This blog is dedicated to African Beads – about them, where they come from, how they are made, and the regions they come from.
This blog is an expansion of our web-store, Rex’s African Bead Shop (rexbeads.com). If you are interested in purchasing any of the products mentioned here, please visit our store.
Thank You, and enjoy your stay.
Tomato beads are a type of seed bead that was commonly used during the African slave trade in past centuries. Originating from Venice where they were manufactured, tomato beads are large and slightly translucent. They have an irregular rounded shape and may appear in brilliant shades of red and yellow. Largely traded in Ethiopia, tomato beads get their name from their tomato-like shape and served as one of the earliest forms of trade currency in this region. A high intrinsic value was placed on tomato beads as the people of this region, just as everywhere else in Africa, truly valued decorative items such as beads.
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Some wearers of lapis lazuli beads wear them in the belief that the beads will protect them from evil, keep the father in the household safe, as well as attract good fortune. These beads are also believed to bring inner piece, tranquility and happiness, while heightening clarity, concentration and instincts of the wearer. Even if you are not a believer yourself, you may nevertheless enjoy the beauty of lapis lazuli beads which make great looking jewelry items. The beads are available in various attractive sizes and shapes including the top drilled skinny beads, round beads, small chip beads and tear drops which are great for making earrings.
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Aja beads were historically made in Venice in the early 20th century, from drawn glass tubes which were cooled and cut into small slices. Once cut, the slices of drawn cane were thereafter exposed to heat until the glass softened or slumped. This caused the beads to flatten and their hard cut edges to soften and become rounded. Experts speculate that the process of slumping was in actual fact carried out in Africa as there is no evidence of the slumped slices ever being sold in Venice. Aja beads range in size, color and canes with the most spectacular being crafted from Rosetta or chevron cane. These beautiful and somewhat unusual beads are today used to craft exquisite jewelry pieces such as those featuring 4-layer “yellow jacket” slices.
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Batik/ Bone beads are popular in most African countries and are handcrafted from bone and thereafter dyed through the batik method to give them color. The strand and number of beads on your batik/ bone beads jewelry item will vary depending on how you intend to wear it. Necklaces may feature longer raffia strands, while bracelets normally require fewer beads. Beautiful contemporary designs feature batik/ bone beads as focal points for necklaces with antique finishes and superb detailing. Some bead designs today may even feature up to three faces with carvings on both sides. Because each batik/ bone bead is carved by hand, you are assured of wearing a unique, one-of-a-kind piece that no one else has.
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Kiffa beads are rare powder glass beads which acquired their name from Kiffa, a city in Mauritania where they were first documented by French ethnologist R. Mauny in 1949. Kiffa beads represent one of the highest levels of bead making skill, artistry and ingenuity due to the fact that they were created using the simplest tools and materials available, and in open fires. These materials included pulverized European glass beads or their fragments, bottle glass, tin cans, pottery shards, steel needles and some gum Arabic. Decorations for the beads were made from the glass slurry – the crushed glass mixed with a binder and then applied using a pointed tool such as a steel needle. The beads were then placed in small containers such as sardine cans and thereafter heated to fuse them in an open fire, without the need for molds.
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Coptic crosses have a rich history as being popularly worn by Ethiopian Christian converts for over 1,600 years. Their designs vary widely and are indicative of the town or province from which they originate. Most crosses were crafted using the lost wax technique and tend to exhibit elaborate designs showing Latin, Greek, Egyptian and Celtic influences. Generally, the older the Coptic cross, the better its quality of silver. Coptic crosses serve well as exquisite centerpieces for beautiful beaded necklaces. For instance, you may add a Coptic cross to a strand of beautiful Ghana glass beads to produce a charming necklace to dazzle onlookers with.
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Carnelian beads are a type of gemstone jewelry made from carnelian quartz. Carnelian originates from places such as India and China and is used to craft exquisite beads by hand, and in well defined dimensions. Big carnelian beads are comparatively opaque, while the smaller ones appear to be more translucent. These beads appear in colors such as deep orange, red, brown and yellow. The reason for this diversity in the color of carnelian beads is the fact that the bead making procedure involves heating and shaping agate severally. Thereafter, the beads have to be grilled in order to achieve the final desired shape.
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Skunk beads are beautiful wound and decorated African trade beads which create great strands of jewelry items. Originally made in Venice, these beads were commonly used for trading purposes in Africa during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Skunk beads are a must have for every collector worth their salt and today grace many private collections around the world. Because of the increasing popularity of skunk beads amongst bead lovers today, African bead traders now have to go deeper into Africa to find more of these skunk beads which are becoming rarer with each passing decade – which of course makes them even more collectable.
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Heishi beads have a fascinating origin which is linked to the ancient history of the Santo Domingo and San Felipe Pueblo Indians who were most proficient in the crafting of these beads. Experts regard Heishi beads as the oldest form of jewelry in New Mexico and North America, as they pre-date to the period before the introduction of metals. The “heishi” in heishi beads literally means “shell”, with particular reference to the pieces of shell which are drilled and ground into the beads and then strung into necklaces. Today, however, heishi has come to refer to tiny beads made by hand out of any naturally occurring material.
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