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.
Dentalium shells were used as beads throughout time, both in jewelry and for sewing onto garments. They were especially valued as ornaments in the Pacific Northwest.
Early dichroic glass beads by pioneer glass beadmaker Kay Dickey.
Silverworking is an ancient tradition on the fabled island of Bali, Indonesia. There, metalsmiths trace the origin of their craft to the gods and to Bali’s fiery volcanoes. Over countless generations, families of artisans have passed down and perfected techniques of granulation and filigree to make exquisite beads and ornaments, not only of silver but also of vermeil and gold.
For granulation, Balinese beadmakers heat short snippets of fine hand-drawn silver wire over a bed of charcoal to form tiny balls of various sizes. Then, they create elaborate patterns by positioning these granules, one by one, on a silver bead and bonding them to the surface almost imperceptibly by using only flux and bean paste, instead of solder. Filigree work calls for equal skill and artistry, as Balinese craftspeople deftly manipulate straight or twisted silver wire to construct intricate beads as well as to decorate them.
See Also: Filigree Granulation
Don Don Sole
Don Don Sole is a trade name for Czech molded glass beads and pendants that were trade to Africa. Some of the ones shown in the photograph are stylized feline claws.
See also: Fulani Wedding Beads, Bohemian Pressed Glass
Faience, the first synthetic silicate, was made almost exclusively for ornaments and amulets. It dates to the 5th millennium BC and is much older then glass, which arose about 1,500 BC. Other than the cylindrical and disk beads that are still made in Qourna, Egypt, possibly the only large faience beads being produced today are made in Qom, Iran. Known primarily to Westerners as “donkey beads,” these large, usually spherical beads are a brilliant blue. They are true faience beads, glazed by the cementation method, whereby the beads are first formed, then covered in the glazing powder and fired. Afterwards, the beads or other articles are broken free of this enveloping material. Their cores may consist of either steatite or quartz granules.
Recent photographs by German researchers have shown how such beads are made. A roll of the faience mixture is placed on a grooved board, then a matching corrugated board is pushed down on the mixture. As this tool is pulled back and forth, spherical beads are formed.
An array of faience amulets is also made by the Qom workshops. All such faience items are considered protection against the “Evil Eye,” and not only are these amulets worn by people, they are also hung on animals and vehicles.
Dorje are Buddhist representation of a thunderbolt, frequently used on prayer strands or in necklaces.
Drawn Cable Chain
Chain consisting of links that are oval shaped or almost rectangular, rather than round.
Drawn Glass Beads
Drawn glass beads are made from a gather of glass that is drawn or pulled so that it elongates into a tube with a perforation in the center. The drawn cane is then broken into small lengths to become drawn beads, often reheated to round the cut ends.
Druks is trade name given to various types of pressed glass beads made in the Czech Republic.
See Also: Pressed Glass Beads
For generations, West Africans have mined bauxite to make beads, which the Krobo people of Ghana call abo. Formed from leached and weathered volcanic soils, bauxite is a claylike aggregate composed primarily of aluminum oxides. The presence of iron oxides gives it a reddish coloration.
Bauxite is soft and easy to work. Krobo villagers shape it mainly into cylinders of varying length and diameter, which they perforate with a bow-drill. Ranging from rosy beige to rusty brown, bauxite beads are opaque and, when new, may appear dull or dusty. But with age, wear and contact with oils, they darken and acquire a warm luster. When damp, they smell of fresh earth.
Ghanaians wear beads in religious rites as well as for adornment. At funerals, beads traditionally adorn both the corpse and the mourners, who express their grief and bewail their own fate, chanting “We’re going to chew abo”—or “We’re all going to bite the dust!”
See Also: Abo Adjagba Beads Akoso Beads Bodom Beads Krobo Beads
Kathleen Dustin is one of the pioneers of polymer clay adornment, who makes a wide assortment of polymer beads and purses.
dZi Bead Imitations
Because real dZi beads are so valued, there are numerous imitations, some very realistic and others easily detected as an imitation. Real ones are of stone; imitations may be of stone, glass, plastic or metal.
See Also: dZi Beads, Pumtek Beads, Etched Carnelian Beads.
Tibetan dZi beads resulted from the combination of technology used to darken an agate or chalcedony and etching. The characteristic pattern of dZi beads is black all over with white patterned lines. True dZi beads are scarce, expensive and mysterious. No one knows exactly where and when dZi beads first originated. We can, however, determine the process used to create the unique patterns. Before the bead was blackened, the areas to be later etched were marked with a resist, such as grease, to prevent them from turning black. The technique itself dates back almost 3,500 years in India, but the oldest beads treated this way are only around 2,000 years old.
The word dZi means “shine”, “brightness”, “splendor” or “clearness”. In Chinese, they are called “heaven’s pearl”. They are prized in many Asian cultures because of their protective properties. In Tibet, small portions of the bead are sometimes dug out and ground into medicine. Broken dZi beads are believed to have diluted powers because they’ve absorbed the brunt of the force that was intended to harm the wearer.
Typically, dZi beads come in shades of brown and black with ivory white lines. The patterns consist of circles, ovals, squares, waves, zigzags, stripes, lines and diamonds. Some dZi beads have “eyes”. The number and arrangement of these circular dot patterns can signify different protective powers.