Bauxite.

“Crossroads”

I wonder how many of my dear readers said “Bauxite?”

Well, that is what I said when I bought these oddly interesting beads over twenty years ago.  And all I knew was aluminum is made from bauxite.

Turns out there is a small village 60 miles north of Accra, Ghana, Africa, that maintains a relationship with the bauxite-bearing hills just 2 miles away.  For four generations, the families of Abompe have the exclusive market on bauxite beads.  The hills are also the abode of their guardian spirit who protects the village from over-exploitation of the bauxite.

Everyone in the village has a different role in the making of a bead:

  • miners make the 3-hour trip to do their work
  • miners sell lumps of raw material to village families
  • a family member smashes lumps into smaller pieces
  • a different family member forms beads with a knife made from a worn-out machete
  • a kid drills holes in the beads with a spindle contraption made from wood and metal.
  • kids string the beads on wire (recycled from motor vehicle spokes)
  • someone polishes the beads on a grinding stone, resulting in a dull colored bead.
  • The last step is the person who treats the beads with oil to make them shiny.

Back to the necklace I am presenting today,  notice the natural crevices, especially in  the center bead.  BTW, these beads date from the early 1900’s.  The  brick color (from the iron naturally found in bauxite) continues to develop shine from the human necks who have worn these beads for the last century, minus the 20 years they have sat in my apothecary chest drawers.

Other beads in the necklace are Mozambique glass trade beads and yellow-dyed coco beads.  I am feeling compelled to tell you I bought the trade beads in a flea market in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1966 when Mozambique was struggling to gain its independence from Portugal.  Believe me, I had no idea that 30 years later, I would be having fun designing bead necklaces!

The clasp is hammered brass.  The necklace measures 26″ and weighs 6 oz.  $89.

April 1, 2018: AMBER.1 Very Old Amber

 

“Unexpectedly Sentimental”

It’s Easter. It’s April Fool’s. It’s interesting Amber time.

This necklace is very old Amber: an oxymoronical statement since to be Amber, it has to be fossilized resin of extinct pine trees dating back 40 million years. This mixed necklace contains three antique natural extra-large Moroccan Baltic Butterscotch Amber beads at the center and two out from the center. To clarify the oxymoron, they are Baltic Amber, by definition very old, but also antique since they were crafted into this shape over 100 years ago in Morocco. Therefore, they are also rare. Etsy has an overflow of amber pieces, but only one with these three beads in it; they price out at $166 each.

The remaining 18 beads are Ram’s Horn, also made in Morocco, also antique, also natural. Their patina is even more interesting: cracks and dryness which I assume are from the dry mountainous air of the nomadic Berbers who traded in beads. Their colors are in vibrant shades of amber. The ram has been a popular theme in jewelry and adornment since the Phoenicians of the 6th century BC.  I still wear my ram’s horn gold earrings from the 1980’s.

 

On many large Amber beads, signs of testing are visible as round black marks near the hole.

See details in two beads to left.

The trader would prove the authenticity of his beads by applying a hot needle: if it cannot penetrate the surface and if the contact smells of soot, it is real Amber.

Other resins would allow the needle to easily go into the bead and smell of fresh pine.

 

 

Finishing this necklace are some small Chinese wood beads with miniature landscapes etched in black ink, chosen for the overall shade of amber dye to extend my color theme. Notice sterling silver spacers and interesting circle with a lobster clasp. Wear your silver earrings.

Weight: 10 ounces

Length: 21”

Price: $175

Size of largest bead: 23 x 35 mm or roughly 7/8” hole to hole by 1.5” high

 

Berbers are indigenous to North Africa, especially Algeria and Morocco, living there as farmers since the Phoenician times. They were also traders, although not as famous as the later Tuareg tribes discussed in my blog of March 22, 2017.

Drawer 32: Cobalt Blue

“Fact from Legends”

My Chinese Apothecary Chest:   in 1994, it arrived via container to California from Hong Kong, where I discovered beading during my husband’s ex-pat assignment.   Serves as the repository for my beads.  Handcrafted.  It has 52 Drawers, mostly sorted by color.

2017 Challenge: Create a Necklace a Week, using only the Beads from one Drawer at a time. Voila!  52 Necklaces!

Week 32/Drawer 32: August 9, 2017: “Fact from Legends”

This centerpiece is part of a 1940’s lampshade from Shanghai. And it is amazing that it exists at all!  Shall I tell you why?

China was ruled by Mao Zedong from 1949, when he declared the People’s Republic of China was under one-party rule, until his death in 1976. The last ten years of his regime is known as The Cultural Revolution which aimed to purge capitalists and traditionalists from Chinese society in order to impose his own communist ideology. The purged were humiliated publicly; property was seized; youth were made to go to the countryside to learn from peasants; historical artifacts, such as Confucius’ birthplace, were destroyed; cultural and religious sites were ransacked; the only movies, books and theatre allowed were propaganda.  Mao said he killed 1.5 million people; the true number is alleged to be up to 6 million.

When we lived in Hong Kong from 1993-4, I read many books on the Cultural Revolution, fascinated by the stories told. I also searched the antique shops for cultural artifacts—and found the pieces of the lampshade.  The antiquarian told me how wealthy families managed to hide their treasures, mostly by burying them in the ground.  I also purchased a few finely-embroidered patches mandarins wore on their robes in the Imperial Court which ended in 1912.

