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A bead is a small, decorative object that is pierced for threading or stringing. Beads range in size from under a millimeter to over a centimeter or sometimes several centimeters in diameter. Glass, plastic, and stone are probably the most common materials, but beads are also made from bone, horn, ivory, metal, shell, pearl, coral, gemstones, polymer clay, metal clay, resin, synthetic minerals, wood, ceramic, fiber, paper, and seeds. A pair of beads made from Nassarius shells that are approximately 100,000 years old are thought to be the first known examples of jewelry. Some of the bead types are:

Chevron beads are special glass beads, originally made for the slave trade in Africa by glassmakers in Italy. They are composed of many consecutive layers of colored glass.

Dichroic glass beads are high-end art beads. Dichroic glass has a thin film of metal fused to the surface of the glass, resulting in a surface that has a metallic sheen that changes between two colors when viewed at different angles.

Ethnic beads are considered trade beads made in West Africa, by and for Africans, such as Mauritanian Kiffa beads, and Ghanaian and Nigerian powder glass beads. Other ethnic beads include Tibetan Dzi beads and African-made brass beads. Rudraksha beads are seeds that are customary in India for making Buddhist and Hindu rosaries (malas). Magatama are traditional Japanese beads, and cinnabar was often used for beads in China.

Faux natural beads are made to look like a more expensive original material, especially in the case of fake pearls and simulated rocks, minerals, and gemstones. Precious metals and ivory are also imitated.

Fire-polished beads are faceted glass beads made in the Czech Republic. They are faceted by machine and then drawn through ovens to make the surfaces molten, and thus shiny when the beads cool.

Furnace (cane) glass beads are made using traditional glassworking techniques from Italy that are more often used to make art glass objects. The manufacture of these beads requires a large glass furnace and annealing kiln.

Fusible beads are small, plastic and colorful beads that are placed on a peg array with a solid plastic backing to form pictures and designs and then melted together with a clothes iron.

Lampwork beads are made by using a torch to heat a rod of glass and spinning the resulting thread around a metal rod covered in bead release.

Lead crystal beads (also known as machine cut crystal) are cut crystal beads made with hi-tech precise machinery. Swarovski along with Preciosa branded crystal beads are the most prized by jewelers and hobbyists.

Millefiori (mosaic) beads are made of plain wound glass bead cores and thin slices of cut cane (murrine) which are being pressed into the bead surface, forming mosaic-like patterns, while the glass is still hot.

Pressed glass beads are formed by pressing the hot glass into mold to give the bead its shape.

Seed beads are uniformly shaped spherical or tube shaped beads ranging in size from under a millimeter to several millimeters. "Seed Bead" is a generic term for any small bead.

Trade (slave) beads are various types of beads made in Europe specifically to be used in the slave trade and other trading in Africa.

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