THE WONDERFUL HISTORY
OF VENETIAN GLASS BEADS
AND MURANO GLASS JEWELRY
by Marco Piazzalunga
a glimpse of the island of Murano in the Venetian lagoon
WHY MURANO GLASS BEADS ARE SO POPULAR?
At the origin of Murano glass jewelry, Murano beads were called "conterie". The word "conterie" probably came out of Venice, but certainly to designate a production of Venetian origin
. It is known in the business circles of all the world because everywhere the typical and unmistakable Venetian glass beads, with many shapes and many different colors, were widely used for centuries in much greater degree than in any other type of unnecessary merchandise.
antique print of the Murano island
DEEP PASSION OF MAN FOR WHAT GLITTERS
AND WHAT IS COLORED
The strongest consumers of glass beads including those made in Murano
were not the people of Europe but those native of the other four continents. It is amazing how the vagueness of this jewelry has exercised its irresistible attraction towards these people.
It is no exaggeration to say that the subjugation of many indigenous tribes by the Spanish colonizers, Portuguese, French, Dutch and English, at the time of the great voyages of discovery, were made possible by the gifts that whites did to them with a few pounds of colored beads mostly from artifacts of Murano glass jewelry by the Venetian artisans.
These colonizers exploited by malicious cunning the innate passion of people of color for all that glitters and has beautiful chromaticity.
Mirrors and glass beads were powerful tools of conquest, and rich countries fell under the control of Europeans, with their precious products of the soil and subsoil.
The natives esteemed glass beads, if not objects of great value, certainly ornamental objects of prodigious virtue, to the point of believing gems, gold, silver, ivory and spices, which were in abundance in their lands, despicable things.
innate passion of people of color for glass beads
PEOPLE OF COLOR ARE UNKNOWINGLY AESTHETES
What we can say today is that they were unknowingly aesthetes, in whose eyes the beauty of a product out of the hand of man, though not noble in its intrinsic raw material like the glass, was much more valuable than a gold nugget, dirty of earth.
The success of the "conterie" from Venice made by manufacturers of Murano glass jewelry is all in this evidence of their quality of handwork that contrasts with the matt formlessness of the raw materials, also the most valuable normally used in jewelry.
Indigenous women adorned with beautiful glass beads
THE WORD "CONTERIE" HAS A CURIOUS ETYMOLOGY
The Venetian glass beads
had so much credit that were used for the exchange of indigenous products, and assumed the value of money, to the point that some believe that the name "conterie" comes precisely by the act of "counting", typical of any business.
However, major experts argue that the term "conterie" has origins in Tuscany, where "contigia" indicated ornaments, with derivation from the Latin "comptus" which means "ornament" or "decorated" or "elegant".
These experts also point out the not very old use of this term, which occurs for the first time in a letter sent in 1603 by a Portuguese man to a Florentine nobleman. In Venice and Murano, however, the "contarie" or "conterie" appears only in the late eighteenth century.
old postcard with a factory of glass conterie
WHAT ARE TRADE BEADS?
Most of the glass beads made by Venetians and produced in Murano were on commission basis. European explorers commissioned them for use in trade in Africa and the Americas. This means there were many different designs because of the different personalized commissions.
In Africa, Venetian trade beads were used by Europeans to exchange for services, goods such as ivory, gold and palm oil, and even slaves. The Africans loved them because of the high intrinsic value they placed in decorative items. They used Venetian trade beads for different purposes such as trade between different tribes, to store wealth, to measure wealth, and for jewelry as a show of status in the community.
One of the most widely used Venetian trade beads is the Millefiori trade beads (Millefiori means 'a thousand flowers'). The designs on Millefiori trade beads were made using thin colored glass canes.
In the America, Venetian trade beads were used in the U.S., Canada, and Latin America. Native Americans had been using beads for many centuries before trade beads were introduced and so they were very receptive to these beads. They used the trade beads as ornaments, to decorate their clothes and baskets, to trade, and in different ceremonies. Christopher Columbus wrote in his log how he had used glass trade beads to impress the natives of San Salvador.
Venetian trade beads found in Africa
WHAT ARE THE MODERN "CONTERIE"?
Nowadays with the term "conterie" we designate another type of glass objects, particularly jewelry of extreme delicacy and elegance.
