Chapter 33

Jewels of Ancient Lands -- 50 Jewelry Basics

Moldavite Earring & Ring Set built from my Jewels of Ancient Lands Kit.


  • Beads as Money -- Beads were the first money. Until then, about 50,000 B.C., any exchange was strictly in livestock, food, skins, weapons -- some sort of trade or barter. The hole in a bead made it easy to carry on a string or leather thong. Certain beads had definite values. Common early "money" beads were bone, shell, wood and some larger seeds. In some parts of the world, beads are still money.
  • How beads are made -- Typically, beads were made in ancient times by grinding the bead against a slightly rough stone. Tumbled rocks come naturally, out of a running stream, and the softer stones were easier to work with, especially shells, which had thin spots and were easily drilled. Keep in mind that a bow-drill uses water and sand to achieve its purpose.
  • The Djenne Trade Route -- The Djenne Trade Route is just one of several primary trade routes across the known world. Most of the trade was in items that were worth the expense and danger of travel. Robbers and entire armies were hiding all along the route, and caravans were in serious danger in the bleak lands between the caravanserai safe-stops, and even they were not immune from attack. Silks, rare pharmaceuticals, tea and coffee, spices and perfumes were among the most-favored lading, and horses and camels were used in the transportation of goods.
  • Excavations & Tomb Raiders -- Entire cemeteries from ancient times abound in the Middle East and Eastern lands. During the American Civil War, paper was needed by the Confederate States, and millions of Egyptian mummies were "salvaged" for their linen, which was made into paper, which ironically curled and could not be flattened. Tombari, Tomb-Raiders, have been romanticized in recent films, but the fact is that you're digging up bones and stones. I never deal in mummy beads -- the Egyptian faience beads I use are strictly from home-site excavations, not tombs.
  • Types of Beads -- There are many types of beads, keeping in mind that anything with a hole can be considered a bead. Glass beads are popular and common, and so are stone and gemstone beads, but you'll also find beads made from silver, gold, copper, iron, bronze, brass, pewter, wood, plastic, natural tree resins, sea-shells, ivory and a wide variety of surprising media, such as paper origami beads, textile beads and more. Almost anything can be fashioned into a bead of some sort.
  • Common Bead Shapes & Colors -- There are as many bead shapes as there are shapes, and maybe more, but the basics are very easy to remember. Round, Rondel (sort of bagel or donut shaped), Biconical (two cones put together end to end), Square, Rectangular and Carved, meaning any shape from starfish to butterfly. You will find beads in thousands of different shapes, but in the end, you'll use round, rondel and biconical some 90 percent of the time. Tubular beads are hard to drill and have become more available only after the advent of the sonic drills.
  • Stone Beads -- Stone beads date all the way back, but some stone beads are harder to carve and drill than others, Granite, often called "Gneiss" by collectors, was a prized and high-valued stone in ancient times, just because it took a long time to carve and even more time to drill. Carnelian, Jasper, Quartz of any kind, Lapis Lazuli, Garnet and Jade were highly prized, again for their hardness. The harder the stone, the more valuable, in theory, diamonds being the hardest, at 10.0, followed by sapphire, emerald and ruby, all very hard stones. In ancient times, they were not typically faceted, and when they were, it was often cut in a Chinese 8-Corner style. Diamond beads have been made, but I prefer to use Herkimer Diamonds -- they look and feel just great, and they are easy to work with, although hard to find in the marketplace.
  • Glass Beads -- Blue Cobalt Glass is the big ticket item in ancient Roman and in medieval Dutch beads. Bohemian and Czech patterned glass beads that were traded in Africa are very prized. Moldavite is meteoric glass, and can be drilled to make a bead. Other important glass beads include lampwork beads, early glass dating from 1200-800 B.C. and Venetian and other Italian glass of the 18th century. Ancient Egyptian glass is rare, expensive and tending toward extremely fragile, but it can be a delightful addition to a piece intended for reincarnation awareness practices.
  • Metal Beads -- Gold, silver, bronze, pewter, iron, steel, titanium, copper, zinc and more. Some metal beads out of Africa were beaten into beads from European silver and copper coins. Stamped metal and complex metal beads such as Bali-Style silver and copper beads are very useful in the making of ancient style jewelry items. One remarkable thing about ancient metal works is that they tend to copy ceramics, an earlier artform material that predates metals by tens of thousands of years. Fired ceramics can be found as far back as 30,000 B.C. in Lung-Shan and Shao-Tung excavation sites.
