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Uses for African Trade Beads: Jewelry

This is the final post in a five-part series on the different uses of African trade beads. Today we are discussing the use of African beads in jewelry. The many facets of nature have long been a source of inspiration for both contemporary, and ancient jewelry artisans who have utilized the “elements of the Earth” since Neolithic ages. Africa is one of few continents where ancient bead production practices are still as prominent as they were several hundred years ago – and where crafting new from old is commonplace. This recycling concept had little to do with environmental issues, and more to do with the limited supply of varied materials available to indigenous tribes. Essentially, Africa has been utilizing various recycling processes for Centuries, while the rest of the World is still catching up – notably within the jewelry industry. Environmental awareness has (over the last decade) brought with it a relatively new concept for inspired fashion – Recycled Glass Beads; now appearing within replicated African jewelry on the front of the world's most fashionable magazines. Kiffa and Zula Beads have become popular inclusions within the chunky necklaces and cuff bracelets of recent seasons, complimenting the natural hemp and cottons of Eco-fashion clothing. International jewelry trends have also seemingly lent towards “sustainable life” and “reuse and renew” concepts, influencing an increase in the level of natural materials adopted within jewelry design. The African Harvest Necklace design, originating from Southern Ethiopia has featured prominently in recent years. Originally a strung adornment of seeds, stones and Clay Spindle Whorl Beads (the same as those featured here at The Bead Chest), the “Harvest Necklace” was gifted to celebrate the “triumph of seed to harvest”. Statement jewelry has somewhat superseded the intricate finery of silver chains and thin gold necklaces, inspiration drawn mainly from the creations of the Peul and Ethiopian tribes of Africa. Over-sized neck adornments in the form of large woven chokers and necklaces originally symbolized coming of age, fertility and social status. Colorful, small beads (similar to our Christmas Beads here at The Bead Chest) are intricately woven upon thin twine, to create asymmetric, over-sized designs with long, fringed embellishments. Popular woven techniques such as Ndebele are now used internationally to replicate these colorful, collar/ choker adornments. If you fancy trying your hand at this woven stitch, why not take a look at our Kenya White Metal Heishi Beads? At just 3mm in diameter, these are the perfect size to recreate that stunning woven finish!