February 15: Cut some Ball Chain, Add a Centerpiece!

My Blog Plan for 2018 is based on a first of the month posting of a special necklace and its story which was also 2017’s plan, only weekly. I also thought I might post a more lighthearted piece of work mid-month.

There is nothing more lighthearted than ball chain. My first exposure to it was a lucky rabbit’s foot I received as a birthday present as a kid. Today such a gift would have PETA picketing outside our family home. I just attached it to my pencil bag and petted it for good luck.

Otherwise folks used it to keep their keys together. Maybe it should have been called key chain? Or dogtag chains? Or pull cord chain?

My selections from the top include fancy sterling silver ball chain with the Egyptian Ankh and Nefertiti pendants.

Then three brass ball chain 24-6” long, with picture jasper, brass and copper, and ceramic snake pendants.

 

 

 

Next, 36″long ball chain with faux Amber resin and lamp-work glass with silver dots.

Finally, ordinary ball chain with picture jasper, lampwork glass and pewter in 24-6″.

Ball chain really keeps prices down!  They range from $11 to $25.

The top two sterling silver are $35 and $38, left to right.

 

 

 

FEBRUARY 1: New Jade

“Noble Space”

Last year’s challenge is a gift that keeps on giving.  As I made my way through the year, drawer by drawer, I chose to present the best that drawer had to offer, create a boffo necklace and blog it.  The gift is that many drawers offered several choices of fabulous beads which I put aside for future consideration.

Well, the future is now.  I have several trays full of plastic bags each containing a necklace wanting to be designed.  The first to jump out is New Jade with a magnificent carved jade centerpiece.

I’ve collected new jade beads for years, liking their milky green color with their cloudy opacity.  Guess what?  New jade is the trade name for semi-translucent serpentine!  It’s OK that it is not jade; I have always considered serpentine as a cousin of jade.

The real story here is the centerpiece:  it is real jade, variegated from white to mountain green, carved with the usual flourishes of talented carvers plus the open work circle which is not often seen—perhaps due to the difficulties posed by carving one of the hardest stones.

Many jade centerpieces in my stash are round and I now know why:  they were girdle ornaments in ancient China.  Read girdle as belt, perhaps similar to a Japanese obi.  In the Zhou dynasty (1050—256 AD), seven carved jade pieces hung down from the belts of men and women.  The wearers enjoyed the tinkling of the ornaments as they walked, reminding them of music, claiming it put them in a joyful disposition.

I enjoyed reading that in royal Zhou courts, only the king could wear white jade; princes wore green the color of mountains; prefects wore a water blue stone; and mere officials were assigned to prehnite which is pale green in color.  Men and women of all classes wore them, choosing emblems of their life’s work (which type of stone was not noted).

The necklace has three strands of hand cut new jade with earrings to match.  Both are finished in sterling silver.  It is 18.5” long.  The centerpiece is 2” diameter and .25” thick.  It is not heavy, weighing three ounces.  $99 the set.

I do not mean to imply the centerpiece is ancient.  To the best of my knowledge, it is contemporary.

Most of my research came from a book I purchased in Hong Kong in 1994.  Originally published in 1912, republished in 1974, my unabridged edition of Jade:  Its History and Symbolism in China by Berthold Laufer was republished in 1989.

 

 

Drawer 48: Jade

“Momentum” 

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 48/Drawer 48: November 29, 2017: “Momentum”

To me, Jade is Hong Kong. Worn by many citizens, seen in shop windows, handled at the Jade Market:  it is the heart and soul of Hong Kong.  I became very attracted to it.

When I discovered the Jade Market, I walked there from our Kowloon apartment, frequently slipping into the Yue Hwa Chinese Products Emporium, a large department store on Nathan Road, to find curios and objets for my growing Asian collectibles.

Approaching the Jade Market were countless small jewelry shops full of Cantonese-speaking shoppers, men in the street hawking big chunks of jade from their small pick-up trucks, and a few Westerners like me with anticipation glistening in our eyes. The Market is really a tent, permanently erected, and certainly the size of a football field.  I walked around until something I saw drew me in.  The vendor rushed around with a low stool, a tray and a smile.  I could sit for an hour, choosing the beads I deemed suitable for a necklace.

