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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Bembe Cote beads are a type of African trade beads popular amongst the Bembe people of Congo. These decorative glass beads were popularly used for trading purposes in Africa during the pre-20th century period, mainly as currency for the exchange of goods, services and slaves. The success of Bembe Cote beads as a form of currency is largely attributed to the high intrinsic value that the people of Africa placed on decorative items. Bembe Cote beads are today available in attractive colors such as deep maroon with each individual bead measuring approximately ½ inches in diameter.
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French Cross Beads are African trade beads with a history dating back to the late 19th century in Africa. French cross beads were made in Venice and commonly used for trading purposes in Africa during the late 1800s and the early 1900s. However, in the late 1960’s French cross beads witnessed a revival when bead traders began to export them from Africa into the United States and Europe.
Today, French cross beads can be found in many expensive private collections around the world. Like other African trade beads, the designs of French cross beads are constantly subjected to ever-changing and dynamic fashion trends, with many of the styles that were available just a couple of years ago being completely out of stock in no time.
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King beads are old Venetian wound and marvered bicone beads. There is a legend behind the naming of these beads which holds that these beads were worn by African Kings and tribal chiefs during the mass importation of African trade beads in the early 1970s. The earliest versions of King beads are dated to the mid 19th century, with their representations having been made on bead sample cards donated by Moses Lewin Levin to the British Museum in 1865. King beads still hold a place of importance in modern African society where they are prominently featured in Dipo Initiation ceremonies held in Ghana, with the yellow King beads being used to symbolize maturity and prosperity. King beads are today available in a wide range of attractive colors, sizes and designs – but always in the bicone shape.
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Dating back to as early as 1915, Vaseline beads are attractive greenish yellow glass beads whose pretty color is attributed to the presence of uranium salts. These beads tend to fluoresce under ultraviolet light and turn a violent green. Later versions of Vaseline beads were made in various attractive colors including bright green, red, amethyst, as well as an opaque blue green which is the color of fine amazonite. These beads are large, faceted and shaped into a rondelle shape or flat disk, with popular jewelry designs featuring both forms on a single strand. Today, Vaseline beads still retain their special significance as highly prized African trade beads.
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The style of White Heart beads was invented around the year 1480, whereby red glass was colored using actual gold. Naturally, because of its value, the gold had to be used sparingly by the bead makers. As such, they instead opted to use cheap color filler for the core of the bead with the red only forming the outer layer. During the years 1480 – 1830, bead makers began using green color to craft these beads. However, after 1830 both yellow and white were commonly used, along with a translucent red coat. After 1860, bead makers stopped using yellow altogether in making White Heart beads and exclusively opted for white color.
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Talisman beads come in attractive colors and are commonly used to make talisman necklaces and bracelets. Talisman beads are believed to carry special traits which could increase the wearer’s good luck, give them courage, strength, speed and even increase their skills in diplomacy. Talisman beads are also believed to be able to stand in for you when bad luck seems to be headed your way, in some instances with the bad luck collecting in your amulet or bracelet, instead of in your person. Traditionally, the amulet or bracelet may then be disposed of at a sacred place once filled with bad luck. However, talisman beads are increasingly popular even amongst those who simply value them for the exquisite attractive jewelry pieces they create.
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Tabular brass beads are more flat than round and were common adornments amongst members of African traditional society. In countries such as Ghana, tabular brass beads were hand made by bead makers from the Ashanti tribe to create one-of-a-kind pieces such as beautiful triangle matched beads crafted from brass through the lost wax technique. What makes each tabular brass bead unique is the fact that a mold is specifically prepared for each bead, which is thereafter destroyed in order to extract the bead. Also hand strung, tabular brass beads are ideal for designing elaborate pieces of jewelry or simply wearing them as they come in the form of necklaces or bracelets.
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