A Short History

Beads have been used in most cultures for centuries. They are the earliest known form of art. Archaeological excavations in the Skhul Cave on the slopes of Mount Camel in Israel,  brought to light shell beads which were used as adornment by forefathers of mankind -they were about approximately 100,000 years old and precede other art forms such as carvings and cave paintings.

 

Our ancestors made the first beads from materials found in nature - seeds, berries, feathers, shells, bones. Elaborate pieces have been found on all continents. With time, man began to create beads from precious stones and metal. The biggest breakthrough in bead manufacturing was the discovery of glass. Glas beads have been in existence for over 5000 years.

African beads rewrite the human story?

Watch this 7 minute Inside Africa video
From CNN - Added on May 13, 2013

 

Errol Barnett explores how recent findings show that symbolic behavior began in Southern Africa -- not Europe

Mother Nature's Beads

 

Beads of Clay and Porcelain:

With the advent of pottery, clay beads became popular. Apart from elaborately decorated African clay beads, hand-painted clay and ceramic beads from China and Peru are also famous. The Greeks covered clay beads with glazes to which they added metal oxides, causing the beads to shine in bright colours.

 

Wooden Beads:

They belong to the oldest beads in the world. Beads made from this easily processed material come in all polished and non-polished forms. Precious hand-painted beads come mainly from India. China perfected filigree carving which makes each bead to a unique piece of art.

 

Amber:

This fossilized resin was formed about 40 to 120 million years ago from secretions of "injured" trees. Cut and polished or left in a natural state, these beads have a high value. Copal, a younger form of Amber, has also been used in the creation of jewellery for centuries.

 

Shell and Coral Beads:

Nature has already given shells and corals colour and decoration. In the late Neolithic period, holes were bored into shells which were then strung together in necklaces. Corals grow in warm, shallow waters. Due
to their hardness, people like carving or polishing them. But even in their natural
state they do not fail to fascinate.

 

Genuine Pearls:

The sea gives us wild, or real pearls. They grow in oysters when a foreign body such as a grain of sand has crept in. The oyster secretes mother-of-pearl (calcium carbonate) in layers around the grain of sand. Today, this type of pearl is also cultivated.

 

Horn, Bone and Ivory Beads:

These represent the oldest materials used in the making of jewellery. Horn and bone, in particular that of hoofed animals as well as ivory from mammoths and elephants, have always been used as jewellery. Often, coffee and tea were used as natural dyes.

Beads made of Natural Materials

 

 

About 10.000 years ago, natural ores such as gold, silver and platinum were discovered. Like the alloys bronze (copper and tin) and brass (copper and zinc), gold, silver and platinum serve as base material for beads in all forms and variations. The variety of metal beads is without limit: beads of twisted wire, with enamel coating, with granulate ornaments or delicate smithery work to name just a few.

 

Precious and Semi-Precious Stones are like natural materials. Their extraordinary colours and grain are of a natural beauty. Polishing makes these beads the most valuable. It is also thought that this group prossesses healing properties.

Metal and Stone Beads

 

Manufacturing Metal Beads

 

Punching:

Cutting from a sheet of metal - whole beads, i.e., flat shapes are cut from the sheet of metal. For round, spiral-shaped or polygonal beads, two cut halves are soldered together.

 

Hammering:

Punched beads are worked on with a small hammer to leave small marks in the metal. This creates interesting patterns.

 

Embossed metal:

For this, an instrument into which a pattern was carved is used. When the instrument is pressed onto the metal, the pattern is embossed.

 

Filigree work:

Fne wires are twisted into elaborate patterns and soldered into beads.

 

Surface Treatment:

Coating:

In order to enhance and upgrade ordinary metals, some beads are gold- or silver-plated. It is also possible to use copper, bronze or nickel.

 

Enamel:

Flowers or other attractive patterns are painted onto the beads with enamel colours. This method is used primarily in Asia to decorate beads.

 

Lost Wax Method:

With this old African method, a piece of wax is carved into the desired bead shape and covered with clay or plaster. The design of the bead is now transferred to the clay. By heating it, the wax melts and can be poured out of a hole. Molten metal is then poured into the hollow space. After it has cooled off, the clay or plaster can be removed and the finished bead can be taken out.

 

 

Gemstones - Precious
and Semi-Precious Stones

 

Numerous stones have been used as beads since antiquity. Mined above and below ground, the stone is worked on, shaped and finished with different methods. Carving and polishing play a great role here. Gemstones represent wealth and prosperity, have been used as a currency and are of course also worn as jewellery. In the Bible, gemstones are described as symbols of health and the divine.

 

Formation: During the course of millions of years, countless minerals and crystals emerged from the earth's crust. Pressure, temperature, ground water, chemical reactions and movement of the earth's crust were all instrumental in the creation of gemstones which come in fantastic shapes and colours. Precious stones are very rare and therefore have a very high value.

 

Glass Beads

 

Krobo-Beads:

The base material for the Krobo beads is coloured old glass. Crushed and melted in different shapes, they have an irresistible rough charm. Bead artists in Ghana are masters at this technique.

 

Melted Beads:

Melted beads are made from long glass beads. There are round seed beads, also called rocailles (rocailles = the French word for "small stones"), and longish beads. The shape of the glass rod determines the shape of the bead and the shape of the hole. Melted beads come in an incredible array of colours. They are European in origin and have found their way through trade into traditional clothing and customs of cultures worldwide.

 

Wrapped Beads:

With wrapped beads, molten glass is wrapped around a metal wire. Air bubbles "caught" on the wire cause the unique inner structures.

 

Swarovski Beads:

In 1862, Daniel Swarovski, born in Bohemia, invented a glass polishing machine. Its special technique takes the Swarovski beads to the highest level of sanding.

 

Chevron Beads:

The mother of all beads, the chevron, is also made of glass. They were invented in Venice in the 15th century. Layered glass rods were extended to an extreme length and cut into beads. Repeated heating and whetting create the characteristic zigzag pattern at the edge of the bead.

 

Millefiori Beads:

Millefiori beads belong to the mosaic beads. The Millefiori (a thousand flowers) are created with a special glass-to-glass-sealing technique of glass rods with a cross section pattern which is reminiscent of tiny flowers.

 

Krobo Beads

Glass Bead Mix

Millefiori Beads

Rocaille Beads

Chevron Beads

 

Today, glass beads are an important component in jewellery design. Glass was invented in different countries, independently of each other, notably in India, China and the Middle East and has been in existence for over 5000 years. Silica (sand), an alkali (usually potassium) and a stabilizer such as lime are combined and fired in a furnace at a very high temperature. This versatile material is inexpensive to make, can be formed into any shape as well as be supplemented with a huge variety of colours. Glass can also be recycled by melting down as a basis for production.  Beads are produced by different  methods, yielding a host of very diverse  bead types.

 

 

(c) African Pearls   |   2004 - 2014