New Inventory

From Times Past

Chicory.jpg

Is that a real fossil?  From what creature? What are those large beads made of?  Is it real amber?  Our new Chicory necklace (sold) is sure to elicit many questions when worn around town.  Its honey-colored palette radiates a sense of warmth and comfort while the gold-filled spacer beads provide sophistication and elegance.  The pendant is made from a fossil of an extinct group of marine invertebrates called ammonites.  This particular ammonite has been sliced and polished to reveal the internal chambers and septa (walls between the chambers) on the front while the backside is slightly iridescent from traces of the mother of pearl.

The large honey-colored beads are more difficult to identify.  Sold to me as African copal trade beads, my research has led me to believe that they are actually made of phenolic resin.  Copal is tree resin that has not fully polymerized and hardened into amber. Its aromatic qualities make it desirable as incense, and it is also a valuable ingredient in good wood varnish.  As it is much more plentiful, and therefore affordable, than fossilized amber, it is not uncommon for copal to be sold as amber in the present day.  Bead historians, however, believe that most of the “copal” or “amber” beads that were used in the African trade were actually made from phenolic resin, a type of early plastic, in Germany in the 1920’s, 30’s, and 40’s.  The beads made from this resin were even cut unevenly so that they would look more authentic and tribal; however, the twelve beads I have chosen for Chicory are fairly regular in shape and size.  African “amber” beads have become quite valuable in their own right for their beauty, history, and surface antiquing.

It is to be noted that when I held a flame to one of the other beads on this strand, it smelled like burning plastic and not pine sap, as amber does.  Their surface is rough and they look like they have had a good life on at least three continents.

Color variations in old phenolic resin beads.  Photo by Carl Dreibelbis, co-author of African Beads: Jewels of a Continent.

Color variations in old phenolic resin beads.  Photo by Carl Dreibelbis, co-author of African Beads: Jewels of a Continent.