  • Wooden Beads -- Wooden beads can be smooth or carved, and can be just about any shape you care to name. Hardwood beads are very different from softer woods, and stains, paint and inset stones can be features of wooden beads, which range in price from ridiculously low to ridiculously high. Netsuke, Inro boxes and Ojime beads can all three be considered beads, albeit the Inro box might be a bit overwhelming, and these carvings can be highly elaborated and detailed. Ancient wooden beads in my collection include sunken galley timbers and a piece of the sarcophagus of a Princess made into beads, plus a piece of the True Cross, one of over six thousand tons of the same thing, found all over the Holyland and the Italian peninsula.
  • Ceramic Beads -- Ceramic beads might be fired or unfired clay, and can be under-painted and glazed and fired at Cone .05, or fashioned as rough & raw Cone 10 Stoneware, and anything in-between. Ceramics are very wide in range of tones, qualities and textures, and can open a world of delight for you.
  • Drill Holes & Their Significance & Causes -- Modern drill holes are straight through, sonic-style. Ancient drill-holes were made from both ends toward the middle, unless it was thin or soft, such as shell or softwoods. Examination with a loupe will reveal that the two opposing holes never quite meet exactly dead-on. The resultant hole between the two is what you have to get your wire through, and often it's just too small. Drills were commonly bow-type, which is an ordinary bow with a string that winds around a central drill stick, pointed at the bottom and fire-hardened, which is turned clockwise then counterclockwise against the item to be drilled. Water and sand are used to accomplish the grinding process. Sometimes other more aggressive ground-up compounds are used in place of ordinary sand.
  • Detective Workshopping Your Ancient Beads -- Drill holes are a dead giveaway to the bead's age. Nobody double-drills anymore -- too inefficient and too costly in labor and time and energy. Ancient glass always has some sort of patina, and long burial can result in high levels of luminescence, a valued trait in any ancient glass bead. Beads that are perfect are machine made. Beads with imperfections and variations might possibly be hand-made, and with experience and practice, you can tell the difference between a modern copy and a genuine ancient bead just by looking at it. There are remarkable books about beads and studying photos of the beads you want to use will help a great deal.
  • A Short History of Beads -- Beads started as trade items, became objects of personal adornment because the family wealth was worn on strands of fibers or rawhide thongs, made into earrings -- the earliest of which were permanently installed in the earlobe, allowing other parts to hang from the small earlobe circle or plug. Beads have been used in lampshades, macrame and basketwork, and have thousands of craft applications. You can find out more about beads and how they have been used by searching the internet and attending craft and bead shows. Nowadays, beads are collectibles, art-forms, decorative body and furnishings accessories, and depositaries of personal and corporate wealth. Believe it or not, some beads are worth millions.
  • Detective Workshopping Your Found Bead Collection -- Found beads are tricky and sometimes hard to identify positively. The probable location of the bead hoard can sometimes be guessed-at, but it is guesswork at best. Most beads are easily recognizable by bead experts, but you might not have enough experience to readily identify a bead or strand of beads, in which case, photograph them and post them and ask for help in identifying them.
  • How to Use a Loupe -- A loupe is used to closely examine something. You put the loupe right up to your eye. If you wear glasses, remove them first, and use the loupe as you would your eyeglass lens, bringing it very, very close to your eye and about two inches from the item to be examined. It's meant for tight closeup examination, not for working on the piece, just looking closely at something very small.
  • Bead Identification & Labeling, Correct Procedures -- Whenever you get new beads into your atelier, always immediately identify them and put any other information you may need to know about them on the storage baggie, box or vial. Never fail to do this, or pay the price.
  • What is the Gauge of This Unmarked Wire? -- It's easy to determine the gauge of any wire. Merely buy a wire gauge and pass the wire through successively smaller gauges, which means, go from smaller number to higher number.
  • What is Gauge anyway? -- Gauge is the measure of the wire given in such a way that you can determine its relative size in relation to other gauges. The most popular gauges for Stone Age Jewelry are 16 gauge, 20 gauge, 22 gauge for earrings, and 14 gauge and 12 gauge for women's and men's rings, respectively.