Don and I lived in Hong Kong for 18 months in 1993-4 and the memory of the Jade Market is still fresh. Unfortunately, what material I have left from that era isn’t enough to make a necklace.

So here is this week’s necklace: Suzhou jade, also called new jade, in a dark to light variation with two carved beads on each side  separating the two shades.  There were no leftover beads, so wear your silver earrings.  A nicely carved turtle, 2” x 2.25”, is the centerpiece.  Sterling silver clasp.

The tortoise is an enigmatic creature for the Chinese, “concealing the secrets of heaven and earth”: they see its shell as the vaulted  heaven and its underside as the flat disc of earth.  It also symbolizes steadfastness.

The necklace measures 18.5” long plus 2.25” for the tortoise.

 

While still in Hong Kong, I started using my Jade Market finds. I found a helpful book to explain the meanings of carvings such as the tortoise above: A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols by Wolfram Eberhard, first published in 1983.

Drawer 46: Silver: Thai Hill Tribes

 

“The Singular Spirit”

Week 46/Drawer 46: November 15, 2017: “The Singular Spirit”

For years I have bought “hill tribe” silver and only knew it was a recognizable style of workmanship made in Northern Thailand. Now I know so much I fear I shall bore you with my focus on the six tribes who make pieces like this fish centerpiece.  Read on.  Some names will be familiar to you.

First of all, they work in a special silver which, at 97%, is in between sterling (92.5% silver content) and fine silver (100% silver). High silver content produces a softer metal which tarnishes less.

Second, there are six tribes who, over the past 200 years, emigrated mostly from China and Tibet through thick forests and mountainous terrain to the “Golden Triangle” where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet.

Third, the tribes retain their traditions in their clothing, their abundance of silver adornment, and their methods of making beads and jewelry. Their tools and processes are simple: silver ingots are flattened into sheets by pounding with a hammer.  Then they pound the sheets into a mold and something like this fish emerges.  They detail the piece—see fish scales—in their own signature style.

The most populous tribe at 300,000 is the Karen, originally from Myanmar. They live in stilt houses with their animals beneath.  They are expert elephant handlers (think logging and tourism); very friendly; and called the “long necks” due to the silver necklaces worn from collarbone to chin.

Next largest are the Hmong, many of whom were welcomed as refugees in the USA after the Vietnamese war. They came from the icy regions of Tibet and Mongolia; settled in Chiang Mai, a large and lovely city; and are identified by their traditional clothing of pleated skirts and black baggy pants, both with lots of embroidery.  Besides being silversmiths, they are dry rice farmers and may cultivate opium poppies.  They are very independent, preferring to live above 3000 feet.

The last tribe I’ll describe is the Mien (also called Yao) whose women are often photographed for their elaborate costumes and headpieces. They are considered the aristocrats of the region and have been making silver jewelry the longest. They are the only hill tribe with a written language and they use silver as their currency. They originate from Southern China, bringing their medieval religion, Taoism, with them, but many have converted to Christianity or Buddhism.

The remaining three are called Akha, Lahu and Lisu. All proud silversmiths.

The Drawer 46 necklace is full of trade beads, all with varying patina (read bumps and bruises from years of being traded), sterling silver and Naga shells (how I would love to tell you about the Naga tribe in the land-locked Himalayas who trade with shells and adorn themselves with shells, but no time for that story!) The fish centerpiece is a Karen Hill Tribe silver creation.

The necklace is 20“ long and the fish is 2.5“long.  Wear it with your silver earrings.  $99.

Trade beads are described in Drawers 12, 32 and 43.

 

Drawer 45: Lapis Lazuli

“May There Always Be Something Left Over”

 

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 45/Drawer 45: November 8, 2017: “May There Always Be Something Left Over”

The first time I ever heard the words Lapis Lazuli (lapis is Roman for stone; lazuli is Persian for blue) was when I was matriculating at Emmanuel College, Boston, looking forward to becoming a junior and wearing our class ring which is gold with a rectangle of lapis as its centerpiece, designed by Tiffany in 1920.