More precisely, the Murano "conterie" are small hollow beads, which were once also known as "margarite". They have a cylindrical or globular shape, are smooth or faceted, have a wide variety of colors, and you can see them normally exposed in hanks or bundles, and with which you can assemble various ornaments.
Entirely different, for the process, for size, for colors, is another type of beads, while being also typically Venetian. These are the beads made by "lamp" or "torch", which are intended mainly for the assembling of necklaces and bracelets
an example of modern processing of "conterie"
arranged in bundle and designed
by a renowned glass laboratory based in Murano
another fine example of contemporary "conteria"
arranged in shape of flowers
WHAT IS THE ORIGIN OF THE MURANO GLASS BEADS?
THE GLASS CANE AND ITS MANUFACTURE
Both types of beads, the "conterie" and the beads by "lamp", derive from the same semi-finished material, the glass cane, which can be with a central longitudinal hole or solid. The first will produce the "conterie", the second the lampwork beads. Both can be made of transparent glass (colorless or tinted) or opaque glass (white or colored). The canes of opaque white glass with lead arsenate are said in Murano by "smalto" (enamel).
bundles of glass canes and lampworking of a bead
The oldest memory of glass canes (or rods) dates back to 1468. Marcantonio Sabellico in his book "De Urbis Venetae situ" cites, among other products of Murano glass, the "segments", in fact the canes. Between the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries most of the canes for jewelry was exported to Germany where it was processed to produce beads that were re-exported in the countries of the Levant. In 1674 it has memory that existed in Murano eleven skilled masters in making canes for "margarite".
Italian historian Marcantonio Sabellico (1436-1506)
In the following period, the production of this product became more and more improved and in 1738 the brothers Bertolini based in Murano, excellent manufacturers of milk glass, requested and obtained from the Council of Ten of the Venetian Republic, a ten-year privilege to build four vessels for smelting works of cane with jewelry enamels, with and without gold, transparent and opaque.
In 1766, the "Capitolare" (Chapter House), which is the "Matricola dell'Arte Vetraria" (collection of laws and regulations regarding the glass art) established very stringent tests for applicants to master of cane, which were called "canneri." A few years before the fall of the Republic, the furnaces for canes had risen to 14, with 41 smelting vessels and 40 masters. However, the ignorance of the technical processes based on scientific principles held the cane production, both of glass and enamels, at a level much lower than that of the next century.
Matricola dell'Arte Vetraria (1766)
THE WORKING PROCESS OF GLASS BEADS
The first phase of the manufacturing process of the beads is the working and processing of glass paste and vitreous enamels in the cane. This process is carried out in special Murano factories by workers who still are called "canneri". The traditional raw materials for the glass cane are: sand, soda (up to a century ago, they used the Egyptian natron), antimony, arsenic, manganese, red lead and saltpeter.
THE "CONZAOR" IS THE ALCHEMIST OF GLASS ART
In any factory of canes there is a technical director called "conzaor" who makes the composition of mixtures with processes that were once kept secret and known only to him. Then, the "conzaor" is the arbiter of the process, he is the one from which will depend on whether the rod will be more or less resistant, more or less clear and bright, features very important in jewelry.
The various ingredients are mixed and put to cook in special kilns and furnaces that were once made with special grounds, with highly refractory power, from the nearby town of the Veneto and Friuli regions.
The "conzator vitreorum" appears in a document dated 1444. The conzaori directly supervised the Friulian workers who helped them in these tasks.
"conzaor" while raking out the glass frit from the furnace
THE PREPARATION OF THE GLASS CANE:
A SOLEMN RITE
The work to transform the glass mass in the cane is run by a group of Murano workers consisting of a master called "scagner" (because it works sitting on a stool), two servants, two "conzaureri" (mixers) and two "tiradori" (pullers) or "tiracanne di ferro" (because they pull the glass paste with iron tools).
The process begins in a very solemn way with a ritual trend: one of the servants takes with the end of a rod of massive iron, long about 1.5 meters, a quantity of glass from the oven, the "pea".
After having made it firm and compact, and reduced to a cylinder by turning on the "bronzino" (the working table of the glass), creates a hole in the middle, using a "borsella" tool, in the longitudinal direction and then returns again into the pan of the oven to wrap it with an additional layer of glass, the "coperta" (coat).
