The Radioactive Appeal of Vaseline Beads

Whether you’re a jewelry designer, or a fashion follower, you can’t have failed to notice that neon colors are everywhere right now. From block color statement necklaces to tribal inspired beaded jewelry, neon beads are a bold integration that can really make your jewelry stand out. But they’re no new fad. German chemist Martin Kalproth discovered Uranium in the late 18th Century, and by the mid 1800s, the element was being used by various glass factories in England and Czechoslovakia to produce Uranium art glassware and beads.

It wasn’t until 1905 that the trend for Uranium glassware really began to catch on in Europe – partly due to the extortionate cost of Uranium salts. Bead-makers in Bohemia (modern day Czechoslovakia) experimented extensively with the concentration of Uranium salts, and found that the same fluorescing effect could still be achieved with a concentration of less than 2%. And so Vaseline Beads were born.

Vaseline Beads are allegedly named due to their likeness to petroleum jelly, however, they can be found in a variety of hues ranging from translucent mid-yellow to a milky, pale hue. The real magic occurs when they’re exposed to fluorescent light; the Uranium within reacts, causing them to glow a yellowish neon green. The intensity of the glow largely depends upon the degree of oxidation that occurred when the beads were made.

Uranium is known to be a radioactive substance, however, the amount used to manipulate the color of Vaseline Beads is so minimal, that it is not generally regarded to be hazardous to health. Most beads contain less than 70 Bq/g (Becquerels per gram), meaning they aren’t considered radioactive. That being said, Uranium glass trade beads which pre-date the 20th Century should still be tested using a Geiger counter, as greater quantities of Uranium were previously used. 

Antique Vaseline Trade Beads from old Bohemia.

Antique Vaseline Trade Beads from old Bohemia.

3 Ethical Reasons to Buy Wholesale African Beads

There are endless benefits to buying wholesale African beads online. It’s cost effective, you’re almost certainly guaranteed a continuous supply, and the discounts can save you hundreds of dollars when first starting up your jewelry business online. But, they aren’t the only benefits of buying African beads wholesale. Read on to discover why buying wholesale can also be a positive ethical choice too!

1. Wholesale Suppliers Usually Have Strong Rapports With Bead Co-operatives

Nearly every wholesaler of African beads will have initially chosen their suppliers based on best price and reliability. Bead co-operatives in Ghana and Kenya, such as Global Mamas, offer both of these things, yet are also considered ‘ethical’ sources because they have been set up to help tribespeople earn a sustainable income from their craft. In buying from a wholesale supplier, you are guaranteeing these people a consistent source of income for as long as you yourself are in business.

2. Demand For Ethical Beads Challenges More Suppliers to Switch From Unethical Sourcing

Granted, it usually takes more than one person to influence a company to change its habits, but if more people switch to ethical African wholesalers, other suppliers will begin to see a drop in demand for non fair trade products. This will eventually prompt them to make the switch from unethical sources – or just give up!

3. Using Fair Trade Materials Can Significantly Boost Profit

Thanks to the efforts of fair trade organisations, such as COFTA, awareness of the exploitation of African tribespeople has improved considerably in recent years. This has had a measurable influence upon consumer attitudes, prompting many people to alter their buying habits. As a jewelry designer, using fair trade African beads can potentially improve your credibility, and broaden your target market.

A bead artist demonstrates the bead-making process for tourists at Cedi's Bead Factory, Ghana. Super.Heavy/ Flickr

A bead artist demonstrates the bead-making process for tourists at Cedi’s Bead Factory, Ghana. Super.Heavy/ Flickr

3 African Bead Myths Debunked

Copal Amber. Tatiana Gerus/ Wikimedia

Copal Amber. Tatiana Gerus/ Wikimedia

Historians have a knack for bending the truth, and if it wasn’t for archaeologists, we probably wouldn’t know half as much about African Beads as we do today. But still, rumors persist about the names, origins and make-up of certain beads that can often make the purchasing experience somewhat confusing for first-time buyers. Here are just some of the bead myths we’ve come across that hold little to no truth.

1. ‘Russian Blues’ Were Made in Russia

If there’s one thing you’ll learn about trade beads, it’s that their names don’t always belie their true origins. Russian Blues are commonly believed to originate from Russia, however, they were actually produced in old Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) during the 18th Century. Their name derives from the notion that they were commissioned by Catherine the Great, however, they were actually produced exclusively for European trade with Africa and America.

