BEAD DICTIONARY: THE LETTER A

INTRODUCTION

In the late 1990s, Penny Diamanti, Joyce Diamanti and Robert K. Liu started working on a Bead Dictionary. Around 2009, after much work by the Diamantis, the Bead Dictionary was posted on the Beadazzled website. Through the years, additions were made by Beadazzled. In the summer of 2018, when the Washington DC Beadazzled store and its website closed, the Bead Dictionary was offered to Ornament. This is a unique resource, especially rich for information on beads of ethnographic and ancient origins. As Ornament has only a staff of three, we are slowly reposting it on our website, updating or expanding some of the entries and are adding search features, links and references as time permits. The Bead Dictionary covers primarily beads and other perforated ornaments, but also tools and materials used by those who make jewelry utilizing beads. Photographs from the Ornament archives are being added, as well as new images taken expressly for the Bead Dictionary and others are being brought up to current standards, as many of these images are almost 30 years old. Original photography was by Robert K. Liu, while Cas Webber did additional photos for Beadazzled, noted in the captions as RKL or CW, after first captions.

This Dictionary of Beads is a labor of love and a work in progress. We welcome your comments and suggestions through the Contact link. To navigate, select from the visual index above to jump to the letter you want in the Dictionary, but give the page a little time to load first. To get back to the top and select another letter use the arrow button. We are continuously adding to the Dictionary, so check back often. 

To search for keywords in Dictionary headings, use your browser's search function; for example in Internet Explorer use Control+F and in Apple Command+F, then type in your keyword. We hope you enjoy this (not-so-tiny) treasure, and learn more about the vast world of Beads.


INDEX


AB Finish

This iridescent finish used on glass and plastic beads is named after the colorful lights seen in northern skies, the aurora borealis, or AB for short. The finish is also called rainbow.  

AB beads may be any color and are usually monochromatic and transparent, but they may also be matte or even pearlized, as well as striped or silver-lined. Beads are given an AB finish by passing them through vaporized metal ions. This process leaves a thin deposit on their surface of tiny metallic particles, which break up light waves into the colors of the spectrum, much as water droplets refract sunlight to create a rainbow. This iridescent play of light causes the underlying color of the beads to shift, sometimes considerably. 

AB finish is widely used on seed beads and bugles; Czech molded glass beads, both smooth and faceted; plastic plain and fancy shapes; and cut glass crystals.

See Also: Fumed Glass Iris Finish Swarovski Crystal

 

Glass seed beads with AB finish. Photo: Cas Webber

Glass seed beads with AB finish. Photo: Cas Webber

Czech firepolished beads, smallest have AB finish. Photo: Robert K. Liu

Czech firepolished beads, smallest have AB finish. Photo: Robert K. Liu


Abalone Shell

Mother-of-pearl from the nacreous lining of abalone shells has been used to make beads and ornaments since prehistoric times. Abalone is a marine mollusk of the genus Haliotis with worldwide distribution. Species native to California coastal waters produce beautiful blue- and green-hued iridescent nacre. Their shells were traded near the Pacific Ocean and then trekked by foot far inland, to the deserts and high plateaus of the Southwest in pre-Columbian times.  

There the Anasazi and other Native American artisans cut abalone shell into thin disk beads and geometric pendants, and crafted inlaid and mosaic ornaments combining shell with other precious materials, such as jet and turquoise. Contemporary abalone shell beads and pendants made in the Philippines also often feature inlay and mosaic work.  

The abalone produces pearls as well, usually small, in shades of blue to greenish yellow.

See Also: Mother-of-Pearl Pearls Shell Beads

 

Abalone shell pendant. CW

Abalone shell pendant. CW


Abo

This Hausa term for bauxite beads is widely used by West Africa traders. Abo refers to the weathered reddish soils from which bauxite is formed and which make up the dusty earth of much of Africa.

See Also: Bauxite Beads

Bauxite or abo beads from Ghana; bauxite is an aluminum bearing ore. CS

Bauxite or abo beads from Ghana; bauxite is an aluminum bearing ore. CS


Adjagba Beads

Also called azagba, zagba, or adjaba, these large powder glass beads are made by the Krobo people of Ghana. Usually formed in clay molds, the beads measure up to 5 cm long and range from nearly cylindrical to barrel shaped, and sometimes biconical. Adjagba typically have a yellow or ochre matrix with a grainy texture, which is decorated with longitudinal stripes, often twisted into spirals, in black, blue, green, brown, or red. Occasionally the beads are further embellished with spots, circles, or equatorial bands. The designs are made by funneling contrasting colors of powdered glass into the mold or inserting pre-formed glass elements.  

Adjagba beads—especially older ones—are treasured by the Krobo and worn on important occasions, such as the Dipo ceremony. Then girls reaching marriageable age are adorned with the family’s finest beads to celebrate their puberty. 

When Krobo beadmakers created adjagba they may have been inspired by the colorful striped glass beads from Venice that flooded the African market in the 19th century. But could it be the other way around? The entrepreneurial Venetians were masters at designing beads to appeal to the traditional tastes of their customers.


See Also: Akoso Beads Bodom Beads Krobo Beads Powder Glass Beads

 

Assortment of Ghanaian powder glass beads, primarily adjagba types, many with cruciform decorations and preformed elements, both indigenous and European. Largest bead ca. 5 cm long. Courtesy: Picard Collection. RKL

Assortment of Ghanaian powder glass beads, primarily adjagba types, many with cruciform decorations and preformed elements, both indigenous and European. Largest bead ca. 5 cm long. Courtesy: Picard Collection. RKL


Afghan Ancient Hardstone Beads

In the 20th century, beautiful ancient stone beads from Afghanistan became available to collectors. These included materials that were regarded as precious in antiquity—lapis lazuli and hardstones, such as agates and rock crystals—as well as stones or minerals that were attractive for their patterns or grains, which were enhanced by ancient lapidaries.  

This continually war-torn country probably did not produce all these beads; neighboring Pakistan and India, who were also beadmakers in ancient times, likely produced some of them. Afghanistan was, however, the source of the tabular and lenticular beads, which showcase the beauty of the stones, many of which are translucent. The coveted long bicone beads, as well as leech beads, also came from Afghanistan. In addition, Afghanistan was a source of etched carnelians of various types and even some shell beads.  

