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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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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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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Olumbo beads are old Czech beads made from glass which were popularly worn by the Nigerian people at the height of African trade in the past centuries. Olumbo beads were part of the selection of African trade beads which were used for purposes of trade by African kings and chiefs while trading in slaves, ivory and other goods with western sea faring merchants as far back as the late eighteenth century. Today, Olumbo beads can be strung on raffia – bead to bead, to create beautiful bracelets and necklaces for the discerning beaded jewelry lover. The beads are usually available in attractive colors such as pink and various other shades of red, but can be found in green.
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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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Dutch Dogon beads are large wound glass beads which get their name from the fact that they were made by Dutch people in the Netherlands and later became popular with the Dogon people of Mali who couldn’t resist their exquisite beauty. Believed to date back as far as the 17th century, these beads were often used in Dutch villages to make garden mosaics, instead of having flowers in the formal gardens during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. This was before they found their way to the shores of West Africa to make jewelry for the Dogon people. Popular colors for Dutch Dogon beads are most often blue but can also be back black, white or brown.
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Today, ring beads have become increasingly popular and are ideal to use as focal points for crafting interesting jewelry projects. These beads are available in a wide variety of materials including metals such as brass, copper and silver and are popularly used in showcasing the natural beauty of these metals. Ring beads take on the form of circular disks with a large central hole quite similar to that found in a Dutch Donut bead. This makes them easy to string because their holes are conventionally-placed. With leather for stringing, you may use a handful of beautiful brass ring beads from Ethiopia to create exquisite ring bead jewelry pieces.
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Watermelon beads are a type of glass beads that was commonly used for trading purposes in West Africa, especially during the centuries preceding the ban on slavery. These beautiful African trade beads were a form of currency and were molded in layers ranging from 2 to 6. Watermelon beads were thin and handmade, thus giving each bead a unique characteristic. The top layer of the beads was green and shaped like a watermelon, thus denoting the watermelon in their name. However, watermelon beads are today also available in striped colors. These beads were of great value in African traditional culture as they were an indicator of rank, age, wealth and social status and today, they are becoming increasingly valuable as well.
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