When the term seed bead is used, it is often to reference a bead that is small in size and shape. The name is a generic term in relation to the fact that many of these beads resemble the size and shape of a plant seed. Despite this somewhat misleading description, seed beads are often times a major component in the creation or jewelry configurations. Seed beads are often uniformly shaped, spheroid beads that can range in size from a millimeter to several millimeters. Beyond the creation of jewelry design, seed beads can be used in bead weaving and other endeavors.
Seed beads can serve many functions in the design of jewelry as they come in seemingly infinite shapes and sizes. Seed bead sizes are assigned numbers that dictate their size,with a large number telling the designer that it is a smaller bead while the larger beads are given a smaller number. For example, the largest class of seed bead is 1° (or one-aught. This is sometimes written as 1/0), while the smallest class of seed bead is 24/0. The larger size classes come in different names to include “pony beads”, trade beads” and “crow beads”. Smaller classes of seed beads that are above 15° have not been in production since the late 19th century and are considered antiques.
Given the diversity in size, shape and color, seed beads can be used for any number of arts and crafts projects. Whether woven into fabric, string together for a necklace or bracelet or as spacers between other beads, seed beads are a staple of jewelry designer everywhere. Most contemporary seed beads are made within Japan or the Czech Republic. The Japanese version of the seed bead is considered to be more uniform in size, shape and finish. They also have larger holes than their Czech Republic equivalent, although the Czech seed beads are known to come in more styles.