The beads shown in these images range in age from the Neolithic Period to Islamic times and measure from 0.8 to 6.7 cm long. Many of the tabular and lenticular beads date to the third millennium BC. Today beautiful replicas divert collectors from the pursuit of these ancient beads by providing the market with beads having the attractive shapes of these ancient Afghan tabular and leech beads.

See Also: Agate Carnelian Etched Agate Beads Etched Carnelian Beads Hardstone Beads Lapis Lazuli Leech Beads Lenticular Shell Beads Tabular Beads

Strand of ancient hardstone beads from Afghanistan, primarily tabular, with modern stringing; note the beauty of the stone patterns as revealed by their ancient makers. RKL

Strand of ancient hardstone beads from Afghanistan, primarily tabular, with modern stringing; note the beauty of the stone patterns as revealed by their ancient makers. RKL

Array of ancient stone beads from Afghanistan, primarily hardstones, including two leech beads to the bottom right and a long bicone of the type made by Harappans. RKL

Array of ancient stone beads from Afghanistan, primarily hardstones, including two leech beads to the bottom right and a long bicone of the type made by Harappans. RKL

Assortment of ancient stone and shell beads from Afghanistan, including etched beads, agate and carnelian. Note lapis beads, including spacer, very clear quartz crystal bead showing perforation and quartz crystal, pierced at top as pendant. RKL

Assortment of ancient stone and shell beads from Afghanistan, including etched beads, agate and carnelian. Note lapis beads, including spacer, very clear quartz crystal bead showing perforation and quartz crystal, pierced at top as pendant. RKL


Afghan Beads

In ancient times, as it is today, Afghanistan was the source of the world’s most beautiful lapis lazuli. But other stones including carnelian, crystal, serpentine, jaspers and various quartz hardstones were also cut and polished in Afghanistan.  

Metalworking, too, has a long history in Afghanistan and several different nomadic groups evolved distinctive beads and pendants. Among these the most famous are the Turkoman or Turkmen who produced a stunning array of jewelry for humans and animals featuring silver, often with fire-gilding, set mostly with carnelian stones.  

Ongoing warfare has severely impacted everyone in Afghanistan, harming among other things, all parts of the bead industry from mining to beadmaking. Today, many traditional Afghan beads that reach western markets are produced by refugees in Pakistan. Among the most popular are replicas of ancient stone beads from the region in semi-matte carnelian, lapis, turquoise, and a green serpentine we know as olive jade.

See Also: Agate Carnelian Etched Agate Beads Etched Carnelian Beads Hardstone Beads Lapis Lazuli Leech Beads Lenticular Shell Beads Tabular Beads

Strand of ancient stone beads from Afghanistan, collected in the 1960s by David K. Liu, of non-precious stones but note excellent crafting. Loose beads are also ancient, from the 1980s, courtesy of the late J. L. Malter. RKL

Strand of ancient stone beads from Afghanistan, collected in the 1960s by David K. Liu, of non-precious stones but note excellent crafting. Loose beads are also ancient, from the 1980s, courtesy of the late J. L. Malter. RKL

Closeup of ancient carved shell beads and pendants from Afghanistan; the Y-shaped pendants in the center are about 0.9cm long. Courtesy of Maryev and the late Dr. Boyd Walker. RKL

Closeup of ancient carved shell beads and pendants from Afghanistan; the Y-shaped pendants in the center are about 0.9cm long. Courtesy of Maryev and the late Dr. Boyd Walker. RKL

Two contemporary Afghan beads from 2000, one of snowflake obsidian, versus two ancient ones, lower one of fossilized coral; largest 5.1 cm long. Courtesy of Beadazzled. RKL

Two contemporary Afghan beads from 2000, one of snowflake obsidian, versus two ancient ones, lower one of fossilized coral; largest 5.1 cm long. Courtesy of Beadazzled. RKL

Ethnographic silver beads, components, amulet and necklace from Afghanistan; necklace uses shell and coral beads. RKL

Ethnographic silver beads, components, amulet and necklace from Afghanistan; necklace uses shell and coral beads. RKL


African Amber

Along with chevrons and Venetian millefiori beads, African amber is among the most popular of beads from the African trade. It is also among the most misunderstood. The large oblate, round, cylindrical and diamond-shaped beads command high prices in African markets because they are still highly valued locally, as they have been for at least 100 years. When Americans discover that the beads are not actually amber they often feel they have been cheated. This, however, is not the case.  

The situation is similar to the phenomenon of “cultural jades” in south and Central America. There, jade is the most highly revered and valued stone, however, the definition of jade is not as narrow as our own gemological one. Especially among the Maya, any hard greenish stone was accepted as jade regardless of whether it was technically nephrite or jadite—the only two stones we accept as true jade.  

Similarly, the synthetic amber imported into Africa primarily during the 19th century was accepted by Africans from Mali and Mauritania to Morocco and the Sudan. Carved into different shapes for each region, the beads have strong social significance and aesthetic appeal. Handed down for generations, some specimens have even been lovingly repaired with brass, copper, or silver wire, attesting to their worth and importance to their owners. Women, especially among the Dogon people of Mali, consider their amber beads to be an investment. 

East African amber beads found in Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt are mostly cylindrical, sometimes with rounded ends. In Mali and among the Berbers of Morocco, oblate and almost round shapes are most popular for necklaces. The wealthy Fulani of Mali wear amber beads of all shapes as hair ornaments. From Mauritania come the distinctive diamond-shaped beads, sometimes drilled in two or even three directions and/or decorated with carved designs. 

Despite the fact that the material is a synthetic (Bakelite or similar), and not a million-year-old tree resin, older African amber maintains its value and appeal. The best specimens are a dark honey color, quite heavy and opaque, often with a few fine black crack lines that enhance rather than diminish their desirability for collectors.  Cheap modern amber imitations are lighter in weight, lighter and brighter in color, and more translucent exhibiting swirling patterns in the plastic. These beads were adopted by Africans for whom the valuable original African amber beads were financially out of reach, and they were sold to tourists who didn’t know the difference. Today Indonesia, and possibly China, produce much better quality imitations of the original African amber. Generally not designed to deceive anyone, these attractive beads come in oblate, round, and cylindrical shapes and are marketed as “resin”. They are much less costly than the original African amber beads, but because they are new and plentiful they are also less valuable to collectors.

See Also: Amber Burmese Amber Amber Amber Imitations

Superb strand of copal and amber from Morocco, maximum size of beads 5.8 cm wide; note repair to beads by binding with metal wire or bands, or with corrugated staples. Courtesy of Wind River. RKL

Superb strand of copal and amber from Morocco, maximum size of beads 5.8 cm wide; note repair to beads by binding with metal wire or bands, or with corrugated staples. Courtesy of Wind River. RKL

Two bakelite beads imitating copal or amber. CW

Two bakelite beads imitating copal or amber. CW

Amber bead from Mali that has been repaired with wire staples. RKL

Amber bead from Mali that has been repaired with wire staples. RKL


African Beads

Beads traded to Africa, including Bohemian glass rings, Venetian millifiore and chevrons, with strand of powder glass Kiffa beads from Mauritania, made only by women. CW

Beads traded to Africa, including Bohemian glass rings, Venetian millifiore and chevrons, with strand of powder glass Kiffa beads from Mauritania, made only by women. CW

This vast category of beads includes beads made in Africa of organic materials (coconut shell, clam and ostrich eggshell, snake and fish vertabrae, etc.) metal (Akan brass and gold, Ethiopian and Tuareg silver, copper, and brass) glass (powder glass, Kiffa, recycled glass) stone (amazonite, granite, bauxite, etc.) and more. In addition, beads traded primarily from Europe and adopted by Africans are now part of the bead wealth exported from Africa through a network of bead traders. European contributions to the African bead trade include Venetian lampworked and millefiori trade beads, Bohemian pressed glass beads, German stone beads, French Prosser beads, seed beads, and more.
 
See Also: Chevron Beads Kiffa Beads Annular Beads Trade Beads African Amber African Recycled Glass Beads African Shell Beads Venetian Lampworked Beads Venetian Mosaic Beads Venetian Trade Beads Pressed Glass Beads Ashanti Gold



African Recycled Glass Beads

The Krobo people of Ghana have a long history of making beads from recycled glass. The tradition of powder glass beadmaking has now been joined by wound glass beads and beads made with technologies unique to this area. In Nigeria, bottles are cold-worked, by regrounding and perforating to make pendants.

See Also: Powder Glass Beads, Bida Beads

Recycled powder glass beads made by Krobo of Ghana in West Africa. CW

Recycled powder glass beads made by Krobo of Ghana in West Africa. CW

Cylindrical African powder glass beads. RKL

Cylindrical African powder glass beads. RKL


African Shell Beads

Shells have been popular bead materials since earliest times. In Africa, several types of shell beads have been used. Along the west coast flat disc-shaped “heishi” beads were made from clam shells, further inland very similar beads were made from large snail shells, while among the Turkana people of Kenya and the San (or Bushmen) of southern African, ostrich egg shells were used for heishi. Small to medium size snail shells and the ubiquitous cowrie shells are perforated and strung whole. Larger shells, cut into rectangular pieces, have been marketed as “hippo teeth”, while slices off the tips of conus shells are popular as protective hair ornaments in Mauritania and among the Berber people of Morocco.

See Also: Clamshell Disk Beads Coconut Shell Disk Beads Conus Shell Cowrie Shell Disk Beads Heishi Hippo Teeth Ostrich Eggshell Disk Beads Snail Shell Disk Beads

Ostrich egg shell disk beads. CW

Ostrich egg shell disk beads. CW

Beautiful strand of conus shell disks, strung as opposing pairs; such ornaments were probably never used like this. Courtesy of the late Rita Okrent. RKL

Beautiful strand of conus shell disks, strung as opposing pairs; such ornaments were probably never used like this. Courtesy of the late Rita Okrent. RKL

Closeup of a strand of Arca shell beads, showing obverse and reverse sides; the bead to the lower left is a glass copy. These are known in the trade as hippo teeth, although these do not resemble the teeth of that aquatic animal. Glass copies were made by Europeans, probably Czech; they are flat on their reverse sides. RKL

Closeup of a strand of Arca shell beads, showing obverse and reverse sides; the bead to the lower left is a glass copy. These are known in the trade as hippo teeth, although these do not resemble the teeth of that aquatic animal. Glass copies were made by Europeans, probably Czech; they are flat on their reverse sides. RKL


African Turquoise

More green than blue, this stone, found in Africa, ranges in hardness from 5 to 8 on the Mohs scale and is a good example of a double-named bead. Usually a double name is a warning that the stone in question is not what its second name implies. African turquoise is not related to turquoise, the stone so beloved in ancient Egypt, the Himalayan countries, and the American southwest. 

Rectangular pendant of African turquoise. CW

Rectangular pendant of African turquoise. CW


Agate

The chameleon of gemstones, agate has been prized by beadmakers since Neolithic times for the beauty of its myriad colors and patterns. Also valued for its toughness, this variety of chalcedony, a fine-grained form of quartz, is excellent for cutting and carving because of its fibrous structure. 

Agate is made up of layers of microcrystals that range from translucent to opaque and may be similar or variegated in color. Agate is usually formed in cavities in volcanic rock, where silica-rich water builds up successive crystalline layers of variable thickness that line the walls of the cavity. In cross section, an agate nodule displays concentric bands that may be circular, wavy, or angular, depending on the contours of the cavity. The colors of the layers—most commonly white, gray, and brown tones, but also shades of yellow, pink, green, and blue—are due to mineral impurities. 

If layers of agate do not fill a cavity completely, large quartz crystals may grow in the center of the nodule, forming a geode. When quartz microcrystals form in organic material, pseudomorphic agate may result, which takes on the shape and structure of ancient plants or animals as agate replaces substances such as wood or bone through the process of fossilization. 

The markings of ornamental agates have given rise to many descriptive names (sometimes misnomers), such as eye agate, snakeskin agate, and crazy lace agate. The zigzag bands of fortification agate evoke the walls of a medieval bastion. Iris agate displays rainbow hues, while fire agate glows with a reddish iridescence.  

Moss agate and its variants—tree agate, feather agate, cloud agate, even landscape agate—are technically not agates; rather, they are chalcedony with patterns that are due, not to banding, but to dendritic, or branchlike, inclusions that can create remarkable pictorial effects. 

Chalcedony marked by straight, parallel bands of strongly contrasting white and black or dark brown is called onyx; a similar variety with white and reddish brown layers is called sardonyx.  Throughout history, agate beads and ornaments have been treasured not only for adornment but also as talismans. The folk wisdom of various cultures has endowed agate with a multitude of powers—to protect against the evil eye, cure fevers and insomnia, ward off lightning, increase a wearer’s oratorical skill, and quench thirst. Thus generations of camel drivers have sucked on agates as they cross the desert. 

Today agate is the gemstone most commonly used for beads, but in antiquity it was a rare and precious material. Finely worked stone beads used in necklaces, armlets, and anklets found in Neolithic graves in Anatolia attest to a well-established long-distance trade in agate as early as 7000 BC. Later, agate from India and Afghanistan was traded over thousands of miles to Mesopotamia, classical Rome, Central Asia, and China. Around 2000 BC spectacular agate ornaments—a long curving leech bead capped in gold, a dark luminous eye bead almost 4 across—were buried with their owners in the royal Sumerian graves at Ur. The finest agate beads of the ancient world, however, come from northern Afghanistan; dating from the 3rd millennium BC, they are masterfully cut in rhomboid or ellipsoid shapes, with lenticular cross sections, to reveal the beauty of their natural colors and patterns. 

In pre-Hispanic America, from around AD 800 to the early 1500s, the Tairona, renowned goldsmiths of ancient Colombia, also worked agate, incorporating the stone’s markings into the design of beads and animal amulets.  

Before the present era, agate nodules and finished beads from India found their way via Arab traders to eastern and northern Africa and thence inland. This trading pattern grew dramatically with the growth of the Indian lapidary industry around Cambay from 1300. Two enduring agate shapes in the African market are triangular pendants, culminating in the talhakimt prized by the Tuareg, and shield-shaped Muslim amulets, known as Babaghoria pendants. In the 19th century, German lapidaries, working stone imported from South America, reproduced these motifs and created new designs, and Idar-Oberstein soon superseded Cambay to become the largest supplier of agate beads and ornaments to Africa. 

Agate occurs worldwide, but Brazil and Uruguay now constitute the largest commercial source, producing an abundance of drab gray agate devoid of distinctive markings. Like all chalcedony, however, agate is porous and can be color enhanced by the application of various solutions and heating. So finished agates are often not their natural color today. 

Although the Germans perfected techniques for treating gemstones, they did not invent them. The artificial enhancement of agates is an ancient practice. Some four thousand years ago Harappans in the Indus Valley darkened banded agate to create the striking contrasts of onyx. The famous Himalayan dZi bead, long revered in Tibet, is agate that has been “etched” to accentuate its banding. In Roman times agates were not only dyed but imitated in glass. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Czech glassmakers raised the simulation of agate and other gemstones to a high art. 

See Also: Afghan Ancient Hardstone Beads Babaghoria Agate Pendant Banded Agate Blue Lace Agate Botswana Agate Cambay Carnelian Chalcedony Crazy Lace Agate dZi Beads Etched Agate Beads Etched Carnelian Beads Eye Agate Eye Beads Fossilized Bead Material


Array of beautiful ancient agate tabular beads, most probably second to third millenium BCE, from the Middle East. Note the beautiful banding and patterns. RKL

Array of beautiful ancient agate tabular beads, most probably second to third millenium BCE, from the Middle East. Note the beautiful banding and patterns. RKL

Array of vintage carnelian and agate beads, with colors enhanced by their makers, from Idar Oberstein in Germany. Note the precision of these wheel ground beads, with blanks usually cut by core drills. RKL

Array of vintage carnelian and agate beads, with colors enhanced by their makers, from Idar Oberstein in Germany. Note the precision of these wheel ground beads, with blanks usually cut by core drills. RKL

Old or vintage Indian made small carnelian bead and pendants, with much lapidary grinding. RKL

Old or vintage Indian made small carnelian bead and pendants, with much lapidary grinding. RKL


Agate Glass

Developed in the Bohemian pressed glass making centers of Europe, agate glass was designed to mimic stone beads. White and black glass was partially mixed with various colors to form swirls and bands. In addition to mimicking agates, malachite and other stones, colors never found in nature were also used: bright yellow, purple, blues, etc. This glass was often molded into shapes that replicated desirable stone beads, and the results exported to Africa, the Middle East and India where they were traded for commodities. Some of the most striking examples of agate glass in Africa are seen in collections of lightbulb-shaped beads also known as wedding beads or don don sole.  

Examples of agate glass can be found in vintage German pressed glass beads and in contemporary Czech glass production which, due to popular demand, has been reviving old color recipes and molds.  

See Also: Fulani Wedding Beads Don Don Sole Druks Pressed Glass Beads

Tabular vintage European pressed/molded tabular pendants, called Fulani Wedding beads in the trade. CW

Tabular vintage European pressed/molded tabular pendants, called Fulani Wedding beads in the trade. CW

Assortment of vintage European press/molded glass drop pendants of varying sizes, some simulating stone. RKL

Assortment of vintage European press/molded glass drop pendants of varying sizes, some simulating stone. RKL

Array of European pressed glass beads and pendants. RKL

Array of European pressed glass beads and pendants. RKL


Aggrey Beads

The identification of the famed aggrey beads of Africa has been a subject of much heated debate and has not yet been settled by a comprehensive study, although several manuscripts written by American bead researchers exist. Yanagida, a Japanese journalist, has published a small paper showing some possible candidates for the aggrey, or akori beads and Busch has published a plausible identity for these elusive beads. Other names for possible aggrey beads are cori or segi, but the distinguishing characteristic is the display of dichroism, evident when these drawn beads are viewed under both reflected- and trans-illumination. Many have a corded surface. Those shown here are monochrome blue glass under reflected light and are somewhat different from those of essentially the same color but possessing inlaid red stripes, which some regard as a good candidate for the real aggrey bead.

An array of dichroic, corded beads from Nigeria (6 medium blue on the right) and their Czech imitations on the left; the longest are 1.5 cm. The imitations are pressed or molded and are not of dichroic glass. RKL

An array of dichroic, corded beads from Nigeria (6 medium blue on the right) and their Czech imitations on the left; the longest are 1.5 cm. The imitations are pressed or molded and are not of dichroic glass. RKL

Various dichroic glass segi/koli/cori beads from Africa, under reflected light. RKL

Various dichroic glass segi/koli/cori beads from Africa, under reflected light. RKL

The same array of Nigerian dichroic glass beads photographed with both reflective and transiluminated light; the beads are now greenish-yellow, instead of varying shades of blue under only reflective light. RKL

The same array of Nigerian dichroic glass beads photographed with both reflective and transiluminated light; the beads are now greenish-yellow, instead of varying shades of blue under only reflective light. RKL


Akoso Beads

Also called akosu or akossou, these beads are members of the prestigious family of powder glass beads produced in Ghana in West Africa. Akoso beads are made by the Krobo and possibly the Ewe peoples, who value them highly and attribute to them amuletic powers.    

Akoso are typically large cylindrical or barrel-shaped beads (up to 5 cm long). They consist of a crude granular core that is encased in a thin coat of finer yellow glass, which is decorated with preformed glass elements. The core, which may or may not be dark, is made of crushed scrap glass. Traditionally, the yellow outer coating was made of ochre-colored Venetian glass beads that were ground to a fine powder. These 19th-century trade beads were expensive, however, so Krobo beadmakers mixed the powder with pulverized white glass from cold cream jars—a combination that gives akoso beads a creamy hue. 

Crisscrossed loops and figure 8s are the defining designs of akoso beads. They may appear to be trailed or impressed decorations, but they are, in fact, prefired plates bearing these designs. These preformed elements were placed against the inner wall of a vertical mold before it was filled with powdered glass and prepared for firing. Akoso beads often also exhibit circular eyes, which sometimes have a European bead, such as a green heart or a white heart, embedded in the center. Occasionally the beads are embellished with longitudinal stripes or a band around the equator. Beads that display these characteristic akoso motifs but also share some of the distinctive patterns and/or shapes of bodom beads are called akoso-bodom.    

The applied decorations are made of colored glass mainly in shades of brick red, green, and dark brown, but also black and, more rarely, blue. These colors appear to have been obtained primarily from Venetian lampworked beads as well as from European pony and seed beads, which were pulverized in great quantities—until the 1980s. Then ceramic colorants came on the market in Ghana and brought an end to this costly practice.     

Some researchers date akoso beads to the mid-1800s, when Venetian trade beads were arriving in West Africa by the boatload. Others have placed these powder glass beads much earlier, while still others say there is no evidence for them before 1900. The beads shown in the second image below were made on different continents by different methods, but it is clear they are remarkably similar. We do not know exactly when these beads were made, however, and it is not yet clear whether Ghanaian beadmakers were imitating Venetian glass beads when they created powder glass akoso beads, or whether the Venetians created lampworked beads that look like akoso beads to cater to an existing market

See Also: Adjagba Beads Bodom Beads Krobo Beads Powder Glass Beads

An akoso powder glass bead, with a worn surface, so that the gray glass core shows partially; it is decorated with preformed glass threads. See Ornament issue 25 (2), Winter 2001, still available as a printed copy or pdf for detailed information on African powder-glass beads. RKL

An akoso powder glass bead, with a worn surface, so that the gray glass core shows partially; it is decorated with preformed glass threads. See Ornament issue 25 (2), Winter 2001, still available as a printed copy or pdf for detailed information on African powder-glass beads. RKL

Assortment of Akoso beads, including five Venetian lampworked imitations on the right upper strand. The real akoso beads have preformed decorations of varying widths and colors. RKL

Assortment of Akoso beads, including five Venetian lampworked imitations on the right upper strand. The real akoso beads have preformed decorations of varying widths and colors. RKL


Alexandrite

A gem variety of chrysoberyl, named after Tzar Alexander II of Russia, that appears green in daylight and red in artificial light. Also a type of glass that changes color from light blue to light lavender depending on the type of light.


Alloy Beads

The alloys most commonly used for beads include sterling silver, the combination of pure silver and copper; brass, the marriage of copper and zinc; and bronze; the blending of copper and tin. The newly patented sterling silver alloy called Argentium adds germanium to the mix of silver and copper to produce a metal similar to sterling silver, except that it resists tarnishing and does not produce firescale when soldered. Alpaca is a South American base-metal alloy, similar to nickel silver or German silver, none of which actually contain any silver. 

See Also: Metal Beads Argentium Alpaca Silver Nickel Silver German Silver

Brass or bronze lost-wax cast beads made from reclycled metal in Ghana. CW

Brass or bronze lost-wax cast beads made from reclycled metal in Ghana. CW


Alpaca Silver

An alloy of nickel, zinc, copper and iron that does not rust or tarnish easily. It is widely used for relatively inexpensive jewelry and beads made in Peru. The metal is similar to nickel silver, which might also contain tin, lead or cadmium, and German silver, which does not contain iron.


Alphabet Beads

Beads that feature letters of the alphabet stamped or painted onto the faces of the beads. These beads are usually coin- or cube-shaped and may be made of glass, plastic, clay or porcelain, and base- or precious metals.


Aluminum

As a material for beads, aluminum is quite unusual. The lightweight, relatively soft silvery material is, however, popular among the Gabbra people of Kenya in East Africa. Traditionally they have created massive collars and long necklaces of aluminum beads said to have been made from old aluminum pots that were melted down. The beads appear to have been forged or hammered into traditional shapes including cubes, cornerless cubes, short cylinders and bicones. 

In the United States, some short sections of brightly colored anodized aluminum tubing are available as beads. The finish on these beads is quite durable, but the large hole-size and limited shape options reduces their appeal for most bead enthusiasts.

Cast and/or forged aluminum beads from East Africa. RKL

Cast and/or forged aluminum beads from East Africa. RKL


Amazonite Beads

Contemporary amazonite beads. Cas Webber

Contemporary amazonite beads. Cas Webber

Microcline, a form of alkali feldspar comes in a variety of colors, but the light aqua version called amazonite is the one most often used in jewelry. India produces much of the world’s supply, but amazonite is also found in Brazil, Madagascar, Namibia, Zimbabwe, the USA, and Canada. Measuring 6 on the Mohs scale of hardness, Russian amazonite is often a brighter color than amazonite from other areas and is sometimes streaked with whitish inclusions.  

