I can't tell you how many times I've been to a show and had a customer pick up a strand of beads, ask what they're made of, and then drop them like a hot potato when they find out they're "just glass."
Glass has a long history. The Romans made beautiful glass objects, and made many innovations in the shaping and working of hot glass, including blown glass, mold-blown glass, cane glass, and mineral additions to create new colors of glass.
The Italians took glass to new heights, creating intricate layered beads and aventurine glass, in which copper is suspended within the glass to create a sparkly look.
Glass is available in many colors, which are created by altering the mix slightly, and adding mineral elements. Red, for example, is the most costly glass color to create, as it involves adding gold.
Creating glass colors is just as much an art as creating glass objects. Each color requires a "recipe" of sorts and experimentation as well. I have bought many beads that contain two-tone German glass from the fifties and sixties, and often it is impossible to recreate these colors nowadays. Either the recipe has been lost or the two colors that need to combined have different coefficients of expansion, meaning that they expand and contract at different rates and will not form a stable finished product.
This color is very nearly what is referred to as a "moonglow" color, which has clear and pastel opaque glass mixed together and appears to glow:
Here is another beautiful color combination of light pink and beige (these are modern flower beads made with vintage glass in a vintage mold):
Swarovski, which is incredibly popular right now, is glass with lead added to increase the clarity and create lots of sparkle when faceted.
These are tiny lampwork beads, barely a quarter of an inch long, that were created on mandrels with a handle at the end. The hot glass would be "wound" around the mandrel, which is why they are commonly called wound beads. It's almost impossible to find lampwork beads this small today. These are vintage Japanese from the late forties/early fifties.
I have long had a passion for glass. Glass beads can be a thing of beauty. In the end, it's the look and feel that matter most. Whether glass, semi-precious stone, pearl, paper, brass...it's all in how you use it, and whether it speaks to you.