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.

March 15: Creative Clasps, Chapter 2

Why bother with unique clasps? Answers: it’s all about the hunt; it’s a challenge to put something creative at the back of the neck; it makes me stretch.

Anyone can use store-bought clasps or even seek out artist-make clasps at the big bead shows. I too use these old stand-bys for the majority of my necklaces. But it is fun to rummage through my drawers and cubbies to see what odd find can be made into a clasp.

I made a decision early on that I didn’t want to create beads. It suited my personality to engage in a hunt for the odd, quirky, overlooked, repurposable, full-of-character item that can function as one part of a clasp—either the circle or the stationary part or the toggle or moving part of the clasp. Yes, I am a collector. My finds are my treasures.

This particular clasp find is a 1960’s vintage plastic circle that was a good color match to the necklace. Plus, it added texture to the already-rich necklace: look closely at the crisscross pattern.

I designed the toggle part of the clasp from sterling silver wire.

The centerpiece is thick handmade glass I purchased in Murano, Italy, with a distinctly aqueous pattern in bold tones of aqua and pale grey with some darker streaks. It is 2” diameter.

In a stroke of great bead karma, Drawer 15 (Grey) contained the palest shade of grey faceted Czech glass beads which are the base of the necklace and speak to the centerpiece. Also note the four artist-made lampwork glass beads bookended with rare vintage Italian oval glass beads in aqua.

Statistics for this necklace follow:

Title: “Murano Waves”

Length: 21” plus centerpiece.

Featured beads are described above. Matching earrings with 7/8” dangle are included.

Price: $110.

 

I made a trip to Murano & Venice in 2013 and blogged about it here on June 29, 2013.

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.

 

 

 

Drawer 50: Wood

“Blurry Shadows”

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 50/Drawer 50: December 13, 2017: “Blurry Shadows”

 

I am so close to the end that it is scary. Only two drawers left after this one.

My Apothecary Chest has seven rows of seven drawers, each 16” deep. Across the bottom, there are only three drawers:  I call them my “double-wides.”  And, I guess, because they are odd-sized, I used them for odd beads which didn’t have a home in one of the other 49 drawers.  So these last three are free-form!

The first is wood. I found enough to fill one-third of a drawer. Not the sophisticated wood of Drawer 4; but playful wood, reminiscent of the large shapes that were strung into necklaces for us as kids—at least in my house where we were five girls, only eight years from me to my baby sister, and a play producer Mother—dress-up and staging plays in the cellar was what we did if there was no sun shining outside.

I glossed over the playful beads as I tumbled them onto my work surface because I immediately saw a contemporary (dare I say sophisticated?) design in black and beige. It is pictured above; I shall let you judge.

The necklace is symmetrical, chunky, and very light. A pleasing yet somewhat bold design.  But I didn’t restrain myself with the earrings:  asymmetrical; one beige, one black, neither matching.  I got cold feet the next day and made a conservative pair of earrings.  Both come with the necklace.  Wearer’s choice.

The necklace measures 21.5” and is $59 including two pair of earrings.

I’ve been asked. Yes, Virginia, there will be a next year.  I’ll take a break from weekly challenges and make it monthly in 2018, with little bits popping up in between on some Wednesdays.  More info soon.  It’s premature, but THANKS, I couldn’t have done this without your feedback and that ultimate compliment of a purchase.

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 43: Mali Wedding Beads

“First Person Narrator”

Week 43/Drawer 43: October 25, 2017: “First Person Narrator”

In rural Mali, West Africa, a bride is given a strand of these glass wedding beads on the eve of her wedding. It is the Fulani tribe, which is 2.5 million strong, that has decorated their daughters with beads for over a century.  For equally as long, these pressed glass* bulbous beads were expressly made for the African trade in Bohemia*.  The Fulani tribe likes them because their shape is so feminine.  They were originally made in that shape from local clay; the glass ones gave families a new sense of style and status.

I ended up reading a lot about Mali, formerly French Sudan, which became truly independent with democratic elections in 1992. This land-locked country is twice the size of Texas and now has a population of 18 million.  The Sahara Desert takes up 68% of the acreage.  Many tribes are semi-nomads.  And guess who is a minority tribe in the desert?  The famous traders we met in Drawer 12—the Tuaregs!**

It was delightful reading about weddings: only Thursday or Sunday are good luck days for marriage; first a civil marriage in which the bride and groom individually state whether they want a monogamous or polygamous marriage.  Choice of the former has always been limited to single digits.  Then the bride is washed by the female adults; an Islamic ceremony follows; then there are several days of celebrating when family drops by.  Since families are polygamous with many members, they have to introduce themselves to each other!  The groom’s dowry is as many kola nuts (a stimulant) as he can afford which he presents to his father-in-law who shares it with wedding guests.

I admit to being culturally fascinated by Mali, but I must move on to the necklace. It sits on the neck as pictured:  the very center lies flat and, as it curves up to the neck, some beads rest on top of each other, creating a certain movement.  Each bead is separated by an interesting small Venetian glass bead that is clear with thin, closely-placed white stripes, resulting in a milky tone.

Each bead is 1” high and 5/8” diameter. It doesn’t feel heavy to me, but it may be a three-hour necklace for some:  a party necklace; a ladies lunch necklace.  When I put it on after weighing myself, the digital scale did not change.

It is 18” and earrings are included. The clasp and the ear piece are matching hammered silver metal.  $115.

*See Drawer 30 dated 7-26-17 for Bohemia and pressed glass story.

**See Drawer 12 dated 3-22-17 for the Tuareg story.