A bead is a small decorative piece that is used for creating necklaces, bracelets and an assortment of decorative gowns/ attire. They can be found in a multitude of sizes (1mm- 1cm) and have adorned the human body for thousands of years as jewelry – the oldest dating back 100,000 years.

The artistic appeal of beads has made them extremely popular among many cultures and the fashion industry. Beads are used as clothing accessories which greatly adds to the eye-appeal and the value of the clothing or item. More people are now using beads as a material for decorating household ornaments or art that they create, too. For example, boxes, crafts, bird feeders, doorknobs, and even drawers, are being decorated as amateur artistry.

They are made of a variety of natural and synthetic materials. Most of which are polished and pierced to allow them to be threaded. Natural materials are often animal/planet-based or naturally occurring mineral rock. Whereas synthetic materials often are made of ceramics or plastics.

Natural MaterialSynthetic Materials
HornAlloys (i.e bronze and brass)
IvorySynthetic crystals
Stone (gemstones & metals) 

Most modern beads are mass-produced, which allows for great variety in the shapes and sizes of the beads. Desired texture or color can be ascertained through dyes and molds.  Polishing is done through the means of chemical and/or fire treatment to ensure the highest quality product. Faux beads are made to look like more expensive material (i.e gemstones, ivory etc.) and fuel the imitation market for bead sales.

Beads have diverse functionality and meaning in modern and historical cultures throughout the world. Beads were infamously utilized during the slave trade, African Kings and merchants traded glass beads for captured slaves.

Beads have often been a substitute for coin currency in historical societies and continue to be in some countries in Africa. In Turkey, women wore beaded coinage on their waist to indicate their wealth and fertility. Egyptian kings were buried with their bead collections to ensure their wealth and power continued in the afterlife. A popular urban myth ascertains that Dutch settlers traded $24 worth of beads for Manhattan Island from the Native Indians in the 1600s. Beads are often associated with religious and spiritual contexts (i.e rosary beads or malas).  

Prayer beads are used by Muslims, Buddhists, and Christians in prayer and other religious events, holding great symbolic appeal. Furthermore, beads have been used as an anti-stress tool (i.e worry beads) in Greek culture; meant to keep the hands occupied and pass time. Beads are even found in popular board games, such as Mancala (Kalah), a family of board games where to objective is to capture more beads than the opponent.

Due to their versatility and visual appeal, beads have and continue to be a commonly made and sold item throughout much of the world. They can be found at any variety, fashion, or clothing outlets; as well as through online distributors and specialty niches stores.

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