The "pea" of glass and the working table "bronzino"
This process of cylindrical shaping is executed multiple times to obtain the amount of glass needed to produce the canes.
Then the Murano master takes another iron rod with attached on one end a bit of glass shredded and compressed, and pushes against the mass of glass to unite it securely.
pulling the glass by contemporary glass masters
THE AMAZING RUNNING IN THE CORRIDORS
Then a rod of iron is given to a "tirador" (the puller) and the other to a "conzaurer" (the mixer), they quickly move away from each other, running in opposite directions, pulling this glass mass until the end of the "corridori" (corridors which are located in the laboratories of Murano, are from 60 to 150 meters long depending on the quantity to produce).
When they came down the corridor, break the long rod obtained, and return to the starting point to produce another glass cane.
The glass canes thus obtained are long up to 60 or 150 meters and, for the viscosity characteristics of the glass, maintain the same diameter becoming too thin a few millimeters.
They don't break and retain perfectly the hole made at the beginning of elongation.
pulling the glass in the corridor
of a modern laboratory in Murano
Each cane is laid on wooden sleepers that are fixed to the floor and then is cut into segments of about one meter, the "cannelle".
The massive canes, those without hole, are produced in the same way, but are drawn to a much lower length, only a few meters, and are used exclusively for the production of lampworked jewelry beads and other objects.
In this video the famous glassmaster Lino Tagliapietra
while preparing glass canes
GLASS CANES HAVE AN ENDLESS VARIETY OF FEATURES
The glass canes can be of very different colors, thickness and sections: cylindrical, multi-faceted, sometimes have many "coats" overlapping each other (the first layer is called "petticoat"). The Murano canes with hole, showing several coats and a star design on many points, are called "rosette" and are often pulled even with very large diameters, and sometimes worked at the mill for bringing out all the color effects due to the different layers of glass.
The jewelry beads that have the "petticoat" enameled and the coat with ruby red colour are called "corniole" (carnelian), and Benvenuto Barovier in 1901 patented a way to manufacture them without the use of very expensive gold chloride.
Often the outer coat is adorned with stripes obtained by a method similar to that of glass filigree. The massive canes, without hole, can also be pulled in more coats and internal designs for mosaic purposes
In 800 Venetian Murano masters made special glass jewelry canes that had sectional images with inscriptions or figurative, and the glassmaster Jacopo Franchini was able to manufacture canes, with techniques like those of the ancient Egyptians, who showed pictures that you could get at any point along the length of the rod (below you can see an example with a portrait of Count Cavour).
colorful glass canes and some really ingenious inventions
THE REMOTE ORIGIN OF VENETIAN GLASS BEADS
Although Murano and Venice are full of pride in the reputation achieved for the production of glass beads, we still have to say that they are not an original and unique invention of Venetians.
The Egyptians knew these objects many centuries before Christ, as they knew the Phoenicians and later the Romans.
We can certainly say that the glass beads were the first manifestation of mimetic art of jewelry, but after the decline of the Roman and Egyptian civilizations also the bead industry went out.
ancient Egyptian glass beads
ancient Phoenician glass beads
ancient Roman glass beads
After many centuries, we have the memory of the first beads associated with the name of Venetian and Murano glassmakers, in the strung garland. In fact, history tells us that in 1268 during the election of the Doge Lorenzo Tiepolo, the glass makers participated in the related parties adorned with garlands of glass beads.
We can not instead give credit to the legends who see Marco Polo returning from travels in the East, to the effect that would push some of his fellow citizens to start the production of these beads, which were considered the most beautiful jewelry gemstones by the people based in the east of Africa.
THE CORPORATION OF "CRISTALLERI"
The Venetian beads were born from the imitation of the jewelry materials most precious than glass: the rock crystal and precious stones.
Both materials were processed by the "cristalleri", a corporation of Murano craftsmen who, due to frequent counterfeiting of its products by not only his artisans but also by glassworkers, abandoned in the long-term the processing of these raw materials and concentrated on counterfeiting of the crystal using glass as a raw material.