I was late to the lapis game. The inhabitants of NE Afghanistan knew it in the 7th millennium BC.  It was Egyptian King Tut’s funeral mask in 1323 BC.  The Western world didn’t catch on until lapis was imported to Europe in the Middle Ages where its powder was the choice of the great painters.  I’ll refer to my favorite:  Vermeer.  Check out the “Girl with a Pearl Earring.”  That blue paint is known as Ultramarine.  The color is still on every painter’s palette, but the ingredients have been synthetic since the early 1800’s.

Lapis is prized for its deep celestial blue color. It is a rock, not a crystal.  It is found in Afghani caves, not mines.  It sparkles with…gold?…no…with Fool’s Gold or pyrite.  There is an inferior form of lapis with white calcite streaks which I learned to avoid.  Just pay more for the gold flecks.

This week’s necklace has flecks in every piece of the larger beads. The smaller beads, which I had to add to keep the weight down, is a brighter blue with few sparkles (and no white!).  The sterling silver beads are a pleasing shape and further reduce the weight.

The centerpiece is magnificent for its large oval lapis, with lots of gold and a short streak of white, and for the Tibetan sterling silver base, carved with rich flourishes on the front and the back.

While living in Hong Kong, I loved browsing the many English bookstores. It was still British until the 1997 handover to China who promised “one country, two systems,” referring to the financial, free-market and democratically-governed systems of Hong Kong.  In my opinion, the promise is eroding.

One of the books I treasure is “A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols” and I looked up the fish symbol which is prominently featured on the centerpiece. The well-carved pair of fish on the front are slightly worn, leading me to envision the wearer rubbing it as a talisman.  Fish symbolize wealth which is so significant for Buddhists that it is one of their 8 symbols.  I named this piece for the colloquial phrase for wishing others wealth.

When fish appear in a pair, it signifies harmony, and is often given as a wedding gift.

On the back of this piece is what I interpret to be a stylized fish. Pay attention to the design skill of the silversmith:  beautiful flourishes, curves, almost rococo flair, expert three-dimensional detailing.

The necklace measures 19.5” and the centerpiece is 3.5” long by 2.75” wide. It weighs 8.2 ounces.  After test driving it, I would say it is not heavy/not light, but average.  Some of my necklaces are “three-hour”, this is a five-hour necklace!      Wear your silver earrings with it.  $139.

Drawer 33: Teal Blue

“Yin and Yang”

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 33/Drawer 33: August 16, 2017: “Yin and Yang”

I’m really going out on a limb this week as I attempt to make a case that my necklace embodies the principle of Yin and Yang. I will state it was an after-the-fact discovery as I stared at my finished necklace while searching for a title from my collection of pithy phrases.

Yin and Yang is a fundamental, ancient Chinese philosophy which states all things exist as inseparable and contradictory opposites (young-old, dark-light, etc.). These opposites attract and complement each other, and as the icon’s small dots  illustrate, each side has an element of the other…which is my necklace!

 

What I didn’t know until I researched it was Yin is feminine, black, provides spirit, is the winter solstice, orange, a tiger and many other attributes. Yang is masculine, white, provides form, is the summer solstice, blue, a dragon, and more.  I think I did marry the opposites by placing one after another, allowing them to attract and complement each other.

The necklace features two melon beads—marked by a distinctive ridged surface which gives the look of a melon. The larger ones are antique dyed onyx melon beads carved in Bali and its ridges reflect the roughed-up onyx au naturel.  The smaller beads are Chinese silver—they add lots of nickel which accounts for the dark silver color—with blue enamel applied to the ridges.  One example of yin and yang is the blue teal of the dyed onyx becomes the blue teal of the Chinese ridge.

I used small sterling silver spacers plus sterling silver wire to attach the centerpiece bead plus a hand-crafted sterling clasp.

The necklace is 20” long and the center dangle falls 1.75”. Wear your silver earrings with it; large or small will look good.  It is $99.

P.S.: I bought the onyx beads in Bali during our 1993-4 Southeast Asia sojourn.  Don and I returned to Bali about five years later.  It is idyllic and beautiful.  I will declare it to be my favorite Southeast Asia destination.  If you are curious, Venice is my favorite Western destination!

 

Drawer 27: Vaseline Beads

“Things Rare and Strange”

 

 

My 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 27/Drawer 27: July 5, 2017: “Things Rare and Strange”

 When I found these opaque aqua beads in a section of Drawer 27, I gasped at their beauty, mostly due to the intensity of their color. As I fondled them, I realized there were subtle differences in their aqua shades; I also observed they were so old that their faceted surfaces had become smooth! They are trade beads, after all. These discoveries made this strand mysterious—what secrets were they sheltering?

Since the secrets are unknowable, let me address “What the heck are Vaseline Beads?”

Beads have been made in Bohemia (Czechoslovakia) since the Romans occupied it in 400 AD. Until 1400, they mostly made rosary beads.  In the 1500’s, a major expansion in bead-making began, attracting Spanish, Italian and English traders.  In 1800, the Industrial Revolution invented machines that produced pressed glass beads in great volume, different designs, and at lower prices.

One of those innovations was fluorescent Vaseline glassware and beads. The fluorescence was created by the adding uranium salts to the glass.  They kept lowering the amount of uranium to the 1-2% that worked.  It actually shone in the dark!  Today, with electric lights, a black light is needed to see the fluorescence.

Vaseline beads had their heyday from 1900 to 1920 and continued to be made until artisans lost their ability to buy uranium when governments became universal procurers in the 1940’s.

 

 

 

 

 

Typical Vaseline beads are transparent in color and usually yellowish green.  The short strand third from left look to me like they may be shine-in-the-dark variety! 

 

They were so named because their color resembled the petroleum jelly sold in the 1900’s under the Vaseline label.  Doesn’t that sound so mundane for beads made from uranium?

My opaque aqua beads are called Vaseline Beads, but they are a variation: during the Depression, iron oxide (a glass-ceramic) was added to the formula to create opacity.

Today’s collections of Depression glass, milk glass, Fire King tableware, etc. all have roots in Bohemia, uranium, and iron oxide!

Before closing, let me name the other beads I used in this necklace: aqua serpentine which is a cousin of jade; Czech glass “spades” drops; round matte glass which looks like ceramic due to iron oxide.  Also I was quite pleased to find an aqua glass circle in my “creative clasp stash” and made a sterling silver toggle for it.

The necklace is 20”. $115.

Drawer 25: Iridescent

  Week 25/Drawer 25: June 21, 2017: “I Believe I can Fly”

 I’ve made perhaps ten of these complicated woven necklaces in my 22 years as a bead jewelry artist. As a beginner in the 90’s, I took lots of classes from a lot of fabulous well-known instructors.  I loved learning about other artists’ styles and methods, hearing their tips, fondling their samples, and buying their beads and books.  For me, there is no better way to spend time.

helen dietze (always lower case) gave classes in making “Ambassadors”—knotted woven seed bead chunks about 2” x 6” strung on thread which was tied in a knot and worn long. As named, she took them on her travels and gave them away.  She also taught her techniques, including an advanced class where the Ambassador was used to encase a beautiful extraordinary object preferably found in exotic places.  These creations were meant to exemplify the “more is better” theory.  This class was made for me!

 

 

 

 

So, helen, here is what you taught me 20 years ago, adapted to my style, and an appropriate challenge for Week 25, almost halfway to the end; almost to my 75th birthday!

 

 

 

 

A bit of a bio of helen: Born in perhaps 1919 (she disallowed discussions of her age); she studied art at the Rudolph Schaeffer School of Color and Design in San Francisco; was widowed in 1959; lived in a house in San Leandro, No. California, which was packed to the rafters with mosaics, yarns, looms, and beads.  Small of stature, she was tall in presence:  perfect make-up with signature red lipstick; hair up in a chignon; black clothing; and always a major necklace on her neck.  She was our Georgia O’Keefe.  helen passed away in 2004, at approximately age 85.  Needless to say, the crowds at her memorial were huge.

