Beads hold ancient roots, and their cultural significance can be traced to their early use in bartering. Beads served as a primitive currency, and they still retain their value today. In modern times they are found in the form of decoration as jewelry, rather than money.
In ancient days, people fashioned beads from a variety of materials. Early materials ranged from fish bones to teeth. As cultures grew increasingly sophisticated, so did the beads, techniques and materials with which they were created.
Today, beads are mostly used in jewelry making, textile embellishment and in the fashion industry. To yield a more “designer look,” crafters often choose glass lamp-work beads over plastic buttons in garments. Costume jewelers and makers of “fine jewelry” utilize a diversity of beads, which vary in intricacy of design. This adds a look of quality and uniqueness to their work.
Fine jewelry houses predominantly use precious and semi-precious gemstone beads; the costume jewelry industry more often uses beads made of plastic, acrylic, wood and glass. Skilled artists can use the inherent versatility and wide range of designs, manipulating beads in many ways to create their pieces. Endless stringing combinations and a plethora of cuts and finishes ensures that beaded jewelry needs never look dull, boring or dated.
Recently, the home crafts market has seen an explosion in the use and sale of beads. For example, they used to serve exclusively as small, detailed embellishments for needle work projects. The last decade, however, has seen a surge of interest in beads. Accordingly, craft project hobbies (a.k.a. making classic jewelry, beaded candle holders, curtains, and wind charms) have also enjoyed increased popularity.
In fashion, there has been a resurgence of the “hippie Bohemian” look; people have consequently returned to using beads in the art of jewelry making. Beads have come to signify uniqueness in style and individual expression. They provide a new, modern look in fashion. In the 1970s, the public saw home made jewelry as a symbol of the “hippie” culture. Long strands of love beads were as interesting as things got. As the internet blazed into the forefront of popular culture in society, the jewelry making market saw direct impact. Now crafters may easily communicate with each other, sharing techniques and setting trends.
Ultimately, the bead charm bracelet is an example of how a classic, Bohemian theme can be applied to create a contemporary look. The charm bracelet made its first appearance in jewelry during the 1950s. It has remained popular ever since, but has been largely limited to classic jewelry lines in the form of precious metals.
The 1970s, for instance, witnessed resurgence in popularity of Bohemian culture in fashion. It empowered home jewelry makers to use their love of beads to update the classic look. Suddenly, charm bracelets with colorful glass beads were everywhere. One could see them on catwalks in high fashion, as well as on the streets. The home crafter could select from a large variety of beads to create his or her own style and unique fashion statement.
Styles come and go, but beads will always be in vogue. Whether you prefer an elegant, long string of pearls or a plastic stretchy bead bracelet, the bead is here to stay.
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