At first the Venetian State took strict measures to prevent forgeries because these were harmful to the reputation of crystal workers, but Murano manufacturers were not resigned to give way, and later the State decided to approve the new type of production.
examples of rock crystal, as found in nature
IMITATION OF ROCK CRYSTAL AND PRECIOUS STONES
In this way, the production of false gems continued to progress, and that of rock crystal and precious stones headed for an inexorable decline. The first imitations in glass can be traced back to the first half of the fourteenth century, and, though they are banned, they continue throughout the century.
The Venetian Senate established since 1326 a "Mariegola of Cristalleri" (rules for the artisans of the crystal), which prohibits the manufacture of jewelry gems with glass, but the ban is little heard, and in 1445 was forced to impose severe penalties, such as the payment of a thousand ducats and the prison in the wells for two years. But this production continues to grow in Murano, and eventually the state had to regulate the issue. In a subsequent Mariegola they start talking about "paternostri" made with rosettes, and glass canes, and other new materials and products.
antique jewelry made from rock crystal
FIRST EXAMPLES OF GLASS BEADS:
THE "PATERNOSTRI" AND "MARGARITE"
The "paternostri" were the crowns of prayer beads, the rosaries, but the smaller ones. They were cut with the wheel and were the favorite jewelry object of counterfeiting. They were well-known even outside the Venetian State, and were exported from Murano to the countries of the Levant and assembled in necklaces.
The "paternostri" created for sacred purposes were thus the ancestors of glass "conterie" and lampwork beads.
Their execution had to be perfect, so much so that in the Mariegole of 1400 were considered one of the most difficult tests to achieve the title of master, but just perfect had to be the imitations made from glass.
In a Mariegola of 1505 the cristalleri are required to stamp with a mark registered in the Register of "Scuola e Giustizia Vecchia" (Schools and Old Justice) every bunch of thousand pieces joined together by a band.
examples of ancient "paternostri" made in 1500
THE BIRTH OF GLASS BEADS
WAS AN ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF THE AUTHORITIES
Continuing for a few years on one side with the manufacturers of imitation and on the other side with the State that prohibits it, we come to 1500, a very important period because it marks the official birth of the glass beads.
The Germans already for more than twenty years did produce canes in Murano and then turn them into beads for export to the countries of the Levant.
We know that since 1497 the seafarer Vasco De Gama had found in India Murano beads made from cane, which were used as currency. Although Christopher Columbus used this jewelry with native Americans to make them friends and get their favors.
Fernando Cortez arrived in Mexico in 1510 and in front of the rival Montezuma, king of the Aztecs, the first gift that made him as a sign of friendship and respect was a string of colorful beads, receiving in exchange a necklace of red shells each of which was set in precious gold pendant very large.
Christopher Columbus used glass beads
with native Americans to get their favors
Then the Venetians, who had the monopoly of trade in the East, thought that it would be better to remove the Germans this lucrative trade, and so in 1510 the "Chapter of the Art of Glass" ruled that the entire production of the finished beads remained in Murano .
This decision by the Venetian authorities put an end to the long controversy on counterfeits, and marks the beginning of a large handicraft industry of jewelry. Rock crystal dies, and the glass bead is born.
HOW THE EARLY GLASS BEADS WERE MANUFACTURED
There were two methods in Murano to produce beads, "a speo" (with a spit) and "a Ferrazza" (with a pan).
With the "speo", pieces of thick perforated glass cane are made soft, stuffed into a kind of spit, placing them in the fire of the furnace. In this way rather large beads were obtained, and these were the proper "paternostri".
With the second method, canes of small diameter, drilled into very small pieces, were cut and the holes were clogged with a special refractory material and then were placed in large pans of copper of about 30 cm in diameter (the Ferrazze). The pans were introduced in an oven and the mass of small pieces was continuously mixed with an iron rod, until the pieces reached a rounded shape. These beads were called "margarite".
In 1604 two real artisanal jewelry jobs was born and in 1615 a school was established and gave itself as patron St. Antonio Abate.
glass beads produced with the "a speo" (spit) method
THE ADVENT OF LAMPORK GLASS BEADS
This was the era of the great journeys to conquer new lands, and of the intensification of trade that from European was becoming global. The polychrome "paternostri" and "margarite" of Murano were increasingly being demanded by large foreign traders and buyers.
