Jewelry from faraway places fascinates us because it carries a history within it. Whether they are trophy jewels, medicinal jewels, offerings, or seductions, they express the heritage of a culture, a social and ritual context, carrying a significance in the materials from which they are composed.
The History of Beads
The term "bead" encompasses all kinds of precious Atones as well as pierced objects of many kinds. From a seed to a pebble, from a bone to a shell, from a claw to a precious stone, including the meleagrine pearl, of course, each one is as beautiful as the next; the imagination of mankind is limitless in this domain.
Since antiquity, with the invention of glass, artisans have endeavored to make all sorts of beads in the most varied shapes, colors, and motifs. From the sepulchers of our ancestors, we have uncovered unsuspected trades that mutt have occurred from the dawn of civilization, in lands that were populated by nomads living off hunting and gathering. Glass beads, which have served as ornamentation since glass was discovered, were also used for trading. They were transported from Sumerian and Egypt, across the desert of Afghanistan and into Mauritania. But, it was in Carthage that the craft of antique beads truly flourished. The Phoenicians perfected the most complex techniques, allowing them to create extraordinary beads in the shape of a head, eyes, mouth, hair, beard, or a turban of contrasting colors.
Fashioned by hand, antique beads were never perfect or regular. The holes for threading were usually very large. Sometimes the holes were not pierced evenly through the center, making them difficult to thread.
When assessing multicolored beads, with motifs, inspect them carefully: the colors should be visible on the inside of the bead, in layers of alternating colors. When the colors or motif appear only on the surface, the bead is not as old.
These clasps (worn down and damaged), made by hand from unfinished materials, along with the date on the coin, help distinguish the antique necklaces from recent imitations of machine-made industrial glass.
A necklace from Nagaland, a northern Indian state and a Zulu bracelet from South Africa. The glass beads from Venice and later from Bohemia used to be amassed and arranged into strands of varying lengths. In certain countries in Africa and Asia, women took over these colorful collections, twilling them into necklaces that were clasped together with a thick piece of hemp and a local coin that looked like a button.
A FORM OF PAYMENT
The beads from Venice or Bohemia were small stones scattered in various colonies by Europeans looking to mollify the local population. In exchange, they received ivory, gold, precious wood, and furs. Today, collectors treasure these beads objects that were once considered cheap.
Beginning in the ninth century, Venice became the capital of the glass techniques that had been inherited from antiquity. Thousands of tons of beads emerged from Venetian workshops to find their way in the world. A universal currency, the small beads made their path across all the commercial routes. Trade beads are the most attractive and the most famous. Westerners (Dutch, Spaniards, English, Portuguese, and French) purchased their slaves for their plantations in the New World from chieftains in Africa in exchange for a certain weight of these colored beads made in Venice, and later in Bohemia. To stock and transport them, the beads were threaded on a String that formed a sort of necklace in varying lengths and weights. Women in India wore these strings of beads as a necklace, joining them together with pieces of braided jute or raffia that are held together by a pierced attachment that ads as a sort of snap.
Jewels from Africa
A land of migration and commerce, Africa is a continent that has been sub-jetted to the influences of many foreign cultures. The ancient world, Byzantium, the Ottoman Empire, and Islam have left behind their customs and experiences as souvenirs in these lands. African jewelry is also an expression of a symbolic language, which is translated through the use of certain materials, colors, and distinct motifs.
While gold and precious Stones often come from Africa, material value is not always the most important quality of their jewels. It is not rare to meet a Maasai warrior displaying rolls of used film or wearing safe, pins covered in glass as earrings. Even colored copper or plastic wires used for electrical net-works are gathered to make necklaces, bracelets, and earrings in Styles that go back to ancient times.
For those who cannot afford gold, there are resins, terra-cotta covered in gold, or even more shocking, gold-plated Straw called "Timbuktu gold." Solid bronze, brass, copper, and other metal alloys are also used, along with natural materials, such as ivory, wood, bone, horns, and elephant hair and skin.
Silverwork, enamel, and filigree are the Specialties of the Maghreb, along with heavy amber necklaces and coral mixed with amulets or large enamel, and carved beads. In the past, young married women in the Maghreb would wear jewelry made of gold or a gold mix, together with beads pressed into a per-fumed pate of ground rose petals, cloves, henna, and musk: the perfume was so Strong that the scent still lingered on their jewelry many years later.
To distinguish antique jewels from those that are manufactured today, look them over for a while. The colors should seem less vivid, the contours of the metallic parts are usually worn down, and the patina of time shows its effects.
Jewels from Asia
Lands of the fabulous jewels, this continent abounds in jewelry that reflects many diverse influences. Animism, totemism, and shamanism have marked the works of artisans over the centuries. Finely worked silver, enamel, filigree, and carvings dominate. The work is decorated with coral, cornelian, and turquoise, crafted in colors that protect and bring luck.
Jewelry in these lands was associated with magic, as it was believed that it could ward off illness, the evil eye, and bad spirits that roamed the region where life was constantly threatened by tribal war-fare and extreme climate conditions.
Jewels from the Americas
The great Amerindian civilizations have left their mark on the jewelry of both North and South America. Their primary materials were shells and Stones (nephrite, jadeite, turquoise, and rock crystal). Workmanship in precious metals, gold, and silver came later, perfected by the pre-Colombian jewelers. They mastered the skills of melting wax, hammering metals, and embossing leather and they showed themselves to be remarkable lapidaries.
The Native Americans who lived in the Amazon forest used materials from their natural environment: feathers, seeds, and bronzed scarabs.
As for the Native Americans of North and Central America, the use of silver, jade, turquoise, and coral allowed them to make the type of jewelry celebrated by Frida Kahlo. Proud of her Mexican heritage, she appeared in voluminous layers of necklaces wherever she went, along with her imposing earrings and bracelets, which she wore with traditional scarves, blouses, and skirts.
The Native Americans of New Mexico have long been famous for jewelry made of silver and Stones, which employs a universal symbolism and magic and blends their native ancestral beliefs with the religion of the conquering Spaniards. From the time that tourism made its entry into their world, their workmanship has felt its impact: silver is now worked with industrial methods, and imitation stones are everywhere. The silver jewelry of yesteryear has become antique, such as the famous conches and leather belts decorated with large silver motifs in the shape of shells embedded with turquoise.
Age does not constitute the only criteria of quality. If you can feel the hand of the artisan in the work—and if it is a skilled one—it is irrelevant when the piece was made. Jewelry must always be acquired because you fall in love with it. Its beauty, appeal, and charm are what you pay for.