Sometimes, walking into a bead store or shopping for beads online can be totally overwhelming. Even for the seasoned beader. The selection is often enormous, with many options, styles, shapes and types to choose from. Aside from the questions we receive about choosing colors that compliment each other well, we often get questions about the coatings of those beads. There are many types of coatings, with varying durabilities, textures, looks, and benefits. The most widely popular are the Czech finishes and I figured it would be helpful for our customers to shed some light on these finishes and unpack all the details here for you.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
Before any type of coating is applied, the glass beads need to be thoroughly washed, dried and then heated to a temperature of around 120 degrees. This initial process helps to ensure the integrity of the coating and allows the beads to take a better and more even application of the coating.
Some Czech finishes require a single coating process, while others may need a few extra steps to achieve a certain look. For instance, the magic finishes on czech beads such as crystal magic wine, or crystal magic blue are first put through vacuum coating and then are sent for another layer of coating. To keep things simple I’m going to go over the 4 main types of Czech finishes.
Vacuum coated beads are some of the most popular among beaders. Some examples of vacuum coatings are crystal labrador, AB, sliperit, crystal amber full, jet hematite, crystal capri gold, etc. By definition, vacuum coating is the deposition of a film or a coating in a vacuum environment. It can also be referred to Physical Vapor Deposition and this technique is used for many consumer products, not just beads. I’ll stop there with the extreme scientific terminology before all of our heads explode. To put it in Lehman’s terms, after the beads are heated they are placed in the vacuum coating machine which operates well below normal atmospheric pressure. A fine metal powder is deposited into the vacuum which serves as the coating to the beads. The vacuum creates a very clean environment, with minimal air and water pollution, where materials can be deposited on the beads in a consistent, even, thin layer. Vacuum deposition is also very reproducible, allowing for more consistency in coatings from one batch of beads to the next. The vacuum coating of beads can only be done on one side at a time and therefore after the first side is complete, the beads need to be flipped and the process is repeated again on the other side.
The durability of different vacuum coatings tend to vary. Most are very durable and stand up to extensive wear and environmental factors but a few others aren’t quite as durable. Crystal capri gold and crystal amber tend to be some of the least durable and rub off more easily than others.
MATTE METALLIC COATING
The matte metallic beads are some of the most popular. Aztec gold tends to be a top seller along with aluminum silver, vintage copper, ancient gold and many others, especially during the fall, when those shades are most popular. At the base, these are glass beads that are covered in a thick, metallic, even lacquer coating, that in the end, proves to be extremely durable. To achieve the soft, matted appearance, the beads are then tumbled for a precise amount of time. The longer beads are tumbled, the more polished they become, so matte finished beads require a shorter tumbling time. In some cases, the matte effect is achieved via immersion in an acid solution, although tumbling tends to be more popular.
ENT coating, also known as Estrella Nano Technology is a new technology for bead finishing. This process is used for the production of metallic and pastel coatings. An extremely thin lacquer is applied to the beads in multiple layers through a spray process. The coating is absent of heavy metals, has high chemical resistance, stable in alkaline and acidic environments and adheres extremely well to the glass beads to which they are applied. As far as durability goes, they have a great resistance to scratching and ultraviolet radiation, leaving you with a fade resistant color.
Not unlike the above three types of Czech finishes, the luster coated beads are also a very popular finish among beaders and tend to fly off shelves as well. Some specific examples of these beads include the baby blue luster, lila luster, lila vega luster, teal luster, etc. The luster coating is a glossy, transparent coating, heated and applied to beads like a thin glaze. The coating is poured into a large pot over the base glass beads and stirred and spun to ensure an even coat. The beads are then placed in trays to dry and then heated in a kiln for up to 2 hours. The final step of the kiln brings out the true color of the final product. A luster coating is typically applied to an opaque white or jet bead but they can be applied to crystal beads and many other colors to achieve different looks.
Here is a video from our 2013 trip to the Czech Republic that focuses on luster coating. Check it out!
Well there you have it, the four main types of czech glass coatings. As you can see, so much science goes into making the colors and finishes of czech glass beads just perfect.
Thanks for reading and happy beading!