With their chunky ergonomics and glossy "skin", Padre Beads are making a
come-back in fashion - particularly within tribal-inspired jewelry. The "Padre" link to Latin language would suggest to all intents and purposes that these trade beads were born from a country such as Spain, however it is a little known fact they are actually Chinese in origin - also known as "Peking Beads".
When it comes to bead production, the great Chinese dynasties left very little behind by way of legacy or indication. We are able to ascertain that from the year 1127 onward, Southern China had become a seafaring nation, with an intrinsic interest in building trading rapports with the Middle East and Africa. Less is known about their forays to Europe until the 15th Century.
Glass production within Southern China is thought to have commenced around the 10th Century - the only real motivation for it, being the aspirations of the elite to consistently outrank one another in style. The Chinese court was the ultimate fashion parade, and beads the primary style used to adorn flamboyant dress. Glass beads were of a predominantly wound variety, the first examples of which are a uniform "spring bead" that resembles a skewed disk. Nearly all beads incorporated lead for color manipulation - also true of early Padre Beads.
The Ching Dynasty is arguably China's most defining. From 1640, China underwent a period of unification when the Mam sought to realign the North and South. At the same point in time, Spain's "Galleon Trade" was increasing it's attentions, to include Manila, linked by Mexico. Thus the foundations were laid for Chinese trade to Europe. Despite their connections, and the subsequent movement of Padre Beads in exchange for exotic citrus fruits, spices and foodstuffs, China's love for bead adornment intensified. The Ching court was the most opulent the country had ever seen, and the competition among aristocracy to be noticed, and accepted within the court was rife.
Little is known about the manner in which Padre Beads were sewn onto clothes, however it is thought they tended to be favored by those who could not afford precious stones. This, coupled with the weighty aesthetic Padre Beads gave to clothes, was suggestive of heavy, luxuriant fabrics connoting higher financial/ social status. The fashions for Padre Beads are evident up to, and including the 19th Century.
So if you fancy putting some Chinese glamor, into your African inspired trade bead collection, check out our abundant selection of old Padre Beads here at The Bead Chest. We even stock the rare blue variants, that were so coveted by the Amer-Indians! But that is another blog post entirely!