Necklace with Medieval Byzantine Glass and Silver Beads


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Necklace of Medieval Byzantine glass millefiori mosaic beads, with my beads in Argentium silver granulation.

“Millefiori” means “a thousand flowers”, and it’s a beautiful and ancient technique of making decorative glass. Also called mosaic glass, these beads date from the Medieval period of the Byzantine empire, a time and place famous for ornate and elaborate decorative arts.

These beads were made by fusing together thin glass rods of different colours into a long bundle, and then cutting the bundle at just the right angle so that the slices show radial and floral patterns. These discs were then formed into beads like the ones in this necklace, each one a unique expression of its art.

In our time, we think of glass as a cheap, disposable commodity, ordinary and mostly boring. It is made of the most abundant materials on earth, after all, and humankind mastered its production ages ago.

In the ancient world, however, glass was rare and valuable. It was made of the same common silica then that it is now, of course, but the technical skill it required was rare, and production was limited to very few craftspeople, making glass objects of all kinds precious.

These beads are in shades of black, white, red, and yellow, some bright, some more muted, depending on how each one interacted with the chemicals of earth and skin that they met in the centuries since they were made. Finding a matched, graduated set like this one is extremely rare, and this strand inspired me to make something really special, since I probably won’t find another set like this again.

My granulated beads are in a pattern I think of as Byzantine, in the sense of being detailed, complex, and ornate. Interacting patterns of teardrops, clouds, and swags of granules shift as you look from different angles, bringing modern life and sparkle to these lovely old beads.

Necklace is 20 1/2 inches long, with a silver S-clasp. The largest silver bead is just under 1 inch in diameter, and the smallest are about 1/2 inch. The millefiore beads range from 8 to 16 mm, with smaller glass spacer beads between them.