is a Jatim bead from about 600 years ago.

And then we bought these extraordinary examples. These are small beads 5 mm in diameter. They have been made osing a drawn cane and two segments have been fused together. once again, found in Java. Most probably first millenia.

These three images show the beads and in the bottom image it shows the fused cane


Lamp-work face beads

With lamp-work the design is applied with a heated glass rod to a core of a bead.

This technique has been used since perhaps 500 BC. Best known are the Phoenician face beads from Carthage in which pendants were constructed with curling beards and hair.

Phoenician bead. Corning Museum access No. 68.1.15

I have also found an image of some facebeads made in China in the Tang Dynasty (61 to 907 AD)

5 Tang Dynasty face beads


 Our collection

The bead makers of Indonesia use all the old techniques to make beads.

Centerpiece bead for necklace catalogue No 01, an old Javanese face bead, very reminiscent of the Phoenician face beads of the 2nd century BC

In this instance the maker has used a lamp-work technique. First a core bead is made of cream colored glass. The nose and mouth are fabricated with a fine rod of glass melted on to the core. Then the eyebrows and beard by the same technique. When making the hair the bead maker has used the topknot of the face to make a pendant.

The eyes use a  lightly different technique common to 'eye beads'. This involves making a bundle of glass rods with blue in the middle, surrounded by white for the eye white and then blue for the eyelid. This rod is then heated and dabbed onto the core. Another technique used is the more simple layering of hot glass rods to build up the eye

This next example is a new bead made in Java which Veronica has used as a centerpiece for a necklace

Modern lamp-work face bead. Cat. No. 113

It is interesting to compare the techniques used in this bead with those from the following image of a Phoenician or Carthaginian bead sold by Bonhams in 2014, said to be 6th to 4th  century BC.

Sometimes the features are drawn onto the bead core with a hot glass rod as the one in this necklace Catalogue No. 33 in the collection.

Face bead and carnelian necklace. This face bead has a lineage back to Roman beads or even before, but it was made in Java this century. Catalogue 114

This necklace has four face beads made using various lampwork techniques. There are four beads and eight faces yet each face is individual. It can be seen in more detail on the Historic Beads website, Catalogue 123


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