Credit: Thad Zajdowicz

A pretty string of beads has long been an easy way to add a bit of color and dash to an outfit. From ancient times til today, men and women alike have adorned themselves with beads in the form of necklaces, bracelets, earrings and more.  Whether chiseled from bone, molded in plastic or crafted from silver, beads have delighted and enhanced the appearance of those who wore them.

Bead History in Ancient Times

The history of beads stretches across the ages, back into the primitive societies where beads were not only for decoration, but were believed to have magical properties that could protect or aid the person wearing them. Beads made from rocks, different shades of clay, bone, ivory, jet or amber were strung together and worn. Ancient Phoenicians created glass beads, and Ancient Egyptians wore beaded necklaces crafted from glass, gemstones (which were not faceted, but smooth), silver or gold.  Ancient Romans favored beads of amber, particularly those with inclusions of long dead insects, as well as those made from glass.

Bead History from the Dark Ages On

The Anglo-Saxons favored glass beads as well as amber, quartz and amethyst, while the well-to-do also sported golden beads.  While necklaces fell out of fashion in the Middle Ages, beads were still in high demand for use in rosaries, which were ubiquitous. In the renaissance period, beads decorated with enamel and filigree were all the rage.

Beads and the Brilliant Cut

At the end of the 17th century the brilliant cut for diamonds was developed in Venice, with 58 facets that showed a diamond’s fire in a way that had never before been seen.  As the demand for faceted gemstones grew, the bead’s popularity fell. Even so, beads have continued to have a place in fashion and costume jewelry, and when styles tend towards a simple, pared down look.

Where to Buy Beaded Jewelry

Beaded necklaces, bracelets and other jewelry are easy to find. If you walk down to your corner drugstore, you’ll probably spot some on a rack. You might prefer costly beaded trinkets from a fine jewelry store, or to sport the latest trends, like a Pandora charm bracelet. Shop the antique malls for vintage looks from the thirties, forties, fifties and sixties, or haunt the neighborhood garage sales for beaded jewelry at rock bottom prices. Online jewelry stores are a great source for beaded jewelry, but make certain to deal only with reputable websites.

Make Your Own Beaded Jewelry

If you can’t find the beaded necklace or bracelet that you’ve set your heart on, consider making it yourself. Bead stores sell beads in all shapes, sizes, colors and materials, and the salespeople can show you how to assemble the jewelry and help you put it together. Alternatively, craft stores have a nice selection of beads as well as the tools, clasps and other items required for jewelry making.