Thursday, February 24, 2011
How Fragile Is It?
The most common question I am asked about my work is "how fragile is it?" It's a valid question for a person thinking about designing or wearing a piece of jewelry with lampwork beads. Even more so since I work with hollows and vessels.
My simple answer is that it is as strong as glass can be made to be through annealing and annealing is the process of heating the glass, in a kiln, to the highest temperature without causing the item to melt or deform and then slowly cooling it down to room temperature. In the process, any stress in the glass from the lampworking process, is removed and the glass molecules settle into their strongest configuration. Glass that is not annealed can crack or shatter at any time and with the slightest pressure or temperature fluctuations.
Annealing is also the difference between artisan lampwork and imported lampwork. "Lampworked" beads sold by jewelry supply catalogs and "trading" companies as well as online resellers are rarely annealed and that is one of the biggest factors that allows them to sell their beads at such a cheap rate. I could talk about the cost savings they enjoy by not bothering with ventilation, safety, fair wages, etc. but...
So when I'm asked "how fragile is it," yes I rattle off the simplest explanation I have about annealing but sometimes the visual works best. Not every piece I make is a winner that I'm proud to sell and it's these homely pieces that I end up using for myself. One of which was a cute weessel made from a metallic glass that had one handle just a little too skinny. I decided to attach it to my cell phone just to see how long it would last given how rough I am with my phone. Three years later and the cell phone lanyard has broken before the vessel. Some of the metallic sheen has worn away and, well, it wasn't that pretty to begin with so I am retiring it and starting a new experiment with one of my hollow beads.
If you are interested in a more technical explanation of glass annealing, Wikipedia has a decent article here.