Drawer 49: Aventurine, a semi-precious stone

“Seductive Lure”

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 49/Drawer 49: December 6, 2017: “Seductive Lure”

It is fitting that the Aventurine drawer is next to the Jade drawer because I used to have a lot of green aventurine which can be close to jade in color, and was my reason for making those drawers neighbors, but there are many other aventurine colors—blue, yellow, orange, and a brownish called red—which I have collected over the years and now outnumber the green.

This necklace features red aventurine which I paired with a bug-eyed koi fish. At first, I chose white jade to fill in the Aventurine and it wasn’t working.  A closer look at the fish showed me its underside was the palest of lavenders.  I really had to suspend belief in color theory to go with Mother Nature’s combo of lavender and red aventurine.  The results charmed me.

Then my research told me why the colors worked: Aventurine is a form of quartz.  The koi fish is agate which is one of the most common materials used in the art of hardstone carving and agate is also a quartz.  If you are confused, it’s easier to say  aventurine and agate have the same parents.  Additionally, they both channel abundance in the world of crystal properties.

The Chinese are very fond of Koi or goldfish and keep them in bowls in their homes or in ponds in the temple gardens. The Chinese words “jin yu” meaning goldfish are phonetically identical with the two words meaning “gold in abundance”, thereby making the goldfish/koi symbol a traditional wedding gift.

The necklace measures 18” long plus 2.5” for the goldfish.  I just found two more Red Aventurine beads and can make earrings to match.  $69 plus $15 if earrings desired.

 

Guess what else I discovered about quartz? It accounts for 12% of the Earth’s crust.

I found my koi/goldfish cultural interpretations in the same book I referred to last week : A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols by Wolfram Eberhard, first published in 1983.

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 44: Turquoise

“109th Mala”Week 44/Drawer 44: November 1, 2017: “109th Mala”

I remember buying this large Tibetan piece in the early 2000’s in New York City in a shop well-known for ethnic beads and objets.  The price tag still stuck on the bottom said $150, but my note on the plastic bag said I paid $140…not my best negotiation!  It was sold as an ear ornament from Gujarat.  I accepted it as an ear ornament but when I looked up Gujarat, and learned it is in India, I doubted that was the true provenance.

This was clearly Tibetan. I’ve been there twice and have made necklaces with many pieces of their inlaid silver or brass with turquoise or coral:  I know their style.  So, I conducted a lengthy internet search and, after scrolling many pages on www.indianamulets.com.au, I found it! It was the only such piece out of a couple hundred images!  To improve my negotiating image with my dear readers, allow me to inform you it was priced at $375, hanging on a silver chain.

On the keft, I present you the 109th mala (prayer bead).

 

Buddhists and Hindus pray with 108 beads knotted and strung. One prays by meditating, touching a bead and saying this mantra,

“All is well.

Everything is perfect.

Wisdom and compassion uphold every atom!”

then on to the next bead, until one reaches the 109th bead; called a stupa bead.  A stupa is a Buddhist prayer hall and its steeple is in the exact shape of the centerpiece of this necklace.  The 109th serves a very special purpose:  a pause.  The pause offers silence, a moment to offer gratitude, and a practical way to keep count of their mantras and chants.  Faithful Buddhists don’t just go around the mala once; they can meditate for hours.

I was interested to learn the significance of 108 beads: it is a mathematical (12 Zodiac houses x 9 planets) metaphor for the omnipresent universe which is also our most innate self.  I would need to meditate for a long time to understand that metaphor!

The necklace features turquoise cylinders from Drawer 44 separated by sterling silver beads with a silver clasp. I made a nautilus-style sterling silver loop to attach the mala to the necklace.

The centerpiece Tibetan stupa bead is mixed metals—silver and brass—rising in a pattern to the pinnacle which is modeled after a Lotus flower with six petals inset with turquoise and coral cabochons.  This 109th mala was owned by someone who had the means to commission some very nice design and workmanship.  It is strong, sturdy and magnificent!  It is not heavy since it is hollow.

The necklace measures 25” and the mala is 5” long. Wear your silver earrings with it.  $199.

Drawer 41: Keshi Pearls: Silver Grey

“Grand Illusion”

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 41/Drawer 41: October 11, 2017: “Grand Illusion”

I have two pearl drawers: last week’s was white and this week’s has grey, gold and pink-apricot tones in its three compartments.  Most of the grey have a lot of iridescence and spoke loudly to me.  I was not hearing them; my ears and eyes loved the tender quiet elegance of the silver grey.

And their muted tones rewarded me as I researched them because I learned about a class of pearls about which I knew nothing—Keshi (sometimes spelled Keishi.)

Recall from last week that the freshwater pearl is born when an irritant is placed in the mussel shell: the Keshi as developed by the Japanese were the smaller pearls that grew in the same shell when the irritant was rejected. They are pure nacre. The Chinese pearl farmers don’t leave Keshi to chance—they do a second harvest to create only Keshi.  This product is not plump and full like the first harvest which is from a young mussel producing a lot of nacre to coat the irritant.  Again, see last week’s image of lovely plump pearls.  Second harvest mussels are older, producing flatter, thinner pearls.

