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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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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In the 19th – 20th century, Fancy Glass beads – also known as lamp-wound beads, featured as a vital part of the Venetian bead production. These comprised of beautiful beads which were crafted by hand from interesting pieces of glass with spectacular floral designs. Fancy Glass beads are today available in the form of pressed glass beads which take on various colors, shapes and sizes. Some popular Fancy Glass bead shapes for modern jewelry designs include the round, oval and faceted oval beads. Today, Fancy Glass beads can be used to make jewelry items such as bracelets, anklets, chokers and necklaces for both modern women and men with an eye for fashion.
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Button beads are small glass beads which resemble modern buttons, although they do not have a group of central holes. These beads date back to the Etruscan period and the time of the Roman Empire, but later found their way to Syria and Egypt. Button beads are generally very beautiful and boast artistic workmanship. Today as in the past, button beads are used to make exquisite necklaces using these beads entirely, some of which may be cemented together two and two in order to form a single bead. Button beads take on various shapes including circular, flat, oval, plane, convex or convex-concave shapes.
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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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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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