An array of Beads

by Bina Shaji Kurup

Buying beaded jewellery, like buying any other jewellery is a joy and it can be great fun deciding what beaded jewellery will suit and reflect your personality. The choice available in beaded jewellery is vast, there are glass beads, crystal beads, wooden beads, plastic beads, precious and semi-precious stone beads and much more.

bead bracelet

Organic Beads

Beaded jewellery is the oldest form of ornamentation and clay, bone and shell beads were among the earliest found forms of beads. Bone beads are, as the name suggests, made from bones of animals like camels and cows. They can also be carved and made into different shapes easily. The antique look bead is a finish on the bead which makes it look old and used. Most bone beads are handmade and getting uniform bone beads is difficult. Sometimes, the beads are made from artificial bone-resin also. One can find bone beads which are painted and it is possible to change the color of natural bone beads at home with the help of dyes or bleach to darken and lighten the colors of the bead. The horns of animals such as sheep, buffalo, and goat too are used to make beads -bone and horn beads can be a little expensive and have a hip-hop appeal.

Shells can be made into beads - in fact pearls too are beads. The mother-of-pearl, inside which the pearl grows, is also used to make beads as is the shell of the mollusk. Since shells come in a variety of hues, the beads too have colors depending on the shell used. These shells and mother-of-pearls are sometimes dyed to get beautiful pastel shades which do not occur naturally. The translucent mother-of-pearl is a symbol of good luck in Feng Shui, bringing prosperity and wealth. So if you have a friend who follows Feng Shui, then a mother-of-pearl bead bracelet or earrings can be the perfect gift.

Wood Beads

Carved or plain, painted or natural, wooden beads have a unique allure. Combine wood beads with clay for an ethnic design or with colored glass or rock beads for a casual look. Natural wood beads are made from all kinds of trees from the scented sandalwood to the cheap bamboo. Long lasting as they are, some wood beads are used to make rosaries and other spiritual neckwear, armlets and bracelets. The Rudrksha bead is a naturally growing bead which is believed to have religious and health benefits as well. The beautiful grains of Teak or Rosewood are brought out by polishing the beads and coating them with varnish. Some beads are left unpolished for a raw look and others are artificially colored.

The Egyptians used clay to make beads and till date the trend of making clay beads and baking them in a kiln continues. Polymer clay beads (artificial clay) are easy to make - even at home. Just make the required shapes or carve it and pop it into the oven to bake, but remember to make the holes for stringing them before you bake it! Remove and paint the surface if required. But these are quite heavy, so string them on a strong material like metal wire or leather.

Ceramic Beads

Bright blues with green designs, round, flat and plenty of other shapes - are the ceramic and porcelain beads. These are made with clay but with chemicals added for harder beads with a better finish. An assortment of clay, ceramic and porcelain beads are available on the internet. Coated with a range of colors and finishes from metallic, matte and even enamel, these are very versatile and some ceramic / porcelain beads can even be worn for formal occasions. Whereas the clay beads are earthier in nature, fragile and are great for a rustic or exotic look teamed with gypsy skirts.

Natural Beads

Natural beads can also be crafted from stone. Semi-precious stones and rock stones are both made into beads. Stones like Jasper, Hematite, Rhodonite, Onyx etc. are found in gorgeous colors and some have several colors spilling into each other - making the beads a visual delight. Minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, copper etc in quartz, color the stones in a range of hues - blue, gold, pink, red, green and even black. Soapstone is a very soft stone that can be easily broken if handled roughly and soapstone beads should be worn carefully. Stone beads can be carved into various shapes - geometric, animal, abstracts and plenty more. They have a higher durability due to their inherent hardness as compared to clay, ceramic, shell or glass beads.

Plastic Beads

Plastic or Acrylic beads are normally used by kids, one would think. But the attractive plastic beads with different metallic colors or the pretty birthstone symbol acrylic bead or even the Japanese acrylic, handmade beads can be great for casual wear for people of every age. The advantage of plastic beads is that the colors are almost permanent since the dye is mixed into plastic material used to make the beads and plastic beads, which are not coated from the outside can be washed too. Lightweight and colored brightly in yellows, reds, blues and plenty of other single and multi-colors, plastic beads can be strung on regular thread unlike the heavier glass, metal or stone beads.

Alphabet Beads

Alphabet or Letter beads are great for projects which need names or any words. Alphabet beads come in several materials from silver to ceramic and most of these beads have larger holes than other beads, making it easier to string them to make special occasion name chains or bracelets.

Beads are extremely versatile and can be made from every possible material - natural and man made. Right from shells, wood, paper, seeds to precious and semi-precious gemstones, gold and silver and even fiber optic or artificial Cat's eye which are man-made to create the same effect of chatoyancy as the cat's eye stone.

The choice is never-ending and manufacturers of beaded jewellery and beads constantly conjure up new creations to lure everyone - man, woman and child into the fascinating world of beads.

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