BEADS- An Ancient Art Form
A bead is a small decorative object that can be made from bone, horn, seeds, ivory, metal, shell, pearl, coral, gemstones, clay, glass, wood, and many other materials. Beads have existed since the earliest pre-historic times. Roughly carved beads made from sea snail shells are thought to be the earliest known examples of jewellery.
Throughout the ages beads have been universally loved, desired and sought after. They have been used in virtually every culture, not simply as adornment but to express social circumstances, political occurrences, and religious beliefs; as a form of currency; or as symbolic embodiments of curative powers.
VENICE ….the glass bead making centre of Europe
From the breath taking gold designs of ancient Egypt to the exciting renaissance of bead craftsmanship taking place today, beads have been one of the most popular forms of personal adornment.
However, they have been much more than jewellery.
Used as talismans in prehistoric and contemporary societies; as status symbols in the ancient world and in modern Africa; as religious artifacts in the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Islamic faiths, and as a standard medium of barter in almost every country, beads are interwoven into the story of the human race in ways we are only beginning to appreciate.
From the beginning, in Portobello Markets, our passion for beads remains the core of our creative energy.
First produced in Venice, Italy, in the late 15th century, Chevron beads are considered by many in Africa to be the most highly prized of all beads – King beads worn by the chiefs and wealthy village elders. These beads are very rare and difficult to acquire.
Chevron beads are produced by fusing various numbers of layers of different coloured glass, which is then shaped and ground into many patterns. Early examples of these beads are becoming scarce and thus more valuable as time goes by.
Millefiori ‘thousand flowers’ beads are the most common Venetian glass beads. Dating back as far as the 15th Century, it was not until the early 19th century that they were widely made. Millefiori beads are created by fusion of several glass rods arranged so that the cross-section creates a flower or pattern with a mosaic-like appearance.
The BAKU store in Portobello Road was becoming well known to travelers and traders coming into London from various parts of the world wanting to buy or sell beads. In particular, the store attracted many Africans who brought with them quantities of antique European beads that they had collected in West Africa.
Glass Beads had been one of the earliest forms of currency used in trade in Africa since the 16th century, when a large production of decorative beads was manufactured in Europe for merchants to barter in Africa for ivory, tortoiseshell, rhinoceros horn, palm and coconut oils, timer, pigs iron, gold and slaves. The beads became a form of currency.
The demand for the Venetian Trade beads became so intense that specific beads were created for trade with Africa. Ships would arrive laden with sample cards and ready made beads.
The success of bead currency in Africa can largely be attributed to the high intrinsic value Africans placed on decorative items of adornment and European Glass beads were particularly prized as they were made by a sophisticated manufacturing process previously unknown to Africans. Social status was easily determined by the quality, quantity and style of jewellery worn, which created high demand for trade beads throughout the region. Because of this, beads were produced according to local demand and design, resulting in many thousands of different designs.
For many years BAKU has been a supporter of the Karen (or Kariang) people of Northern Thailand.
The Karen people are skilled silversmiths. They produce beautiful handmade beads and jewellery crafted from high content silver (95-99% silver content). Each piece has its own unique story which is told through design, engravings and detail.
Our Karen silver beads come in various sizes and designs. Most of these designs are inspired by the natural environment of the Karen people or are traditional designs which have been handed down the generations.
All of the pieces of silver are uniquely handcrafted works of art and all pieces sold benefits and sustains the tribe.