2. African Bone Beads Are Made From Human Bone

There’s a common misconception that African bone beads are made from human bone, and it most likely derives from the use of human skulls in Tibet for making ‘mala’ beads. These ornamental beads were used in Buddhist religious rites, such as chod, as well as witchcraft in parts of Africa. There are now strict international rules governing the use and sale of human body parts for ornamentation, which is why all African bone beads are made from the carcasses of cows, buffalo and other cattle.

3. Copal is Not Real Amber

Despite the wealth of information available that proves this not to be the case, many people still believe that copal isn’t a ‘real’ amber. Put simply, copal is just a younger product of the same tree sap which produces ‘real’ amber. Apart from being a little softer, it’s composition is quite similar, and it still gives off a pine-like scent when rubbed. Copal amber beads tend to have far fewer inclusions than real amber, which also often contains the fossilized remains of insects and other bugs.  

5 Tips For Buying Chevron Beads Online to Make a Profit

7 Layer Venetian Chevron (c. 19th Century) PSChemp/

7 Layer Venetian Chevron (c. 19th Century) PSChemp/

Is there money to be made in bead collecting? There is if you know what to look for. Many people think that in order to make a profit with Trade Beads, they simply need to find a cheap supplier with little knowledge of their stock. Unfortunately, naïve resellers are hard to come by, but, that doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t find a bargain online. Here are a few tips to help you get started.

1. Know Your Beads

If there’s one thing guaranteed to aid you in your quest for the collectible Trade Beads, it’s superior knowledge. The ages and origins of vintage Chevron Beads aren’t always easy to discern, however, you can often tell a lot more about Chevrons by studying the number of rosettas and layers around the perforation hole. Early Venetian Chevrons had 7 layers, and were red, white, and blue in color.

2. Look For Signs of Wear

Pitted and cracked beads may seem a little unsightly, but these characteristics are an inherent part of their appeal. The aged appearance of Chevron Beads can also tell you much about their heritage – such as if they were worn by tribespeople, or have been sitting in a box for 100 years.

3. Only Buy From Reputable Sellers

You’ll find many sellers online purporting to have links with certain tribes, but the reality is, there are only a few hundred or so retailers working in partnership with co-operatives across Africa. These sellers are often forthcoming about the origins of their beads, as well as the people they buy them from.

4. Try to Purchase Full Strands

Many retailers break down strands of Chevron Beads to make a profit, however, they are often worth far more in their original state, strung upon a length of old sisal. There is also potential for profit here too, if you choose to break down strands yourself for resale.

5. Don’t Hesitate

If you spy a profitable opportunity, seize it. Like antique paintings, no two strands of Chevron Beads are ever quite alike; so it’s unlikely you’ll ever find beads of similar age for a similar price elsewhere. Conversely, if the price seems to good to be true, the beads are either of questionable quality, or possibly modern imitations.

The Benefits of Buying Wholesale African Beads Online

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be an established bead seller to take advantage of wholesale prices. In fact, many start-up African jewelry designers looking to incorporate authentic African Beads into their jewelry buy in bulk when starting out. Granted, it’s a clever way of avoiding paying over the odds for imported beads, but, it also guarantees you’re more likely to receive the genuine article, rather than broken up strings and cheap Chinese imitations. This is because most wholesalers have established strong rapports with African bead-making co-operatives, and are able to trace beads directly to their place of origin.

If you are thinking about starting an African or ethnic jewelry line yourself, you need to find a wholesaler who can guarantee a constant supply of quality beads at low prices. You’ll also need to conduct a little background research to ensure that the company you are buying from supports Fair Trade initiatives, and only sources from co-operatives that prevent the exploitation of workers for profit. The ethical reasons for doing so are obvious, however, sourcing from reputable wholesalers can also benefit your jewelry business in the long-term as many consumers will now only buy Fair Trade products.

Perhaps one of the best reasons to buy your beads wholesale is price. If you intend on creating jewelry lines, buying in bulk is far cheaper than buying beads from a normal retailer as and when you run out. You may initially be worried about buying such great quantities when your business is not yet properly trading, but the great benefit here is that there is always going to be a demand for African beads, and they don’t depreciate in value. Essentially, if your business fails to take off for some reason, you can always resell your beads in smaller quantities, and make a profit!