Friday, March 21, 2008

Ooooooh, shiny!

I am writing a few shorter, less serious posts at the moment, because when you read this I will be on a two-week research trip to Europe. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it ;)

I've been meaning for a while to share a few of the photos I've gleaned of some nice modern rosaries. These are from my "amazing what you can do these days" folder, in that all of them are in one way or another made from materials that couldn't have been used, or in some cases didn't exist, a few decades ago. All but the last are from rosaries for sale on eBay.

There's a bit of a historical purpose here, too. One of the challenges in making medieval-style or replica rosaries is that it requires some "creative shopping." By and large, unless we are bead makers or metal casters ourselves (and I'm not), we are limited to what's available (and affordable!) on the commercial bead market, and that can be frustrating because modern fads are not the same as what was in fashion in (say) 1483.

For glass beads, various iridescent coatings have become very popular in the last few decades. They go by various names, including "aurora borealis," "vitrail," "iris," and "luster." To the best of my knowledge, these finishes on beads didn't exist until very recent times; most of them are not simply sprayed onto the beads but require modern techniques like vapor deposition in a vacuum.


Likewise, in the last ten years or so it's become possible to make an affordable cultured pearl out of just about any glass bead shape, so we now have not only natural-shaped pearls, but flat, square, faceted, twisted, petal-shaped and cross-shaped pearls. Cultured pearls in mass production were not possible until the beginning of the 20th century, when techniques were invented to reliably create pearls "in the round" that were not attached to the wall of the pearl shell. I should add that while natural colored pearls do exist, bright, colorfast dyes for pearls like the ones shown here are also quite a new thing.


While various shaped glass beads can be made by hand, the mass production of pressed glass beads in a mold is also fairly recent, dating back only to the early 1800s. While beads of other glasslike substances, such as faience, have been known since ancient Egypt, beads of true glass were mostly shaped either by lampwork techniques (which involve melting) or were cut as if they were semi-precious stone, which was expensive and required a lot of hand labor.


At times I gripe a bit, because the newer bead types in some catalogs seem almost to be crowding out the plain rounds, ovals, simple cuts, and other shapes I look for when making replicas. But historical bead types do still exist, though you may have to look a bit harder for them.

Finding out just how recent some of the new techniques are has also given me a renewed appreciation for traditional glass beads like those from Murano that contain gold or silver foil and other enhancements. Before modern finishes, the options for adding "sparkle" or "bling" to paternoster beads were a lot fewer and more expensive. Foiled beads must have been quite a welcome invention; they aren't cheap, but neither are they solid silver or gold.

And finally, here's a rosary someone made just for fun, out of recycled faceted glass beads and miniature Christmas tree ornaments! This was made by a student at the school I work for as an art project a few years ago, and I keep it in my box of modern examples because I think it's cute. ;)