Whether you’re a jewelry designer, or a fashion follower, you can’t have failed to notice that neon colors are everywhere right now. From block color statement necklaces to tribal inspired beaded jewelry, neon beads are a bold integration that can really make your jewelry stand out. But they’re no new fad. German chemist Martin Kalproth discovered Uranium in the late 18th Century, and by the mid 1800s, the element was being used by various glass factories in England and Czechoslovakia to produce Uranium art glassware and beads.
It wasn’t until 1905 that the trend for Uranium glassware really began to catch on in Europe – partly due to the extortionate cost of Uranium salts. Bead-makers in Bohemia (modern day Czechoslovakia) experimented extensively with the concentration of Uranium salts, and found that the same fluorescing effect could still be achieved with a concentration of less than 2%. And so Vaseline Beads were born.
Vaseline Beads are allegedly named due to their likeness to petroleum jelly, however, they can be found in a variety of hues ranging from translucent mid-yellow to a milky, pale hue. The real magic occurs when they’re exposed to fluorescent light; the Uranium within reacts, causing them to glow a yellowish neon green. The intensity of the glow largely depends upon the degree of oxidation that occurred when the beads were made.
Uranium is known to be a radioactive substance, however, the amount used to manipulate the color of Vaseline Beads is so minimal, that it is not generally regarded to be hazardous to health. Most beads contain less than 70 Bq/g (Becquerels per gram), meaning they aren’t considered radioactive. That being said, Uranium glass trade beads which pre-date the 20th Century should still be tested using a Geiger counter, as greater quantities of Uranium were previously used.