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I am a recovering beadaholic, and I wear very little jewelry other than my own creations. I like beads that are antique, vintage or ethnic, as well as gemstones and (glass) pearls. I avoid real pearls, bone, and especially coral, but have been known to buy fossil and vegetable ivory. Almost a year ago I promised to share some of my beaded necklaces in this blog, and I’m finally getting around to it…

This necklace is composed of old trade beads from the nineteenth century. The main ingredient is the “Russian blue” faceted beads, which were made in Bohemia (in what is now the Czech Republic) and exported to the Pacific coast of North America. There Russian traders passed them to Native Americans in exchange for furs. (These cobalt blue beads were also traded in Africa.)

I love the brilliant colors in this strand, even if it doesn’t go with most of my clothes…


Beads were incredibly important in world trade during the “colonial” periods in Africa and North America. I find it fascinating that of all the things Europeans had to offer native peoples, what they prized most was glass beads (together with certain utilitarian items such as textiles, tools, and raw metals for their forges). In return, the Europeans took spices, carvings, ivory, gum arabic, and slaves. Production of glass beads in the great glassmaking centers of Europe was driven by native peoples’ preferences for certain styles, colors, and shapes.


Close up, you can see how irregular the faceted blue beads are. Each is handmade, but the layered chevrons were much more labor-intensive to produce.

The strand includes multi-layered Venetian chevron beads in red, white and blue, as well as a sprinkling of red beads known as “white hearts” (red glass over a white core). White hearts are one of the oldest types of trade beads and millions were made in Venice over the centuries to be traded around the world. Whenever I wear this necklace, I wonder how many miles these particular beads traveled over the years, before they came to me.