Ancient gray-green Amazonite beads have been collected in Mauritania, although we don’t know where the material was mined. The holes in these beads are conical, with large openings at the ends where the perforations begin, but only a tiny passage connects the two channels where they meet in the center of the bead. This indicates that the beads were most likely perforated by grinding with abrasives, rather than drilling and is evidence of their great age. Ancient Egyptians used amazonite in jewelry so it’s possible that some of the material was transported across the Sahara to Mauritania. In pre-Colombian South- and Central America, amazonite served as a form of “cultural jade”—a stone that was valued and revered as jade even though it was neither jadeite nor nephrite.  

In crystal healing, amazonite is said to stimulate the heart chakra, awakening compassion, and the throat chakra, encouraging us to speak our truth. Also known as the stone of harmony and peace, amazonite is believed to help in communicating true thoughts and feelings while helping us see any issue from both sides. Amazonite supports both dreaming and meditation.

Four inner strands of amazonite beads, most likely ancient; outer strand contains amber and glass beads, as well as ancient amazonite pendants. Amazonite beads can be found in Mali and Mauritania. RKL

Four inner strands of amazonite beads, most likely ancient; outer strand contains amber and glass beads, as well as ancient amazonite pendants. Amazonite beads can be found in Mali and Mauritania. RKL


Amber Beads

The hardened, translucent fossil resin from extinct coniferous trees that grew during the Tertiary Period 65 to 1.6 million years ago. The largest deposits occur around the southern edge of the Baltic Sea in Europe; in the Dominican Republic; Burma and Mexico. Amber has been a highly valued bead material since ancient times when amber trade routes ran from Europe into Africa and Asia. As a precious commodity amber has been widely imitated. In the metaphysical realm amber is known for creating a comfortable sense of warmth and is recommended for those recovering from illness. Associated with longevity, amber is also considered beneficial for the elderly. Combined with jet, amber is said to facilitate purification, health and protection from negativity.   

For excellent information on amber see David A. Grimaldi, Amber: Window to the Past, 1996.  

See Also: Burmese Amber African Amber

Baltic amber beads, showing the range of colors and shapes. CW

Baltic amber beads, showing the range of colors and shapes. CW

A selection of loose Tibetan amber beads. RKL

A selection of loose Tibetan amber beads. RKL

Ancient amber beads, note the extensive crazing. These have been treated with liquid nylon to strengthen them. RKL

Ancient amber beads, note the extensive crazing. These have been treated with liquid nylon to strengthen them. RKL


Ambroid

An amber imitation made by fusing shavings and small chips of amber together. It has a distinctive appearance with grainy or cloudy inclusions.


Amethyst Beads


The name amethyst comes from the Greek meaning “not drunken.” Ranging from palest lavender to deep royal purple, amethyst’s large transparent to translucent crystals are sometimes banded with milky white stripes. The most highly valued quartz, amethyst has been used to embellish the breastplates of Jewish priests, the ecclesiastical rings of Catholic bishops, and the crowns of British kings and queens. 

Found in geodes in alluvial deposits, amethyst occurs mainly in Brazil, but also in Uruguay, Madagascar, Namibia, Zambia, the US, and the former USSR. 

According to various traditions, amethyst brings friendship, happiness, and good fortune. Placed under a pillow, it induces sleep and sweet dreams. An amethyst amulet protects travelers against surprise attack, wards off homesickness, and—much appreciated by wives—ensures constancy and sobriety.

Contemporary amethyst beads cut and drilled in Hong Kong. CW

Contemporary amethyst beads cut and drilled in Hong Kong. CW



Ametrine

This naturally occuring stone combines purple amethyst and golden citrine. A member of the quartz family, ametrine measures 7 on the Mohs scale of hardness and is found in India, Brazil and Bolivia.

See Also: Amethyst Citrine


Amulets

A bead or pendant believed to ward off evil. Some amulets draw their power from their shape; others are trusted as charms because of the material they are made of. Eye beads were among the earliest recorded amulets. They are said to protect wearers by attracting the evil eye, thus deflecting it from the wearer. The hamsa or hand pendant, on the other hand, is believed to repel the evil eye entirely. Talismans, the complements to amulets, are believed to attract good fortune and positive forces rather than repelling or disarming the negative. 

Amulet boxes that contain verses from holy scriptures or other sacred objects are frequently worn in Himalayan countries, India, and the Islamic world.  

See Also: Donkey Beads—Iranian and Egyptian Faience Gao Box Eye Beads Talismans Phallic Pendants—Ancient and Contemporary Egyptian Amulets

Nepalese Gao box amulet of silver and coral. RKL

Nepalese Gao box amulet of silver and coral. RKL

Tuareg amulets from North Africa made of silver, copper and leather. RKL

Tuareg amulets from North Africa made of silver, copper and leather. RKL

An array of ancient Egyptian faience amulets, all molded, with some hand detailing; shown is an Apis bull, two Udjat or Eye of Horus, bicolor lotus bud, cornflower pendant, Taurt and a papyrus scepter. Additional information on faience: Ornament issue 23 (3), Spring 2000; 32 (4) 2009. RKL

An array of ancient Egyptian faience amulets, all molded, with some hand detailing; shown is an Apis bull, two Udjat or Eye of Horus, bicolor lotus bud, cornflower pendant, Taurt and a papyrus scepter. Additional information on faience: Ornament issue 23 (3), Spring 2000; 32 (4) 2009. RKL



Ancient Beads

Ancient is often defined as predating the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 AD, but the history of beads began much earlier—at least 40,000 years ago. Traces of the earliest, most perishable beads, likely made from seeds, wood, bamboo and other organic materials, have long since disappeared. But archeological evidence shows that people started collecting, making and wearing beads of shell, bone, ivory, amber and other relatively soft materials almost as soon as they began thinking abstractly, walking upright and making tools of any kind. 

The quantity, quality, and ritual use of beads produced by early humans are indicative of their cognitive development and great strides forward that were made between 33,000 and 18,000 years ago. Almost as soon as humans mastered any new material for any reason, they also made beads out if it. Some of the loveliest early beads are made of stone, but metals soon followed: copper, silver, gold, then brass and bronze. With the discovery of pottery came ceramic beads, glazes, then faience, and finally the most versatile, enduring and fascinating bead material of all: glass.  

