Bead Like an Egyptian

Kenneth Garrett, copyright 2008, National Geographic

Kenneth Garrett, copyright 2008, National Geographic

Well, the King Tutankhamun exhibition is finally open at the De Young Museum—let me just say that that guy had jewelry to make even Elizabeth Taylor jealous. Most of you probably know that ancient Egyptian civilization had highly developed art, architecture, religion, and political systems, and that the artifacts uncovered by archaeologists and tomb robbers alike are of unparalleled beauty. The Tutankhamun exhibition gives viewers the opportunity to see the evidence of this for themselves. Coinciding with the opening of the exhibition is our gemstones, pearls, and natural beads trunk show, featuring many of the wonderful stones used by the ancient Egyptians to decorate the jewelry and funerary goods of their royalty.

While many tombs uncovered in the 19th and 20th centuries had already been robbed and emptied of their greatest treasures, in 1922 Howard Carter managed to discover one with the royal seals still intact: Tutankhamun’s. His first view of the contents was probably pretty disappointing: artifacts all piled in and jumbled together, giving the impression that the tomb had been robbed, despite its intact seals. However, upon removing, cleaning, and restoring the objects contained therein, Carter and others must have realized what an unbelievable find this tomb truly was.

Among the painted models of wooden ships, stone and faience figurines, and elegant furniture lay pieces of jewelry expertly crafted from gold, silver, and copper, and inlaid with semi-precious stones and colored glass. As a beader and a jewelry junkie, these were what truly hypnotized me. Enormous collars inlaid with lapis, carnelian, and turquoise; a delicate gold diadem; intricate pectorals glowing with the vibrant colors of semi-precious stones; and, my personal favorite, a wide beaded bracelet with a gorgeous lapis scarab clasp bigger than a baby’s fist.

Kenneth Garrett, copyright 2008, National Geographic

Kenneth Garrett, copyright 2008, National Geographic

These pieces were not only meant to be decorative; they also served to protect the wearer. The scarab is the incarnation of the sun, and the eye of Horus is a symbol of protection from evil. Other images commonly found on the jewelry are sun disks, cobras, falcons, lotuses, various gods and goddesses, and the ankh (the symbol of life). Each has a very important meaning, giving the jewelry not only unmatched beauty, but also great significance. The ability of the ancient Egyptians to combine craftsmanship with aesthetic beauty and profound meaning is amazing, and evident in the pieces in the exhibition.

Not only did the symbols have meaning; the materials used were also very important. For example, green was the color of vegetation and growth (remember that the Nile River Valley was a fertile source of grain and crops for the entire Mediterranean world), thus the use of stones such as malachite and turquoise. Red, on the other hand, had associations with blood, energy, and power, but also with chaos. Carnelian and red jasper were commonly used for this purpose. One of the most popular and most precious stones used by the ancient Egyptians, however, was lapis lazuli, thought to represent the all-embracing sky with its deep blue color and often meaning “joy” or “delight”.

Stones, metals, and symbols have always been imbued with meaning for humankind, and those meanings often vary from culture to culture. However, our attraction to these materials is unquestionable; whatever we believe them to mean, they do seem to have a power of their own. In beading and jewelry-making, we often choose to use specific materials because of their cultural or personal meaning.

A selection of lapis, malachite, and coral beads in our store.

A selection of lapis, malachite, and coral beads in our store.

At the Bead Inspirations Alameda Store, not only do we have a large regular selection of many of the stones and materials used by the Egyptians; we are also having a huge trunk show with gemstones, pearls, natural beads, and pendants from July 1-5.  Please also be sure to visit our gemstone selection at the Bead Inspirations webstore (free shipping!).   I encourage you to find inspiration in the art of the Egyptians and the beautiful colors and shapes of our pearls and gemstones in the trunk show. I already have plans for that scarab bracelet…

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4 Comments

Filed under Sources of Inspiration

4 responses to “Bead Like an Egyptian

  1. Vanessa

    Thank you for blogging about this! I saw the exhibit last week and was blown away by some of the pieces.

  2. This is inspiring I think I will start a blog myself one day in italian of course. Great post, grazie.

  3. Very awesome article. I just came by your blog and wanted to state that I have really enjoyed checking your content. Any way, I’ll be subscribing to your feed and also I’m hoping you write again shortly!

  4. Thanks for sharing the information. I found the information quite helpful.

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