In closeup, above, in step 5.

To describe my necklace, I shall do it in terms of the construction process (usually called my design process):

  1. Go to the bottom of the necklace and find the knot of beads. This section, about 2” x 2” is the “Ambassador” starting point. I added the sterling silver fish and the pewter frog. Attach it to the 4” long shell with some holes supplied by Mother Nature.
  2. I weave and knot my way up and over the shell strip using multi-color beads of varying sizes. My principal colors reflect the iridescent shell—greens, pinks and greys in all shades. Blues and reds thrown in for punch.
  3. Practicing “more is better”, I add another shell, 2” at its longest. By now I am working with four strands of strong bead thread on each side.
  4. I start up one side. I string 2-3” on two strands and knot them. I string a new strand, add a few beads to one of the strand I just knotted. Repeat over and over. But I only go up 3-4” on this one side.
  5. Then I turn my attention to the other side, always consulting side 1 to assure balance by bulk and color.
  6. Note the Guatemalan fish dangles at about the 4” mark. Here I terminate one strand on each side so I can progress with three strands.
  7. I work narrower as I round the neck area, tie off and cut one more strand to finish with only two.
  8. The darling frog button gets attached on side 2 and I string medium size Czech glass on the loop side, completing the closure and the necklace. It took 22 hours by my best guess. Did you find the fourth fish dangle?

This woven necklace is 22.5” long. The centerpiece section is 7”.  $139.

Drawer 24: Black (with other colors). Revised to show color😘

“Grand Illusion”

My 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, sorted by color.

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

Week 24/Drawer 24: June 14, 2017: “Grand Illusion”

Two weeks ago, I stated there were four black drawers. Now there are three!

I re-organized the contents into three drawers after tossing the ugly, donating the unwanted, and re-assigning others. I put iridescent beads, mostly shells, into Drawer 25 which you will see next week in a necklace of a very different style!

Let’s focus on this week’s design: Venetian glass.  It’s been a staple of mine for many years and I am down to a small supply left in Drawers 1 and 2.  I paired the Venetian with another love:  American Art glass by David Christensen.  See Week 17 for details on American Art Glass.

It is a mildly asymmetrical necklace but balanced so it will sit prettily on the neck. I needed some very shiny and medium sized beads for the top half and found those qualities in some plastic beads I bought at a yard sale back in the day when you could find real treasures in yard sales.

The clasp has a starring role with a fabulous oval piece of art glass and a sterling silver toggle I fashioned. Two perfect pieces of art glass found their way to the earrings.  All in all, a very satisfying creation.  20” long.  $99 for the set.

 

Drawer 22: Black (Matte)

“22nd Century”

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

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

Week 22/Drawer 22: May 31, 2017: “22nd Century”

There are four black drawers! As I have stated, I am re-organizing/tidying/tossing as I go through my 52 bead drawers.  I approached the four black drawers, three sections each, with enthusiasm, wearing my organizer-in-chief hat.

Drawer 22 ended up with all the matte black beads and the shiny ones went to Drawer 23; I am still sorting the next two black drawers, deciding how to proceed since they are black with other colors. I guess I just named them!

My discovery in #22 were the meteorite beads pictured above. I thought they were lava beads which I have worked with for several years, but the label said meteorite…that sent me straight to Google.  Meteorite is a first for me.  As you can imagine, a meteor entered out atmosphere 50,000 years ago, crashed and splintered and lingered, and only 50 years ago, ancient gravesites were found in the Midwest with beads formed from the iron nickel fragments.  With the emergence of treasure-hunters with metal detectors, meteorite made its way to bead shows and my Drawer 22.

Black and chunky, these beads are coated to protect them from wear and oxidation. I test-drove this necklace and it is comfortable and smooth on the neck.  It is of medium weight, perfect for wearing to an event as opposed to all day.  It will start many conversations!

I added a few matte onyx beads and a pewter clasp to make the back as much fun as the front! Matching earrings in sterling silver, lava and matte onyx.  The set is $89.  The necklace measures 19.5”.