Lapidarists of the ancient Middle East were masters of their craft and produced exquisitely shaped and polished beads of lapis lazuli, turquoise, chalcedony, carnelian and a variety of dramatically patterned hardstones that are widely collected and imitated today. Techniques for artificially patterning stones, such as etched carnelians had been mastered at least 5000 years ago and sophisticated bead trade routes stretched from India to Africa, Central Asia to the Middle East, and from the Mediterranean to northern Europe in ancient times.  

See Also: Afghan Ancient Hardstone Beads Faience Egyptian Amulets Trade Wind Beads

 

Ancient glass beads, with central strand mostly Islamic glass beads. CW

Ancient glass beads, with central strand mostly Islamic glass beads. CW

Ancient faience beads from cultures around the world; top strands are from ancient Egypt. See Ornament 23/3, 2000 and 32/4, 2009. RKL

Ancient faience beads from cultures around the world; top strands are from ancient Egypt. See Ornament 23/3, 2000 and 32/4, 2009. RKL


Angelskin Coral

A light pink, highly prized variety of precious coral. Coral is the external skeleton of marine animals that grow in colonies, forming large reefs in warm seas including the Mediterranean and South Pacific. 

See Also: Coral

Angelskin coral beads. CW

Angelskin coral beads. CW


Ankh

An ancient Egyptian symbol for life, still widely used as a talisman to attract good fortune. It resembles a cross, but with a loop at the top. Ankhs have been made of metal, faience, glass, stone and probably many other materials as well including plastics.





Annealing

The process of gradually cooling hot glass beads under controlled conditions to avoid creating internal stresses in the glass that can cause the beads to crack. European, American and Japanese beadmakers have mastered annealing and practice it carefully. Bead industries in India and China are often less careful especially with mass-produced beads, so these suffer from a high rate of breakage.


Annular Beads

Annular, or ring-shaped, beads are short, circular beads with large perforations. They vary greatly in size and design, and can be made from many different materials: shell, stone, bone, wood, amber, metal, plastic, and, especially, glass.  

In the first millennium BC, Celtic beadmakers in Central Europe and the British Isles produced wound glass annulars in translucent blues and amber color; in opaque yellow, white, and terra-cotta; in what appears to be black, but is usually very dark green, brown, or violet; and in the natural pale greenish hue of uncolored glass. These beads ranged from small, unadorned “ringlets” less than 15 mm in diameter to large, decorated ringperlen, or ring beads, measuring more than 30 mm across. Besides being strung in necklaces, annulars were used to embellish earrings and hair ornaments. They were attached to brooches and weapons as talismans. And worn as totenringe, or finger rings for the dead, they often accompanied their owners to the grave. 

Some 2000 years later, 19th-century Bavarian and Bohemian beadmakers produced great quantities of glass annulars for export. These beads are 10-14 mm in diameter. They are for the most part transparent blue or clear. But they are also found in dark green, amber, and opalescent glass, and, more rarely, in light green, red, or pale amethyst; however, the latter hue may be due to weathering.  

Glass annular beads were traded mainly to Africa, where they were prized in every region. In East Africa, strands of annulars topped off the regalia of the chiefs who greeted missionary-explorer David Livingstone at Victoria Falls in 1855. In West Africa, they were strung on raffia and worn as necklaces or waistbands. Glass annulars were so sought after by the Dogon of Mali, that bead traders dubbed them Dogon donuts. Beginning in the 1990s in India, glass beadmakers in developing regions in Asia began producing these ever popular beads in a number of different colors. 

See Also: Celtic Ring Beads Ring Beads Ringperlen

Various colors of Dogon donut annular beads, either Bohemian glass or Asian made, if obtained after the 1990s. RKL

Various colors of Dogon donut annular beads, either Bohemian glass or Asian made, if obtained after the 1990s. RKL

Ethiopian rings of silver or brass, worn to denote religious affinity. RKL

Ethiopian rings of silver or brass, worn to denote religious affinity. RKL

Glass ring bead or Ringperlen, possibly late La Tene, last two centuries BCE, from Europe, about 2 cm diameter. RKL

Glass ring bead or Ringperlen, possibly late La Tene, last two centuries BCE, from Europe, about 2 cm diameter. RKL


Anthropomorphic Beads

Beads shaped like a human being or any part of the human body. 

See Also: Phallic Pendants—Ancient and Contemporary

Two Kokopelli borosilicate beads by Jennifer Wilson. RKL

Two Kokopelli borosilicate beads by Jennifer Wilson. RKL

A Late Period Egyptian bicolor molded glass amulet of Osiris as a child. RKL

A Late Period Egyptian bicolor molded glass amulet of Osiris as a child. RKL


Antimony

A metal added to glass in Roman times and during the 17th century to help remove the natural green color to create clear glass. Manganese or “glassmaker’s soap” was first used for this purpose. Selenium has also been used. In metallurgy, antimony added to copper makes the alloy bronze.


Anvil

Anvils are useful tools that provide a solid, flat surface for hammering wire pieces. They are normally made of steel, and both the top and the sides can be used as faces for hammering. Anvils are essential to achieve a professional finish.


Apatite Beads

Apatite most often occurs in shades of blue or green, but it is also found in yellow, gray, white, purple, violet, or red-brown. Its name comes from apate, Greek for “deceit,”0 because it can easily be mistaken for other minerals such as peridot. The relative softness of apatite (5 on Mohs hardness scale) helps distinguish it from other gemstones. Russia and Canada hold some of the largest deposits of apatite. Additional sources are found in Germany, Mexico, and Madagascar. 

On a metaphysical level, apatite makes one more susceptible to epiphanies. Apatite also benefits autistic and hyperactive children. Carrying apatite helps focus one’s energy when multi-tasking.    

Strand of faceted blue apatite rondelles. CW

Strand of faceted blue apatite rondelles. CW


Aquamarine Beads

The name aquamarine, derived from the Latin term for “water of the sea,” aptly describes the stone’s beautiful blue-green color. Natural high-quality aquamarine comes mostly from Brazil and Pakistan. Lower-quality beryl is often heat-treated to produce a blue tone, and it is then sold as aquamarine. 

Throughout history, sailors have carried aquamarine to protect against drowning and other dangers of the sea. In healing, aquamarine soothes feelings of grief and loneliness. It also cools infections and reduces inflammation. Use aquamarine to break old patterns and put forth a new and improved self. Aquamarine is the birthstone for March.

