What Types of Beads are Used to Make Jewelry?

Beads are the foundation of making beaded jewelry–here is an introduction to common bead types and kinds of beads with pictures.

Gauged Beads

Gauge is a measurement of the thickness of something, be it beads, wire, thread, or needles. Gauged beads come in gauges ranging from 6/0 (large) to 15/0 (tiny).

Seed Bead
Seed Bead Made of glass or plastic and available in an amazing array of colors, finishes, and styles. Because of their small, regular size they are used in bead weaving and loomwork to make larger patterns. 11/0 is the most common size. Delicas are cylindrical, squarish seed beads that are about size 12/0.
Delica beads
Delica beads A variety of seed bead that is small and perfectly cylindrical, so they easily snap into place in peyote stitch and brick stitch beadweaving. They also have large wholes for their size, making it easier to pass multiple strands of thread through each bead. Delica is actually a brand name, made by Miyuki--the generic term is "cylinder bead".
Charlotte Beads
Charlotte Beads A type of seed bead where one side is cut (faceted), making them sparkle. Originally they were only made in 13/0 and therefore charlottes in other sizes are sometimes referred to as "true cuts" or "one cuts".photo credit
Bugle Beads
Bugle Beads Sized like seed beads, bugle beads are long tubes ranging in length from 2 to 35 mm.
Pony Beads
Pony Beads Larger than most seed beads and smaller than crow beads, also available in a large range of colors and finishes. Equivalent to size 8/0 or 6/0 seed beads, also called E-beads.photo credit
Crow Beads
Crow Beads The same shape as seed beads, but much larger than seed beads with larger holes. They are also available in a large range of colors and finishes but are most often made of acrylic rather than glass.

Bead Shapes

Briolette Teardrop or pear-shaped bead or gemstone. Can be faceted or smooth.photo credit
Cabochon Piece of semi-precious or precious stone that is cut and polished, but that contains no facets. Often large and oval.
Bicone A type of bead that looks like two pyramids or cones stuck together at their bases. photo credit
Barrel Bead
Barrel Bead Barrel refers to the shape of the bead - the bead can be made of any material such as metal, glass, wood, or plastic.photo credit
Rondelle A shape of bead that looks like a round bead slightly flattened. photo credit
Rivoli A shape of bead that consists of two short wide cones stuck together at their bases (like a flying saucer). In other words, they are round and come to a point in front and back. They do not have holes, so to incorporate one in jewelry you need to have a setting for it, like a cabochon. Usually a bezel setting is used--you can make one with seed beads using peyote stitch, or purchase metal ones.photo credit
Pillow Bead A rectangular bead with rounded edges.
Heishi Beads
Heishi Beads Heishi or heishe beads are small disc or tube shaped beads usually made of stone, shell or wood. They were first made from shell by Native Americans of the New Mexico area. Authentic heishe beads are handmade and can take days to produce strands of 2 - 3mm beads. Strips of shell or stone are drilled with evenly spaced holes, cut into squares, then shaped and smoothed by hand. The beads are beautifully smooth and uniform donut shapes.photo credit


Gemstone Precious (sapphire, ruby, diamond, emerald) and semiprecious (hematite, amethyst, jade, onyx, etc.) stones are available in chips and in different shapes.
Venetian Beads
Venetian Beads A style of glass bead making originating in Venice in the late 1800s. Antique "fancy" Venetian Beads are rare and prized by collectors. Today, many types of beads made by hand in Murano and Venice are sold under this label. Generally the term denotes a very high level of craftsmanship and that the beads are made individually by hand.
Lampwork Lampwork beads are made by melting narrow rods of glass by hand over an open flame (usually a torch). The glass is wrapped around a thin metal rod (a mandrel), which later becomes the hole through the bead. Many effects can be achieved through using various colors of glass and various techniques. Lampwork beads can also be crated into small figurines such as faces or animals.
Czech glass
Czech glass Glass made in the Czech Republic, where the tradition of craftsmanship in glass-making goes back centuries. Also called Bohemian glass or Bohemia crystal. photo credit
Crystal This can refer to many things, but in beading it usually means either naturally occuring quartz gemstones, or man-made leaded glass beads. Adding lead to glass beads makes them sparkle more; the more lead, the higher quality the bead. It also adds weight, so really light "crystal" beads are probably just glass. Man-made crystal beads come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors like cubes, rounds, rondelles, and specially shaped pendants of all kinds. There are many types of crystals available, but Swarovski crystals seem to be the most popular and are widely considered the highest quality.
Enamel A silicone-like substance that is baked on metal, glass or ceramic beads to apply decorative color, glossy finishes, or protective coating. Some enamel applications are detailed and contain many colors like a painted floral design. Enamel beads became widely popular during the 60s and throughout the 70s, but were not as common in the 80s and 90s. Today, enamel beads are available from almost any bead retailer and are extremely popular.
Polymer Clay
Polymer Clay A sculpting material which can be formed into shapes and then baked to harden. Polymer clay is available in most craft stores in a wide range of colors, and can be used to make beads and pendants.
Porcelain A ceramic material made from firing clay at very high temperatures (~1300 Celcius) so the silicate present in clay turns to glass, giving porcelain its characteristic strength and translucence.photo credit

More Bead Types

Name Beads
Name Beads Beads with letters on them that can be used to spell names or other words. Also called alphabet beads.
Miracle beads
Miracle beads These unique beads have a lucite (acrylic) core which is coated with a silver mirror-plated layer and finished with several layers of colored lacquer. The result is an illusion of depth or a "bead within a bead". I'm not sure if this qualifies as a miracle, but they do look pretty cool.photo credit
Bali beads
Bali beads Originally, Bali beads referred to sterling silver beads made individually by hand in Bali, Indonesia. The style has since been mass produced and sold under the same moniker.

This is just a few–there are millions of beads of many different sizes, shapes, and materials, such as glass, bone, shell, clay, metal, pearls, seeds, and even paper.

Utility Beads

Spacer Beads
Spacer Beads Any small bead can be used as a spacer. Spacer beads are often unnoticable (on purpose) but serve an important function in the spacing of a jewelry design. The bead can be made of any material; it is referred to as a spacer bead based on its function in the design. Often spacer beads are small metal beads or glass seed beads.
Stop Bead A seed bead used in beadweaving to keep your first row of beads in place when you start your piece. Instead of knotting the thread, you secure the stop bead by passing thread through it several times, and then remove it later when you have completed the beadwork.

Bead Manufacturers

Swarovski A very popular bead manufacturer based in Austria. They are most known for their lead crystal glass beads that come in many shapes and finishes. photo credit
Miyuki Miyuki is a Japanese beadmaker known for their seed beads, delica beads, and other glass beads. They are considered very high quality and evenly sized, so they make beadweaving easier.photo credit

Bead Terms

Hank A hank is made up of multiple strands of beads. Many bead shops display strands of beads in hanks and the buyer can purchase as many strands as they need. The number of beads per strand and strands per hank depends on the type and size of bead. A hank of size 13 seed beads contains twelve 20-inch strands, approx 400 beads per strand and 5000 beads per hank. A 16-inch strand of 6mm round beads only contains 68 beads. The average 6mm bead hank contains 10-12 strands. photo credit
Fire-polished A form of "polishing" used in Czech glass beadmaking that employs heat rather than abrasion to buff a bead's faceted surfaces. The heat causes the surfaces of the bead to melt just enough that they become shiny. These beads are less expensive to produce but also more likely to have imperfections. photo credit

Leave a comment