With their distinct mottled appearance and exuberant matrix of green hues, Turquoise Beads are one of the most popular semi-precious bead types used in modern day jewelry. They were also inherently popular among Egyptian royals 6,000 years ago; many of whom believed that turquoise could broaden the mind and inspire creativity. It is often referred to as the “Stone of Evolution” due to the positive changes and prosperity it brought many Egyptian rulers. Some even believed their ancestors could impart their great knowledge to these stones on their death bed, thus making it a source of power and inspiration for new rulers.
But, these African semi-precious beads aren't always what they seem. In fact, the vast majority of Turquoise Beads from Africa are dyed imitations; crafted from ornamental Jasper found in abundance throughout South Africa. These were originally produced as currency for trans-Saharan trade. Unlike real turquoise, which is a phosphate created by the combining of aluminum and copper, African jasper is largely made up of chalcedony – a form of silica. Of course, this has very little to do with the difference in value between both minerals; turquoise is simply far rarer, and it is this rarity which dictates its value in the modern market.
African Turquoise Beads are produced in a wide variety of shapes and sizes – some of which can be indicative of their origin. Seed beads and bead chips often originate from the Eastern Cape, where tribes such as the Xhosa use them for elaborate hand-stitched wedding collars. Larger beads continue to be produced along parts of the Sinai Peninsula, and are often more valuable. Both the Ashanti and Krobo tribes of Ghana produce a variety of turquoise bead imitations, however, these are made from glass and not African Jasper.