  • Carats vs. Karats -- Which is Which??? Carats are how much a gemstone weighs. You get carats by weighing the stone on a gram-scale, then multiplying the gram weight by 5, which gives you the carat-weight of the stone. Karats with a "K" is a measure of the relative amount of gold to other metals, to a total of 24 parts, thus 14 karat indicates that 14 parts out of a possible 14 parts is gold, the rest is mostly copper, silver and other metals. 18 karat indicates 18/24 gold, 24 karat indicates 24/24 parts gold.
  • How to Weigh Precious Metals -- Place the precious metal on a gram scale and write down the gram-weight. Now switch the scale over to DWT or Pennyweight, and record that result. There are 31.1 grams in an ounce of metal, or 20 DWT, so do your calculations from there to determine the price per gram or per pennyweight, as you need to do set the price.
  • How to Weigh Precious Gems & Convert Weight to Carats -- Get the weight of the gemstone in grams, then convert to carats by multiplying by five.
  • How to Use the "Tare" Button on a Scale -- If you need to weigh something in a container of some kind, you need to find an exactly similar container. Place the box or vial or container on the gram scale, wait a moment until the scale "sees" the item by giving you a number, then press the "TARE" button near the "ON" button -- every jewelry scale has this "TARE" button. The scale will now read "ZERO". Remove the empty container and replace it with the container that contains the item you want to weigh. You will now get the weight of the item, less the weight of the container.
  • What is Patina and What is its Cause? -- Things combine with oxygen over time. Oxygen reacts as a burning agent, and the resultant scorching can create some interesting effects, such as luminescence and iridescence.
  • What is Iridescence? -- Iridescence is a subtle rainbow of broken light emanating from the surface of something, such as a bead.
  • Detecting Fakes -- Fake ancient beads are easy to see once you have some experience at shows and have seen a few hundred real ancient beads. Fakes are always easily detectible if you know the signs. If you don't yet have enough experience, you need to find a reliable bead dealer who can steer you through the tough turns.
  • Correct Excavation Techniques & Strata Recording -- Excavation records and stratum information are always lacking with beads. They're just not considered important enough to record in detail, and normally beads that reach the marketplace were not dug up by archaeologists, but by local farmers and herdsmen who stumble upon an ancient cemetery, shrine or workshop. Even official excavations sometimes fail to correctly record the stratum from which a set of beads was taken, and sometimes the stratum isn't clear or is misidentified, which happens when graduate students are used on the excavation team.
  • What Ancient Beads are Okay to Wear??? -- Some ancient beads have been exposed to Bad Things, and some beads are just too delicate or fragile to wear every day. Some ancient beads are okay to wear infrequently, such as carnelian, lapis, turquoise, amber and amethyst. The softer or more delicate beads are not recommended for daily wear, such as ancient gold-glass.
  • What Metal Should I Wear? -- If your skin is sensitive to copper, sterling silver and 14k gold, it might not react to 18k or 22k gold. Copper can be worn by most folks even in ear-wire form, but some people are sensitive to copper, some to silver, some to both. The reason 14k gold is in the "possible reaction" list is because it is made with a lot of silver, unless it's 14k red gold, in which case, copper is the culprit.
  • Wearing Glasses -- Keeping Something Between Eyes & Metal -- Always wear something, even if it's just a pair of lightweight reading glasses. Never take a chance with your eyeballs when it comes to raw metals and flying chunks of wire, which can happen when you cut the wires. Be careful!!!
  • Staying Ahead of Yourself– Keeping ahead of the game is just like being in the kitchen, where you clean as you go, and get a few things done that don't get cooked right now. It's all in the food-prep in the kitchen, and the same is true in the jewelry studio. Do your bending before you attach the bent thing to something else. Take the extra second to prepare the item before engaging.
  • Patience With the Metal & Your Own Incompetence -- Patience is more than a virtue -- it's an absolute necessity when working in Stone Age Jewelry. Nobody in the ancient world was in a hurry unless there was an enraged Mastodon behind them.
  • Handling Ego-Threat Caused by Ignominious Failure -- Failure is part of the learning curve. Live with it. Sell your failures as "Seconds" and be happy to get something out of it at all.
  • Consistency is Everything -- I mean it. Think about it. When you're all over the place, you can't know what went wrong. Only ONE variable in any equation, please.
  • Relaxing the Face Mask While Silversmithing -- Relaxation of the Mask is so important, because it allows you to put the energy into the creation of the piece, instead of into your face. You don't need facial expressions to convey any information to the jewelry, so let the Face Mask go.
