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Learn more about Metal Beads

Ornate and beautiful, African Metal Beads have long been an expressive art medium for indigenous tribes of the Southern and Eastern Capes. Their versatility as both a currency and symbol of status has vastly improved the fortunes of many impoverished regions, and borne an art form that continues to be imparted by ancestors to younger generations. Focal African Copper Beads are thought to be among the earliest formats produced using the “lost wax” method; an ancient Tuareg technique involving the use of hollow wax molds to shape and set molten metal. Ductile and soft, copper is one of the easiest metals to manipulate into elaborate shapes, which is why you'll find the vast majority of Copper Beads here at The Bead Chest are characterised by intricate designs and filigree work. Ethiopian Heishi Beads produced prior to the 1950's also utilised this method, and historians suggest the ancient Tuareg technique may have paved the way for the cage-like Baoule Brass Beads now produced in abundance along the Ivory Coast. Africa's popular White Metal Beads are a more recent innovation. They are commonly produced using recyclable alloys, such as aluminium, sourced from discarded cans and industrial roofing. Metal Beads tend to be far less elaborate in character than their copper counterparts owing to the process by which they are made. Both Tube and Heishi Beads are produced using the “winding” technique – a process whereby the metal is heated until malleable, before winding it around a mandrel and hammering it into shape. This technique allows for greater uniformity when crafting smaller beads, making them ideal for bead-weaving and peyote style projects.
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