What’s Up With the Beads?

Connecting People over Space and Time

Not just a 60s obsession…

Necklace made from wooden beads, most likely South Pacific, mid to late 20th Century

Beads are nothing new, and their popularity wasn’t exactly invented by the 60s’ hippies. Maybe they have rediscovered them, but beads were a cultural staple for Millennia.

They are believed to have been used for jewelry since ancient times and by each and every society on our planet.

Necklace using bone beads, made in the Native tradition for ceremonial dance. On loan from Allen Williams

Cherished not only for their beauty, they always were of tangible, real life value: during the course of history, beads were used as currency. Just like modern day money, they made it possible to trade goods between tribes or even far away lands.

Beads were literally bringing people together.

Beads as messengers…

If only it were possible to have such pretty money today. If only we could buy our groceries, clothes, medicine or furniture with beads. Imagine how much fun that would be!

At the very least, we would have more conversations while paying for our goods, and we would learn more from one another too! Beats Cryptocurrency in beauty and social value any given time…

Hebron glass beads from Israel, early to mid 20th Century

Trading with beads became so common, that entire towns made a living from producing beads. Some of these towns are well known for their beads still today. Just think of Venice and its ancient trade beads. Even today, the glass artists of Murano craft colorful glass beads of breathtaking beauty.

Let’s not even mention the awesomeness of old Kiffa beads from Mauretania. Sure, they still make them and they’re cute, but nothing like their antique versions. A very good example of a highly specialized, long forgotten technique and unique style, confined to a relatively small geographical area.

Hand blown glass heart, possibly Murano (?)

Jablonec in the Czech Republic is another important glass bead town, although with a different manufacturing process and a different purpose in bead history.

This Bohemian town brought along a spin-off into the modern era: Neu-Gablonz in Germany has secured its place in the 50s, 60s and 70s mainly by making imitation beads and other jewelry components.

Imitation Coral, made from plastic. Mid 20th Century

There are many places on Earth which have their very specific bead styles and materials, and it makes the origin of the older beads very identifiable. Of course today, as with anything else, their authenticity becomes more hazy, as our contemporary beads aren’t categorized as easily.

When it comes to their purpose, nothing is different from one corner of the world to the other. That’s true for bead collectors, historians, artisans or traders. And all are addicted to those little round balls with holes.

But the message is loud and clear: beads have flooded the planet. Like a liquid stream, consisting of little orbs and flowing everywhere. And they’re still doing a fine job connecting people.

Sidewalk plaque in Delray Beach, FL, honoring Dr. Martin Luther King

So it only makes sense to use beads as a symbol for the bond between individuals in our communities. Beads of all colors, sizes, shapes, materials – all are on one string!

Nothing is more casual and yet significant at the same time.

An expression of joy is captured in each bead. After all, beads are not a necessity for survival, so producing them carries a different motivational approach. A “Joie de vivre”, if you will.

They should remind us of our “human” origin, having essentially one goal: being happy and living a fulfilled life. A life that’s built on love. And peaceful coexistence.


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