Aquamarine beads. CW

Aquamarine beads. CW


Arabesque

Combed floral decoration with spots used mainly on antique lampworked Venetian glass trade beads. This type of embellishment has also been called fancy, floral, spray, and wedding cake decoration. In the case of antique Venetian beads the design was usually marvered or rolled flush with the surface of the bead. Some contemporary American glass beadmakers who have adopted and adapted similar techniques prefer to leave the decoration raised.  

Contemporary lampworked glass beads with Arabesque-style decoration. CW

Contemporary lampworked glass beads with Arabesque-style decoration. CW

Prisstine fancy Venetian lampworked beads with floral Arabesque decoration, including aventurine, probably made for the European market. RKL

Prisstine fancy Venetian lampworked beads with floral Arabesque decoration, including aventurine, probably made for the European market. RKL


Arikamedu

A leading beadmaking site in southeast India, active from 3rd century BC to 3rd century AD, where Indo-Pacific beads were made. These beads were traded extensively throughout the ancient world from southeast Asia to northwest Africa. According to bead researcher Peter Francis, Jr., the double diamond tipped drill bit was also invented here and bead technologies developed in Arikamedu spread throughout Asia.

See Also: Indo-Pacific Beads


Art Glass Beads

A name for the category of beads made primarily by contemporary American and Japanese glass beadmakers of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. With the focus on quality rather than quantity, these beads can display exquisite detail and control of the medium. Inspired by ancient glass beads of China, the Middle East and Indonesia as well as Venetian glass and antique Japanese glass ojime, these beadmakers have continued to evolve techniques and materials to produce miniature works of art that are both collectible and wearable.

See Also: Asao, Kyoyu Boylan, Tom Maher, Bruce St John, DON Schneider

Contemporary art glass beads by Keith Kreitter (3 pendants), Bruce St. John Maher (scarab) and Donna Nova (leaf). CW

Contemporary art glass beads by Keith Kreitter (3 pendants), Bruce St. John Maher (scarab) and Donna Nova (leaf). CW


Asao, Kyoyu Beads

With the exception of a few pioneers, artists in the United States showed little interest in making lampworked glass beads until the early 1990s. The late Kyoyu Asao of Osaka, Japan, however, had already mastered this craft by the 1970s. A self-taught Renaissance Man, he learned glassworking, Japanese metalworking, pottery, lapidary work, and other techniques by himself. He also amassed an impressive collection of many types of artifacts, including beads. He earned a living making ornamented leather for purses and zori—traditional Japanese sandals.  

The bead illustrated is Asao’s interpretation of an Edo Period tombodama, with the perforation sized to accommodate the twin cords used in inro ensembles of that time. Asao made all components for his beads, including precise mosaics. His total output was some five hundred beads, so these are now much sought-after collectibles.  

See Also: Japanese Beads

 

Closeup, bead and components from the workshop of the late Kyoyu Asao, Japanese contemporary beadmaker. RKL

Closeup, bead and components from the workshop of the late Kyoyu Asao, Japanese contemporary beadmaker. RKL

Kyoyu Asao’s interpretation of an Edo Period glass bead or ojime (1.9cm high). RKL

Kyoyu Asao’s interpretation of an Edo Period glass bead or ojime (1.9cm high). RKL


Ashanti Gold

The Ashanti people, also called Asante, are members of the Akan group who have long ruled Ghana and parts of neighboring countries in West Africa. Gold was extremely important, and prolifically used, in Ashanti culture. Early European explorers reported extensive use of gold: as thread in textiles; hammered and applied to furniture; forged and cast into ornaments of all kinds.  

The Ashanti had perfected the lost wax method of casting in gold by the 17th century. This process involves rolling bee’s wax into fine threads, which are then coiled and combined to build the detailed shape of bead or pendant. Soft wet clay was used to carefully encase the wax. A few openings (sprues) were left in the mold. When it was heated, the wax ran out of the mold through these holes. Later molten gold was poured into the mold and assumed the shape left by the lost wax. After it cooled, the mold was broken, releasing the golden bead. Unlike other forms of casting, this method insures that every bead is a unique original because once the mold is broken open it can’t be reused.  

Today the Ashanti of Ghana and Baoulé of Cote d’Ivoire still make similar lost-wax cast beads from brass and bronze. Sometimes the beads are gold plated to mimic the original solid gold ones, now found only in museums and in the collections of Ashanti royalty.  9/27/2009 : 9/27/2009 modified   See Also: Baoulé Brass Lost-Wax Casting in Africa

 

Contemporary Ashanti gold-washed lost-wax cast bead. RKL

Contemporary Ashanti gold-washed lost-wax cast bead. RKL

High karat lost-wax cast beads. RKL

High karat lost-wax cast beads. RKL


Aught

This rather obscure measurement system for seed beads is written as the degree sign and always follows another number. For example 6° denotes size 6 glass seed beads. The larger the number in front of the aught, the smaller the bead. There is disagreement on what the numbers actually refer to. One probable theory is that it related to the number of beads per inch or centimeter, but because of variances in bead sizes between manufacturers this is impossible to verify. Seed beads generally available today include 13°, 12°, 11°, 10°, 8° and 6°. Some specialty dealers offer vintage seed beads in sizes 15° and smaller.


Aurora Borealis Finish

See: AB Finish


Aventurine Beads

This dark to light green quartz with iridescent spangles caused by tiny flakes of green fuchsite mica, brown iron oxides, or silvery pyrite crystals is found mainly in India, but also in Brazil and Russia.  Ancient Tibetans used aventurine—sometimes called “Indian jade”—to adorn their religious statues, especially as inlaid eyes to symbolize and enhance an image’s visionary power. Aventurine is thought to help in one’s search for inner harmony.

Green aventurine beads. CW

Green aventurine beads. CW


Aventurine Glass

See: Goldstone


Azurite

Azurite comes from the Arabic, for its deep azure or “sky-blue” blue color. This dark greenish-blue opaque stone occurs in the upper, oxidized layers of copper deposits, often mixed, or even inter-grown, with malachite. The stone was once pulverized and used as azure pigment. Today Australia, Chile, Russia, France, the US are the main sources of this soft semi-precious stones.  Thought to increase insight, azurite was used in antiquity in divination and hypnosis. Its cool, tranquil hue makes azurite a good stone for meditation.