  • Dancing Hands & Graceful Design Lines -- As small as jewelry is, there's still a great deal of expression and action there, and your hands are quite capable of grace & movement. Think painting while creating jewelry, and you'll get the idea. Poetry in Motion.
  • Good Wishing While Working Makes Good Jewelry More Sacred -- Wishing well for others, all others, including those who displease you, will empower your work and make it strong, magnetic and attractive.
  • High Attention Pays Off -- Try the opposite, and ask yourself if you want to live with the resultant effect, then put the attention into it and repair the damage, resolving to not repeat the mistake of taking your attention off the working piece while you're working on it.
  • Working in Groups of Elements -- Each part of the jewelry item is called an "Element". Elements occur in Union of Opposites, curved against straight, round against square, complex against simple. In beading, elements are often built with a combination of primary beads and spacer beads, those which merely take up space in the design.
  • Avoiding Multi-Tasking, the Invention of the Lazy Dog -- Multitasking requires that every time you change from one task to another, you must readjust. This makes you very ineffective and highly inefficient, but if you're easily bored, you can't resist multitasking -- it keeps you off-balance and insecure, a state truly worthy of a higher being, eh?
  • Remaining Calm Regardless of Provocation While Silversmithing -- Jewelry-making can be downright therapeutic when your body is in an upset or when you're feeling low or depressed, and jewelry sales are a great way to get feedback on your state. Bummed out? Jewelry sales will suck. Exhilarated by the jewelry game? Your sales will soar.
  • Continual Eye Contact With Working Area of Metal or Gemstone -- One thing you'll notice about professional jewelry crafters is that they never take their eye off the item on which they're working, just as a golfer keeps the eye on the ball, not on the swing of the club or anything else, just on the ball right through the swing, following the ball as it flies into the air, and keeping an eye on it while walking or riding toward it.
  • Correct Breathing Technique While Silversmithing -- Breathing should be natural and easy, not harsh or struggling, unless you have a breathing problem to begin with. Jewelry crafting is fun. There's no reason to get uptight or tense about it, and even if you totally screw it up, there's nothing that can't be fixed, and there's no part of any kit that I send out that's worth grieving over if it breaks in the making of the piece, which sometimes does happen. Just send for another part, and wait a few days. I generally replace broken parts free of charge, unless it's a rare bead, then I yell real loud, mutter under my breath, and ship it to you at cost, biting my tongue the whole time, wanting to tell you to be more careful next time.
  • Collecting Metal Scraps for Later Use -- Even when you're working in copper, I want you to learn how to save your scraps, making the process totally automatic, so when you're working in silver or gold, you won't have to learn it then, when it might not get into the habit-level. If you do this right from the very start, you'll have no trouble later on.
  • Minimizing the Scrap down to Zero, Techniques for Using Scrap -- ALL scrap can be used, but keep in mind that there is a diminishing return at some point. I use any wire that is one inch or longer, and turn the rest in for meltdown, to be replaced by new rolls of brand-new wire, but I do recycle every single piece possible, saving it and using it as wire. Only if I can't use it do I bring it to my silver dealer to convert to cash, which then gets turned into new wire. Staying with this and resisting the impulse to pocket the cash is very critical.
  • Constant Cleanup Just Like Kitchen Maintenance -- That's right, jewelry crafting and kitchen work go hand-in-glove. You keep your workbench immaculate at all times, constantly putting things away where they belong, and developing a sense of KNOWING where everything is without having to look with your eyes to see that they are there. You should be able to grab your ball-peen hammer without having to look up to see where it is.
  • Right Action Hammering -- Hammering with knowledge means looking directly at the area being hammered, evaluating the hammer-strike, adjusting the next blow and so forth, without wandering off for even a single second during the hammering process.
  • Looping Correctly -- Making a good loop will sell your product. A lousy loop will mean that you get biofeedback in the form of "No Sales". A good loop is a good loop. It's not about specific shape, it's about goodness.
  • Flourish Style Bending and Hand Manipulation of Wire -- Use the pliers only to steady the wire. Your hands are what will do all the bending except for the small connector loops, which are gently formed by the needlenosed pliers.
  • Finish Your Work, and That Includes the Parts we Can't See!!! -- What don't you understand about "finish your work"???