But alongside this industry it was adding another, that of lampwork beads, intended to supplant that of paternostri for the infinite variety of colors and the top beauty of some truly amazing glass products. The procedure was similar to that of the "paternostri", but using a massive cane, not perforated. This cane was melted with the flame of a oil lamp that was kept alive by a small bellows.
Antique processing of lampworked glass bead
using a bellows to keep alive the lamp
Then it was coiled around an iron wire protected by a layer of strong glue, ash and ground of Vicenza.
At the molten glass was given the desired shape by simply moving the fingers turning on itself or through a small bronze mold.
When the bead was ready, was thrown into a tank containing ash to prevent the rapid cooling and thus the possible breaking.
Once cooled, the bead slips off the wire leaving a hole for threading used in bunches and necklaces.
The Murano artisans of lampwork beads were called "perleri" or "suppialume" (from the blowing on the flame with the said bellows), and even today this system is used in the manufacture of jewelry lampwork beads, with some minor variations.
modern processing of lampworked glass bead
AN INFINITE VARIETY OF COLORS,
SHAPES AND DECORATIONS
The two corporations of glass masters, "paternostreri" (manufacturers of "paternostri") and "margariteri" (manufacturers of "margarite"), which until 1629 were well established in Murano and regulated by strict "mariegole" (rules), in a few years were replaced by those of the manufacturers of margarite (which in '800 will be called "conterie"), and those of manufacturers of lampwork beads.
In 1648, the two activities were separated and regulated in a clear way.
The possibilities offered by the lampwork beads were endless and this increased their success and trade all over Europe and even in Africa. And the Venetian State banned the export of glass pastes, that is the raw material for making beads, and also the jewelry working tools, as well as banned the import of beads from abroad.
examples of antique mosaic beads made in 1600
The lampwork Murano beads could be in opaque or transparent colors. If the color of the bead is unique, it was called "schieta" (frank), it was called "numero" if the colors were actually more than one.
They could be built in layers of glass stacked (the opaque layer was put in the bottom core, and the transparent one on top).
It could be "fiorata" (flowered) if the core is running down spouts strips of very minute thickness in different colors, with which the various decorations were made.
They could be covered with dots, filigree, lace, strips, streaks, spikes or "capette."
They could be in the form of a leaf, a vein, a olive, an almond, a melon.
Blurred or translucent, diamond worked or with mosaic pattern.
examples of "fiorata" beads
THE INDUSTRY OF GLASS BEADS FROM 1600 UNTIL 1800
During 1600 the jewelry bead industry flourished significantly in Murano. There were a lot of well-known glass manufacturers such as Morelli brothers who were traveling around the world with three ships and were enriched to the point of being able to buy in 1686 the title of the Venetian nobleman with a hundred thousand ducats.
But in early 1700 it began to feel a crisis motivated by the loss of dominance of trade with the East, especially to the Red Sea and Ethiopia. Even in northern Europe in the important markets of Amsterdam and London difficulties were felt, because of foreign competition, which for example in the Czech Republic could produce glass beads with a specular working exceptionally efficient and economical thanks to innovative procedures.
Instead, the Venetians, known to be a people very reluctant to any kind of innovation, attributed the blame for this to the low efficiency of local suppliers of glass canes, although in 1781 the State had surveyed 26 kilns with a production of more than 60,000 pounds of cane each week.
The decline of manufacturing in reality was attributable to the decision to entrust the work of the most delicate processes to not very competent personnel.
SOMETIMES UNFAIR COMPETITION
OF EUROPEAN COUNTRIES
Very interesting is a letter from Giorgio Barbaria, a manufacturer of glass bottles that reconverted their factories in cane production for enamels, sent on 1776 to "Cinque Savi alla Mercanzia", a kind of commission that kept watch on the Venetian trade. He, at the end of a long trip to Spain, France, England and Portugal, took over in minute detail the technological advances made in those countries, and suggested to the Venetian government the most appropriate means to restore the prestige of trade.
coat of arms and insignia of the ancient family
of Giorgio Barbaria (1741-1801),
important Venetian entrepreneur of glassware of XVIII century
In Spain, for example, noted that the manufacturers make use of ashes voted best of those so far acquired in Sicily for the manufacture of crystals of mirrors.
In Portugal turned out that many jewelry beads that are exported to the Americas come from France, where he discovered that the glass canes were not produced locally but were imported from Murano with an unfair trick that consists in the import with the official reason "to build barometers".