The true Keshi in this necklace are the nacre-only, long skinny pearls in a beautiful silver color. I spaced them with tiny sterling silver seed beads.  The small sized pearls in the second strand are high luster Akoya freshwater (first harvest) pearls, almost always a light grey.

I added a pewter centerpiece in a basketweave pattern (2.25″ long) and a sterling silver clasp. Wear your favorite silver earrings with this necklace which measures 19.5”.  $79.

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 14:  Bone

“Birdsong”

 

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 14/Drawer 14: April 5, 2017: “Birdsong”

Having lived in Asia for a year and a half, I enjoyed using bone beads and buying beautifully carved bone centerpieces.  Bone beads are popular all over the world and come from organic antlers or horns from animals such as oxen, cows, camels, and water buffalo who died naturally.  In Hong Kong, I found three variations of bone beads:  natural white, tea-dyed, and otherwise dyed.  Later on, visiting my husband’s son and his family in Bozeman, MT, I bought some beads made from deer hooves which looked like a dark wood.

This drawer features natural white oval beads and spacer beads. The clasp is a bone ring and a toggle charmingly “painted” brown which I thought spoke to the centerpiece.

The centerpiece is 2” x 2.5” with a lovingly carved scene of birds in leafy tree branches.  It is inlaid into a piece of rosewood, also well-carved.  Turn it over and the artist, proud of his work, embedded his signature in a perfect circle.  This is the only Chinese carving intended for jewelry I have ever seen signed.

The Chinese started carving bone in the 5th century BCE for use as tools.  Attracted to its natural beauty, they evolved their carvings to adornment.

“Birdsong”

The necklace is 18” long plus 2” for the centerpiece.  Earrings included.  $75.

Picaresque

 

 

Necklace "Picaresque"

 

I intuitively named this necklace “Picaresque.” Upon thinking of the meaning as rogue or bohemian, it is really appropriate. This necklace is all about the centerpiece; I made it in a class in the 90’s, wore it in the bohemian era on a cord, and put it aside.

Recycled, reused and re-invented, it is happy now with yellow jade beads tying the centerpiece to the necklace. Only after living in Hong Kong and becoming a regular at the Jade Market did I realize how many colors of jade there are! This strand is a honey mustard shade, interspersed with the same ethnic beads as the centerpiece. It is finished with a gold metal clasp.

Let me describe the delicious beads featured in the centerpiece: The most roguish are the two irregular rounds of ram’s horn—the first and only time I had a chance to buy ram’s horn; from Morocco’s Atlas Mountains as I recall. My next favorite beads are the jasper and yellow striped beads. They are trade beads from Mozambique that I bought in a Lisbon, Portugal flea market in 1965…long before beading was a word that had even drifted through my mind!

You’ll also notice a conical wood bead in the same honey mustard shade, two ethnic jasper beads of unknown provenance, green sand-cast glass African beads, and glass jasper spacers. The framework for the centerpiece is brass wire.

The necklace measures 22” with the centerpiece 3” wide by 3 ½” long. The price is $215 including shipping.

Three Necklaces

“Chic Thrills” features a charming koi fish centerpiece I have had for a long time, waiting for the right mix of beads to show it off. Well, when nearly matching vintage orange Lucite (what plastic was called in the 1960’s) beads came into my possession, I had the answer. But what contrasting color to use? An odd green, don’t ask me why. I was so excited by the time I assembled the large faux pearl, the beetle wings and the small faux pearls, that I can’t remember how the colors all came together!
The fish is Asian in its origin as indicated by its large popping eyes and its elaborate tail display. It is a vintage piece perhaps made of resin with lots of nice carving marks on it.
The five beetle wings are iridescent and pointy and most unusual. A great conversation piece.
The necklace is almost 19″ long and the centerpiece dangle is 4″long.
Hammered gold-colored metal clasp, gold-filled wire connections in the dangle.
The price is $159 which includes earrings featuring green and orange beads with a beetle wing.

“A Smashing Good Time” is a classic sterling silver and turquoise necklace with a contemporary spin that the silver used here is a special basket weave pattern mastered by the Hill Tribes of northern Thailand. The clasp is also sterling silver by the Hill Tribes.
The turquoise chunky beads mix smooth and veined specimens of Chinese-mined turquoise stones.
The necklace is 23″ and the basket weave medallion is 2″ in diameter.
It is priced at $135.

“Flash Forward” is also color-forward: semi-precious amethyst beads matched with lime-dyed branch coral. The branch coral is bezeled with an electroplated gold bail for a shiny, blingy look. It is attached to the amethyst necklace and secured by two vermeil (gold plate over metal) beads. The necklace ends with more electroplated gold beads and a gold metal clasp.
Think of this piece as a fabulous good luck charm and wear it well!
The necklace measures 18″ and the centerpiece is 3″.
The price is $129.