As for the necklace, the beads are mostly cobalt Czech glass. The 14 cylinder beads are pre-war Bohemia pressed glass (see Drawer 30 for that history); the four small circles, plus the earrings, are glass beads made in Holland starting in the 1800’s for trade in Africa.  The lampshade centerpiece is enamel on copper and is trimmed in cobalt blue.  The clasp is glass with a sterling silver hook I fashioned.

The two-strand necklace measures 23.5”plus 2.5” for the centerpiece and dangles. The earrings are 1.5” long.  The set is $119.

This is a necklace I made some time ago.  It features freshwater pearls, garnet and seed beads.  I removed the tassels from the top piece and added a seed bead tassel.

There are four long single tassels hanging from the top piece and three pearl and garnet  single tassels from the bottom, between the long original silk tassels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are three of the four enamel-on-copper pieces from a 1940 Shanghai chandelier that I still have for future projects.

Drawer 28: Taupe

“Social Circumstances”

My Chinese Apothecary Chest:   in 1994, it arrived via container to California from Hong Kong, where I discovered beading during an ex-pat assignment.   Serves as the repository for my beads. Handcrafted. It has 52 Drawers, mostly sorted by color.

2017 Challenge: Create a Necklace a Week, using only the Beads from one Drawer at a time. Voila!  52 Necklaces!

Week 28/Drawer 28: July 12, 2017: “Social Circumstances” 

Twenty years ago, at the San Mateo (CA) Gem & Bead Show, I noted a large bag of sparkling metallic beads sold by the pound. I was impressed that they were labeled as “1890’s glass briolettes made in France”.  I said I would take the bag.  The vendor said “That’s $50.”  I told him I would think about it.  $50 was a lot of money to a beginning beader.  But I was a Francophile also, having lived in Paris for a year after college.  I quickly returned and paid for my exciting find.

The 1890’s were La Belle Époque in Paris and ladies wore outlandish hats, so I figured these beads were used in the millinery trade. Milliners, largely female, were the “queens of fashion” in that era and thus could dictate the next trend, charge high prices, announce the next novelty, charge high prices, ad infinitum.  There were about 1000 milliners.  Supporting them were 24,000 fleuristes who made the flower adornment, as well as many plumassiers  who worked with bird feathers.

These women, especially the milliners, were befriended by artists and accepted in high society. Degas painted 27 known canvases where the hat captured the viewer’s eye.  Recall also that the character Mimi in Puccini’s “La Boheme”, premiered in 1896, was a fleuriste.  Coco Chanel, born in 1883, became a licensed milliner in 1910.

Alas, the millinery fashion rage turned into a sensitive subject when it became known how many birds were killed for the sake of a hat. Then the outbreak of World War I in 1914 changed the world and millinery was no longer necessary for everyday life.

Beads like these briolettes played a very small role compared to flowers and feathers. But I am happy to have made this two-strand necklace and still have a lot of them left in Drawer 28 for future projects.

A briolette is an elongated pear-shaped gemstone cut with triangular facets and top-drilled to hang like a bead. They are quite brilliant, reflecting light from any angle.  To add to the bead’s sparkle, I found a gold-plated clasp and heart centerpiece last November in a memory-lane visit to the San Mateo Bead Show while visiting Sandra in San Jose, CA.

The necklace is 21” long and $129. Sandra claimed it for herself as soon as she saw it!

 

BROOCH FANTASIA

I will accept commissions combining your favorite brooch, contemporary or family antique, with my orphan pearls and appropriate other beads, probably seed beads and crystals.  The cost would be approximately $139.  We can exchange photos of your brooch and I’ll give you a firm quote.

I will accept commissions combining your favorite brooch, contemporary or family antique, with my orphan pearls and appropriate other beads, probably seed beads and crystals. The cost would be approximately $139. We can exchange photos of your brooch and I’ll give you a firm quote.

 

 

Time for something different! This is a beautiful Beadleful necklace and I am not ashamed of my pride because every time I wear it, I get many compliments. I shall tell you its story because I would like you to have the opportunity to have one of your own.

Over the years, when pearls, the freshwater variety I love to use, wouldn’t fit through my regular beading wire, I put them in a jar. Around the same time, I acquired this colorful brooch that my friend, Kyung and I bought in Christian Lacroix’ shop in the exclusive Carleton Hotel on La Croisette in Cannes. While we browsed, our husbands waited outside by the sea, watching the bathers. Needless to say, they weren’t bored.

We each found an irresistible brooch featured in Lacroix’ end-of-season sale. I used to wear mine to work on my suit lapel–so 1990’s. Fashion changed; I retired; the brooch went into my drawer.

Around 2010, my last year in California, I put the orphan pearls and the neglected brooch together. The pearls are of all sizes and shapes, drawn randomly from my stash, but strung on finer than normal bead wire. I used Japanese glass seed beads, fine and shiny, as well as crystals to add interest to the pearls. It takes five strands at a minimum to look good! I made an investment in a real gold or sterling silver clasp because this is a personal heirloom.

And I can do the same for you.

I will accept commissions combining your favorite brooch, contemporary or family antique, with my orphan pearls and appropriate other beads, probably seed beads and crystals. The cost would be approximately $139. We can exchange photos of your brooch and I’ll give you a firm quote. There’s only one disclosure; you must be aware that the fine bead wire I use means it’s fairly fragile, so handle with care.

 

Caption: This 18” long necklace of pearls and a favorite brooch is a show-stopper.

Trunk Show

Trunk Show December 6 & 7 2013

Hail West Coasters!

Hope to see you for my THIRD ANNUAL TRUNK SHOW…