Already the French had stolen the art for the construction of the famous Venetian mirrors, and now the same happens for lampworking.
In this letter the Barbaria also complained about the excessive greed of the Venetian merchants, calling for more stringent controls by the Government not only on the quality of the beads exported, but also on the morality of the merchants.
But the real reason for the diminished prestige of Venice is not due to the decline of its authority, in fact at that time were active 196 margaritieri and 295 perleri. It was the advancement and dissemination of technology, to which certain proceedings could no longer be kept secret and monopolized by a single nation. Any person, animated by a spirit of enterprise, could develop this business even if it meant unfairness of competition.
The clandestine emigration of expert workers of the glass, from the Venetian state to the rest of Italy and Europe, were the order of the day, in the prospect of higher returns. The documents of the time reported numerous incidents in which are detailed the adventures by businessmen and glassmakers, to overcome the obstacles of government.
However, we must say that Venice was not damaged remarkably, because during the years 1787-1797 it was recorded a remarkable recovery of this industry, which had a further stagnation only during the Napoleonic Wars.
THE INVENTIVE GENIUS OF MURANO GLASS MASTERS
HAS ALWAYS PREVAILED
Even during the period of the Empire, the genius of the Venetian craftsmen did not cease. The beads found new decorative applications on the furniture, along with marquetry, enamels and other glass imitating precious gems.
Benedetto Barbaria built for Napoleon a precious table in 1811 and soon after he built more for Francis I of Austria.
Giobatta Franchini in 1826 invented the first lampwork beads coated with crystal, then invented those imitating coral, in 1827 the pink mother of pearl with designs in gold foil overlapping plates and protected by clear crystal.
examples of furniture decorated with glass beads,
inlays and enamels, made in 1800
The most famous names of glass manufacturers and masters of the 1800, are the Giacomuzzi, the Caroba, the Lazzari, the Tresuna, the Gross, the Giustiniani, the Novo. All gave evidence of their genius and creativity, along with a technique incredibly innovative.
Giacomuzzi in 1866 creates in Murano the glass bead with yellow-gold and then the gold mother of pearl.
Until the middle of the century, for lampworking was used as fuel oil or tallow. But by 1843, the glassmaker Domenico Bussolin, with the advent of a new fuel, coal gas, much cheaper and higher calorific value, not to mention its practicality, patented a new system for lampworking.
The Venetian "perlero" Peruzzi, called Mezzanotte (midnight), an experienced jewelry manufacturer of glass eyes, invented in 1830 the glass yarn produced by the lamp.
Later another Venetian, Carlo Olivi, in 1833-1840 he was able to use the wire to make glass fabrics, which gave birth to an industry trend for the production of decorative items such as picture frames, sweet-boxes, baskets, lampshades, flowers, plumage, fabric wallpaper, etc.
example of clothing made from glass fabrics,
made in late 1800
All of this inventive ability contributed to the consolidation of the art of Murano glass, and the strong recovery of the jewelry industry.
Just imagine that, after the transfer of the whole glass cane processing exclusively in Murano in 1817, centered in the only one company "Dal Mistro Errera & C.", the export went from about 1,500 quintals to reach 60,000 quintals in 1867, the year in which there was the pinnacle of the consumption of glass conterie for clothing, especially in black colour.
gown in champagne with Murano glass beadwork,
by Mariano Fortuny (1871 - 1949)
In 1898, in Murano was founded, through the merging of seventeen individual companies, the "Societa' Veneziana per l'Industria delle Conterie" (Venetian Company for the Industry of Conterie), which operated until 1992 and exported glass beads to France, Germany, Great Britain, Russia, Turkey, Africa, India, the Far East, North America and South America, employing more than one thousand employees in the island of Murano and over two thousand at home, according to data reported in the year 1825.
Although today thousands of tons of glass jewelry beads do not leave from Venice every year like in its heyday, a high quality of craftsmanship survives and continues to produce small works of art in the wake of a long tradition that is worth knowing.
equity security of the company
"Societa' Veneziana per l'Industria delle Conterie"
HOW THE CONTERIE WERE MANUFACTURED
IN THE FIRST HALF OF 1900
Until the first decades of the 1800 in Murano, the reduction of glass canes and enamel canes, always drilled, into "margarite" or "conterie" in the strict sense, was carried out only with the above described process of the "ferrazza."
