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The Book of Beads: A Practical and Inspirational Guide to Beads and Jewelry Makingby Janet Coles
All about beads
Present in all cultures and at all times throughout history, beads have a fascinating story which spans the globe. This section explores how beads are made by craftsmen the world over, looks at the areas from which beads originate and examines how beads are used, not only in adornment, but as talismans, as a form of money, and as a show of wealth and power.
How beads are made
Bead making has been a highly valued skill throughout the world from earliest times. In Ancient Egypt bead making was divided into specialist guilds according to the materials and techniques used, and a similar system is at work in modern India. Techniques invented by the Egyptians and Romans are still in use today and many skills have been shrouded in secrecy for centuries: the death penalty was even incurred for divulging trade secrets in Renaissance Venice. Today in Jablonec, the bead center of Czechoslovakia, the export of beads is severely rationed, despite high demand, because in a typical factory there are only 80 skilled workers capable of producing 240 pieces each every day.
Early beads were made from substances used for other purposes: bones from hunted animals and offcuts of stone tools. The rough carving and flaking techniques derived from making other implements. Many beads today are handmade, from sea shells cut and polished on Pacific beaches, to porcelain beads designed specially for the European fashion market.
Once shaped, a bead is pierced to make the hole. A cone-shaped hole, drilled in from both sides, is a sign of great age often seen in Pre-Columbian beads. Hand-wound glass beads are constructed around a metal wire which when removed leaves a hole, as shown in the millefiori beads below. The hole in drawn and blown glass beads is an air bubble, and modern metal, stone, plastic and wooden beads are pierced from one side with an electric or laser drill.
The advent of cheap materials such as glass allowed everyone to wear beads. The Renaissance saw a great increase in mass production for export and today thousands of wooden beads are turned on lathes each hour. The invention of molding produced the perfectly spherical identical bead, easily recognized by a telltale seam between the poles or around the girth. In 1895 Daniel Swarovski invented an automatic process for cutting quantities of quality glass beads. Even today the method is so guarded that workers do not have access to different parts of the factory.
Once shaped most beads are tumbled in a revolving cask to remove the molded seam and smooth or add polish. Substances added to the cask produce different effects: garnet paper or fine sandpaper polishes wood, leather gives a soft shine to plastic. The concentric layers of colored glass in multi-tone beads rub away in different quantities during tumbling to give a two- or three-tone effect. Finishes, from lustering to a coating of iridescence, enhance plain beads and are often added during tumbling.
Color is either part of the bead's material (natural or artificial) or is added after the bead has been made. Oxides are mixed into glass and into the glazes applied to ceramic beads. The grain, coloring and origin of wood is often so disguised by varnishing or staining that even an expert cannot distinguish it. Precious stones are dyed or heat treated to enhance the color. Porous tiger coral, for example, is tinted red with a resin and renamed apple coral.
The origins of beads
Beads have been made on all continents since they first appeared over 40,000 years ago. Initially using local materials, many regions developed specific bead designs and techniques. These spread during times of migration such as under the Roman Empire, with the "discovery" of new continents by explorers such as Marco Polo, and through trading, especially from the 15th century onwards when the world was flooded with European beads. Because of the movement of beads and techniques, the exact origins of a bead and the routes on which it may have traveled can be difficult to trace.
South and Central America have long, sophisticated bead-making traditions. North America's native beads, made from materials such as quill and wampum, were replaced by imported European beads when the continent was colonized.
North America Beads were introduced to the Americas by traders and explorers such as Columbus, whose first act on landing in 1492 was to offer beads to the Arawak Indians. Featured in Indian beadwork are rocailles and bugles, turquoise, coral and silver. True freshwater pearls are found in the Mississippi River basin.
Bead making, present in France since 38,000 BC, flourished with the Romans, Byzantines and Vikings.
Northern Europe British Whitby jet beads, exported since the Roman occupation, were most popular in the Victorian era. Today top quality beads are made from local woods and porcelain. Amber is native to the Baltic coast. Indistinguishable from Venetian glass, many beads were made in Amsterdam circa 1550 - 1750 and imported into Africa and North America.
France In Oyonnax, southern France, the plastic bead trade replaced the 19th-century horn industry. Greece produces silver worry beads and colorful decorated ceramics.
South America Ancient beads from the Pre-Columbian era (before the arrival of Columbus) are highly prized: jade beads from the Mayas and the Olmecs, rock crystal from the Tairona people and gold. Today in parts of Peru intricate ceramic beads are handmade, then glazed and decorated, often incorporating Aztec or Mayan designs, and in Ecuador bright gold glass beads are popular worn in long strings. The South American tropical rain forests provide the raw materials for many expensive wooden beads, including rosewood and kingwood, mahogany and tulipwood.
Glass beads, first developed by the Ancient Egyptians, were brought to Africa from India in about 200 BC by Arab traders and called "trade wind" beads. After 1680 quantities of European glass beads reached the continent. Italy The Roman glass industry evolved into a bead center on the Venetian island Murano, which dominated the world bead trade from the Renaissance. Millefiori, chevron, seed beads and decorated lampwork typify the tradition. The export trade in glass bars explains the similarity between beads from different countries. Coral has been carved for centuries in Naples.
Central Europe Bohemia and Moravia (today belonging to Czechoslovakia) is a glass bead region of reknown, formerly famous for garnet-cutting. The area was settled in the 14th century by Venetians fleeing the Doges. Now the state-run consortium based in the bead center Jablonec specializes in producing cheap cut crystal and lampwork glass beads.
