Glass beads of all colors, shapes, and sizes can be turned into beautifully crafted jewelry like necklaces, earrings, bracelets, long strings that can be worn around the neck, and so on.
Beaded jewelry has adorned the human body throughout history in practically every part of the world. In the early ages animal bones were threaded with plant vines and worn as amulets as protection against evil. Once humans developed tools that could be used to create holes into various things, practically everything could be fashioned into a bead.
The Advent of Glass Bead Jewelry in Ancient Times
Tribal people, since ancient times, have always used the pods of plants and seeds as beads. Later, they learned to make beads from clay, painting them with bright colors. And much later, when glass made its appearance, sometime around 3000 BC, it transformed the concept of beaded jewelry forever. In fact, glass became so popular that the Egyptians as well as the Mesopotamians, and subsequently the Israelites, the Romans, and the Indians from the sub-continent created glass beads, using their own cultural norms on the art.
Although it is the Egyptians who are usually credited for being the first to create glass beads, however, it is still uncertain who were the actual originators of this beautiful art. Nevertheless, the Egyptians not only created glass beads but also turned them into beautiful pieces of jewelry. Today, this ancient legacy of glass-beaded treasures, which have come down to us, are some of the most exquisite and admired in existence.
The Egyptians also learned how to make colored glass beads, creating colorful and intricate designs, and often combined them with beads made of semi-precious and precious gemstones, as well as gold and silver, to make gorgeous jewelry. In fact, these beautiful glass beads were so much in demand in the ancient world that they were used as an economic commodity, being exported all over the world.
The ancient Egyptians also linked beads to spirituality, with different colored beads signifying various states of the mind, or represented the idols they worshiped, or an individual's status in society. These people believed that beads ensured anything from happiness, to health, and a place in the next world.
Even the Vikings were great bead artisans. Although they were considered as barbaric marauders, and the designs of their beads were not quite as elaborate as the ones made by the other people during the same era, the use of color in their glass beads was certainly remarkable. The distinctive colors as well as the way they arranged the beads in making bracelets, necklaces, and amulets are beautiful examples of jewelry making skills of people in those early days of human history - many of which would be quite at home in the jewelry emporiums of modern times.
Renaissance of Beaded Jewelry in the 19th and Early 20th Century
A renaissance of beading took place a few centuries after the Vikings when the couturiers of Europe, in the latter part of the 1800s, realized that they could not only draw attention to themselves but also earn a substantial amount of money by embellishing the accessories and gowns of the aristocrats with beads. Elaborate designs, which at times took several months to be created, were stitched on to all sorts of things like ball slippers and dresses.
Beads continued to be a part of fashion in the western society of the early 20th century. The Victorians and Edwardians used elaborately made beaded jewelry as adornment as well as luxurious garments embroidered with beads. Portraits of Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth are evidence of the popularity of beaded stringed jewelry and beaded garments during that era. Even the unconventional Flappers in the 1920s used beads as fashion accessories.
Today, glass bead jewelry is as popular in the fashion scene as it has always been throughout the centuries. Fashion ramps are filled with women wearing necklaces embellished with small glass beads and colorful pendants. There are also earrings and necklaces that have eye-catching large-sized and lightweight glass beads. Tiny black beads strung on delicate silver chains as well as bulky and colorful beads embedded on heavier chains are the latest trends in jewelry. Then there are strands of glass beads of various colors, sizes, and shapes that can be strung around the neck, either as a single long strand or twisted or braided for an elegant look. Vintage glass beads are being juxtaposed with wooden beads to create a dramatic effect.