Then gradually were adopted mechanical processes that made fastest the processing and helped to increase the productivity of this type of jewelry.
First, the glass canes are divided by the thickness (diameter) and color by women workers called "cernidore" (sorters), who perform this job simply using the touch with surprising skill, rapidity and precision.
The canes are then passed through to the cutting knife of a motorized guillotine cutter, and the small glass pieces are slid into a box.
As the small pieces have sharp edges must be rounded to the fire.
Originally this operation was made with their mixing in the "ferrazza", a copper pan, but after 1864 thanks to an invention of Luigi Pusinich, perfected by Antonio Frigo, both from Murano, takes place more efficiently.
The cylinders of the canes are dipped in a mixture of slaked lime and charcoal reduced in fine powder and soaked in water so that the holes are clogged.
Then are inserted into a tube as large as the breech of a cannon, crossed in the center by a rod in correspondence of its axis.
This tube is then inserted into the glass furnace in a vertical position and resting on the center post, and turning on itself is done in a mechanical way.
After about 30 minutes of cooking, the pieces of glass are perfectly rounded.
invention of Luigi Pusinich to make conterie:
insertion of a big tube into the furnace and turning it on itself
As for the coloring, since the anilines were invented, the transparent crystal conterie were often colored in their inside (in the hole) by immersion in a bath, with subsequent removal of the color from the outer surface, this because the roundness of conteria allows the effect of magnifying lens of the central core by spreading the colored light along the surface.
HOW MODERN "CONTERIE" ARE THREADED
The conterie should be strung in bundles to be marketed in the jewelry business. The threading is today still done in Murano by hand, on cotton wires.
This work is done by a special group of women, home-workers, called "impiraresse".
The instruments of impiraresse are the "sessola", a wooden container that holds the glass conterie, and thin needles made from steel, 18 cm. long. The woman sits in the chair with the container on her knees, shoves the cotton wire in the eyes of needles and takes a few dozen needles with the first three fingers of the hand, forming a fan.
threading of "conterie", performed by a modern "impiraressa"
The fan is then immersed quickly in the "sessola" stringing the mass of glass conterie, and with the other hand helps the sliding of the same inside of the needles.
the fan of needles 18 centimeters long
Finally, the conterie are slipped along the cotton wire and the skeins are packaged according to customer requirements.
the thin cotton wires inserted into the eye of the needles
The profession of ''impiraressa" was a long time ago one of the most characteristic of Venice, and had practiced outdoors, in small squares, outside the front door, and this helped to create a local folklore very popular with foreign tourists.
old picture of "impiraresse" along the "calli" (streets) of Venice
MODERN INDUSTRY OF LAMPWORK BEADS
A FASCINATING WORLD OF GENIUS AND CREATIVITY
Unlike the conterie themselves, the lampwork glass beads, due to their manufacturing technique, are generally produced in workshops and laboratories that still retain in Murano their purely handmade peculiarity.
To create a single bead the "perlere" (women who lampwork the glass beads) recline the Murano glass canes over the flame of a gas lamp. Once the glass rod has reached the melting temperature, the glass paste is decorated.
With the patience that an art as old requires, and with adequate precision instruments, the "perlere" dust every inch of the bead with powder as valuable as gold, silver, and copper aventurine.
Other times, inspired by Byzantine processes, wrap the paste around a gold leaf, and the resulting beads are unique and unmistakable when gold seems to float suspended in the glass that surrounds it.
gold leaf wrapped around the core of glass,
then a crystal coat is applied externally
Deep is the difference between a necklace of conterie and one made of lampworked glass beads.
In the first, composed of many threads twisted in the manner of a rope, the beads predominate with their mass colour.
In the second, the various elements retained their individuality, both for their greater size, both for their shape, both for their provision in the wire that connects them.
The ability of "perlere" (women who manufacture the beads) consists not only in the manufacture of fine beads, but also in knowing how to combine them in a harmonious way, alternating larger and smaller ones, scaling the different sizes.
It must essentially use the same meticulous care of a goldsmith who, when creating a jewel truly worthy of the name, can never forget that it must be the result of a well-chosen combination of form and color.