Neu Gablonz in Bavaria is the chief site of the European fashion jewelry industry. Refugee Sudetan German and Jewish glass bead makers, metal workers, cutters and polishers from Jablonec set up in business there after 1945. Agents collect the beads from pieceworkers, and rocailles, cut glass and pressed beads are also made in large factories. Wattens in the Austrian Tyrol is home to Swarovski crystal beads.
African seeds, nuts and beans create cheap jewelry. Carved bone beads have been made for centuries, as nave beads made by hammering sheet metal, drawing metal into fine wire and lost wax casting. Recycled metal or glass beads are popular and powder glass beads, first made in the 16th century, are native to Africa.
Beaded jewelry plays a great part in Indian life, either worn in precious materials or cheap imitations.
India imported European beads in earlier centuries, but now produces vast amounts of well-executed beads in metal, especially low quality silver, lampwork and wound glass, and wood for a fraction of the cost of Venetian and Czech beads. India's natural supplies of semiprecious stones, such as quartz, have been highly valued and traded for centuries.
Japan is the center of the pearl industry and, while it lacks the tradition of the European bead trade, creates fine lampwork. Japanese mass-produced beads include fine quality decorated lampwork, plastic beads in many colors and finishes and decals in the Venetian style. Japan invented the commercial cultured pearl in the early 20th century and now produces 70% of the world's supply. Japan also exports coral, top quality porcelain, highly-sculpted ojime beads, rocailles and seed beads.
Made since the Bronze Age, Chinese beads have been traded worldwide.
The Chinese silk routes were in use from 200 BC to 1,000 AD, exchanging local goods for silver, jade and coral. The Ming dynasty made cloisonne work, and blue and white porcelain dates from the 8th century. Jade (nephrite) from rivers in Khotan, central Asia, has been worn since Neolithic times in China. Many freshwater pearls are Chinese.
THE FAR EAST
Beads mass-made in factories cheaply imitate those from India and Europe. Korea Factories stamp many beads from sheet metal.
The Philippines The center of a thriving jewelry industry, the Philippines produces beads made in shell, horn and bone. The react maker, paid a meager amount, works from home and intermediaries deliver raw materials and collect the beads weekly. Various types of coral are fished off the coast and mother-of-pearl is carved or cut and inlaid as a decoration on beads. Java The rudraksha nut is used in Hindu prayer beads.
The uses of beads
Although our clothes have modified greatly over the centuries, the basic concept of a bead has not. A sign of social standing, wealth, beauty and religious reverence, beads have been serving the same functions in many different cultures from earliest times to the modern day.
BEADS AND PRAYER
The word bead derives from the Anglo-Saxon biddan, to pray, and bede, meaning prayer. Rosaries, a set number of beads for counting prayers, are used by more than half the world's religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Roman Catholicism.
Beads are worn both as a show of wealth and a form of currency. Henry VIII's 98-ounce gold chain represented regal power and could be sold off in times of trouble as each link was worth one monetary unit. Nomadic tribes from the East African Turkana to the Visigoths in 4th to 8th century Europe have worn their wealth in beads to suit a traveling lifestyle. A cowrie shell belt on some Pacific islands is a currency and, like a diamond, increases in value as it changes hands.
Beads and beaded jewelry worn as status symbols can indicate wealth, rank, age, marital status, and station in society. Beads communicate different societies' values especially in Africa, where a Zulu girl's beaded love letter to her sweetheart is a complex language of colored beads and there are 40 words for different types of Maasai beadwork.
Beads have played a talismatic role in many cultures. As a source of luck and protection, and to appease spirits, they adorned rich and poor alike either in costly or cheap materials. Beads were scattered on crops in Asia to bring a good harvest, a Filipino wedding cup contains a bead, and each semi-precious stone is said to have therapeutic qualities which pass to the wearer.
BEADS AND TRADING
For centuries beads have been traded for precious commodities by sea or land. From the 15th to the 19th century beads at the forefront of world sea trade were exchanged for gold, ivory, palm oil and even slaves in a profit-making venture bound up in colonization. Thousands of European beads passed into Africa, Asia and the Americas.
THE IMPACT OF EUROPEAN BEADS
Beads were not only an exchange rate, but initiated new styles of adornment, and the bright colors and new materials replaced indigenous beads. North American Indians, who previously worked with wampum shell and quill, created a breathtaking variety of intricate beadwork with European beads.
In the West, where the medieval church frowned on forms of adornment, it was not until the 16th century, when Queen Elizabeth I and other female sovereigns were in power, that bead jewelry was worn by women as well as men to enhance beauty and as a sign of status. From the Renaissance beads were sewn onto clothing, and the embroidery beads, rocailles and bugles, have become a staple of glamorous fashion garments.
MODERN TRENDS IN BEADS
With the advent of a 19th-century middle class market for beads came new materials and techniques, such as steel, cast iron and plastics, enabling more people to wear jewelry. At the end of the 19th century art nouveau introduced a new breed of makers. Louis Comfort Tiffany invented luminous antique-style "fumed" glass; Reno Lalique used beads and stones for their beauty, not their value. In 1925 art deco abstract geometric and Oriental shapes in strong colors and experimented with non-precious materials.
Copyright © 1990 by Dorling Kindersley Limited, London
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