- New ornaments for tajs and other hat styles
- Beads for earrings and veil pins
- Beads for Mongolian and Byzantine temple pendants
- Was easy, I've used up almost all that I bought and I'll be purchasing more soon.
But lets talk about beads and precious stones generally.
The questions are: what did they have, what got preserved/represented, what did they use when they couldn't afford the good stuff, what should we buy and use?
I've been looking at the photos I've taken in museums over the years as well as spending a bunch of time on Pintrest looking at other museum photos.
Here's a link to my main jewelry board on Pintrest.
If you see something under the Dead Links category that you recognize, let me know.
I've kind of centered my interest in Byzantine/Roman and Mongol/Central Asia as two sets of examples for this post.
We know that gemstones and beads were some of the earliest and most universal forms of ornament and some of the earliest impetus for trade. Trade in beautiful and rare stones and other natural objects like coral, pearls and amber stretch back into the Paleolithic.
The value of gemstones at a particular time and place are based on a bunch of factors: rarity, distance, beauty, symbolism, status, the quality of individual gemstones and other factors. This stuff changes over time. And when you look at the value of jewels in the modern world, you have to take marketing into account.
See also: diamonds are dumb.
While diamonds had limited use in jewelry beginning in Roman times, they were used not for their beauty, but for their symbolic properties such as protection from poison and increasing accord between spouses.
In the modern world we divide gems into 'precious' and 'semi-precious' with diamonds, rubies, emeralds, pearls and sapphires considered precious and other stones like jade, turquoise, lapis, coral, amber, chalcedony, rock crystals and others as semi-precious.
But many of today's rarest and mot expensive stones such as Tanzanite and Alexandrite were entirely unknown prior to modern times and stones that are inexpensive today such as jade, lapis, rock crystal and turquoise were rare and expensive.
" The materials used in Mesopotamian jewelry were the basic copper, gold, silver, and electrum, along with the not-so-basic gemstones like agate, carnelian, chalcedony, crystal, jasper, lapis lazuli (which was valued higher than any other material, even gold), onyx and sardonyx. Also used were shells and pearls."
The jewelry of Ancient Mesopotamia is famous for good reason, the link below is a great basic source with lots of great pictures. Even if you don't care abut the historical period, go look just because it's beautiful and you deserve to look at beautiful things.
They were trading textiles for gold and silver from Anatolia. They also sourced gold and silver from Iran. They got lapis from Afghanistan and carnelian from India, about 1500 miles away so they invested a lot of resources in sourcing these materials and crafting them into high status and beautiful objects.
The value of individual jewels varied widely and the value of a 'set' of jewels in a necklace, headdress, crown etc varied widely as well based on some of the following questions;
How big were the jewels? How many? How well-matched?
As always, it's important to remember that what was recorded or preserved isn't always a good representation of what was widely available.
The Byzantine Empress and the Mongol Khatun were two of the most important and wealthiest women of their time. So they are depicted in the most formal of situations wearing the most valuable and rare of jewels.
Literary descriptions say they were, but the pearls themselves haven't survived. What does survive are much tinier examples.
You also see that other gems are used for contrast. In the recorded descriptions, emeralds, rubies, turquoise and corals seem to be mentioned most often.
What about a step below? Imitation pearls were absolutely a thing, made with fish scales to catch the light and imitate the luminous quality of the real thing.
"Artisans have long fallen short of creating the perfect imitation pearl as a pearl’s shiny nacre surface is difficult to replicate. Nevertheless, numerous attempts have been made. A recipe for making imitation pearls appears in the famous Stockholm Papyrus dating from the third or fourth century ad, one of the few accounts of early chemistry and alchemy. Early imitation pearls were beads made of polished mother-of-pearl, glass.or stone such as alabaster. To create the iridescence on the surface, the beads were sometimes soaked in oil and/or coated with iridescent material such as isinglass, wax, pearl powder in adhesive,or even quicksilver (mercury) and snail slime."
From the journal Textile History: Fish Scales and Faux Pearls : A Brief Exploration into the History of Manufacturing Faux Pearls
Other imitations included 'paste' jewels, glass and faience (an early form of glass that goes back to ancient Egypt).
You also have to think about availability and that has a lot to do with trade routes and access to war booty. The mis-matched but highly valued bead necklaces of the Vikings are a fantastic example. Both the Empress and the Khatun sat at the center of major trade networks and military power. If they wanted it, it could be acquired. Local leaders situated further from the main flow of goods had less access.
So what about making items for modern-day re-enactors?
Lots of people get stressed out trying to get absolutely everything 'perfect'. But re-enactment is a constant process of using the information you have right now to do the best you can and then going out and learning more. And one of the really lovely things about beads is that you can use the best you can find and you can take the jewelry apart and re-make it as many times as you want as you collect more cool stuff.
I love using questions like 'How many pearls could I have afforded?' as a way to get more detail and texture to my persona story, even though I may never know the exact answer.
So in the SCA, all members are assumed to be of at least minor nobility, so we would all have access to some level of material wealth. It can be fun to look at paintings from your time period to compare multiple figures within the same scene to see if you can spot specific differences in wealth, status, activity etc.
So my general advice about beads is to buy the real thing whenever you can. If you buy them online or at a gem and jewelry show, they are as cheap or cheaper than plastic or glass imitations. Additionally, they tend to be significantly sturdier. Especially pearls. If you are going to spend your time and energy making jewelry or decorating your clothing with beads, you should work with materials that are worthy of your time.
And having plastic pearls start to flake as soon as you finish the project is more than a little demoralizing. If you aren't going to use the real material or a natural lookalike (sodalite instead of lapis or aventurine instead of jade for example) at least go with a glass substitute.
Glass beads are very, very period. They have the same weight as period beads: lighter plastic beads move and hang differently. Glass beads are typically much more durable than plastic.
A word of warning about the modern bead industry: lots of beads are sold as being a particular stone but are either not that at all or are dyed, heat-treated or re-constituted. Pretty much all jade being sold these days is NOT jadeite or nephrite. Same with cheap lapis and turquoise.
I've made my peace with this since I care about the historic look and feel. However, if I'm spending serious money on stones I will be very direct with the dealer about what it really is. But mostly I just want it to look and feel right.
This post has gotten way longer than I intended because of all the pictures. I will talk about bead shapes in another post soon, because that is important too. But in the meantime, you need another Caftan Project update and a Studio update (I may have solved, or partially an Ottoman hat conundrum.
But in the meantime, here's some of what I bought at the bead show: