Before World War II, there was a thriving bead industry centered in eastern Europe, especially in Czechoslovakia, which was then known as Bohemia, although Germany, Italy and France were also noted producers of glass beads. Most of these beads were made of glass, but some were made of metal, usually aluminum or steel, and often cut in what is known as “three-cut” faceting; these are popularly known as steel cuts. Many of the old factories were converted or destroyed during World War II. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, treasure troves of old beads made their way to Western markets. These “vintage” beads are highly prized, and are now hard to find.
Most contemporary high-quality seed beads are made in Japan or the Czech Republic. Japanese seed beads are generally more uniform in size, shape, and finish as well as having larger holes than Czech seed beads of the same size, but the Japanese make fewer styles.
Some seed beads produced in France are available in historic “old-time” colors and are popular for use in repairing or replicating antiquities.