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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Kankanmba beads are a type of African trade beads which were popularly used and widely distributed all over the continent in the 19th century. Also referred to as “Prosser beads”, Kankanmba beads were crafted from glass and ceramic using the technology from a button-making machine invented by the two Prosser brothers of Bohemia in the 1830s. The use of this technology was prevalent well into the 1860s, with these beads being produced with a thin seam. Kankanmba beads were also used for trading purposes by the American Indians who incorporated them into their crafts. While the production of Kankanmba beads through the Prosser technique is almost defunct, bed makers in morocco have over the years been trying to revive this process with a few attractive jewelry items.
Button beads are small glass beads which resemble modern buttons, although they do not have a group of central holes. These beads date back to the Etruscan period and the time of the Roman Empire, but later found their way to Syria and Egypt. Button beads are generally very beautiful and boast artistic workmanship. Today as in the past, button beads are used to make exquisite necklaces using these beads entirely, some of which may be cemented together two and two in order to form a single bead. Button beads take on various shapes including circular, flat, oval, plane, convex or convex-concave shapes.
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.
Kiffa beads are rare powder glass beads which acquired their name from Kiffa, a city in Mauritania where they were first documented by French ethnologist R. Mauny in 1949. Kiffa beads represent one of the highest levels of bead making skill, artistry and ingenuity due to the fact that they were created using the simplest tools and materials available, and in open fires. These materials included pulverized European glass beads or their fragments, bottle glass, tin cans, pottery shards, steel needles and some gum Arabic. Decorations for the beads were made from the glass slurry – the crushed glass mixed with a binder and then applied using a pointed tool such as a steel needle. The beads were then placed in small containers such as sardine cans and thereafter heated to fuse them in an open fire, without the need for molds.
Batik/ Bone beads are popular in most African countries and are handcrafted from bone and thereafter dyed through the batik method to give them color. The strand and number of beads on your batik/ bone beads jewelry item will vary depending on how you intend to wear it. Necklaces may feature longer raffia strands, while bracelets normally require fewer beads. Beautiful contemporary designs feature batik/ bone beads as focal points for necklaces with antique finishes and superb detailing. Some bead designs today may even feature up to three faces with carvings on both sides. Because each batik/ bone bead is carved by hand, you are assured of wearing a unique, one-of-a-kind piece that no one else has.