Thursday, July 26, 2007

Old Bodhiseed Mala with coral and glass beads.

I first noticed Sting wearing a nine eyed dZi in an interview with Michael Parkinson in 2004. It is unlikely that this is a genuine ancient bead (looking at the top photo), but it is obviously very precious to him because he is rarely seen without it. Ancient nine eyed beads are extremely scarce and can command more than $100,000.

Ancient Two Eyed dZi bead with natural crystalline inclusions.

Above is a typical selection of 'new' dZi beads that are sold as ancient beads on ebay. All are easily recognisable as being newly created beads for the following reasons:
  • They originate from ebay sellers in countries where new beads are produced in vast quantities. Whilst there is nothing wrong in selling new beads it confuses the market when they are misrepresented as ancient.
  • Price is always something to look for. All of the above beads are only a few dollars (genuine beads can command many thousands of dollars).
  • The artificial weathering marks and surface crazing is not consistent with ancient dZi beads. New beads are simply made this way to give the appearance of age.
  • The colour and highly polished glass-like surface sheen that we see on some beads is not typical of ancient dZi.
  • A perfect uniform shape and rounded ends can also indicate a modern machine made bead.
  • Many new Taiwanese dZi will display many eyes and stylised motifs that are never seen on ancient beads. Ancient dZi will probably have no more than 13 eyes, but it is likely 12 eyes is the highest number you are likely to see.
  • There is also no indication that these beads have been strung over a prolonged period. If they were strung in the typical Tibetan fashion with other beads, then there would typically be some sign of this. The body and ends of the bead would usually be worn smooth from centuries of close contact to the body. New beads will fail to show this.
  • Often new beads will still have stone powder in the perforations from recent drilling.
  • Many ancient dZi display tiny blood spots that are believed to be iron oxide inclusions. New beads often show red or brown 'veins', which are only attempting to replicate the blood spots (see below).
Photo: New Chinese three eyed dZi bead.

Drilling techniques and the quality of agate being used may also help identify the age and place of manufacture of the bead.

The above bead is a rare quality 'new' six eyed dZi with longevity decoration. I have posted a number of high quality new dZi so that you can make comparisons between ancient beads and the new dZi currently offered in the marketplace. It is rare to find new dZi of this quality and beads such as this will command higher prices because they closely resemble ancient beads. The many new dZi beads on ebay (sold as ancient) do not come close to this quality which is why these beads are very sought after.

It is important to be clear about new dZi beads. Any 'agate' bead that is newly created with a newly applied decoration is a new dZi bead. The quality of new dZi will range from the very crude to the very beautiful. Beads that are made from other types of stone material, glass, wood, plastic and bone are merely imitation dZi (not new dZi).

It is very rare to find a new dZi bead that is more than 15 years old. It is worth noting that there are some rare antique (not ancient) decorated agate beads that are sometimes found in the Himalayan regions. They are believed to be somewhere between 100 and 200 years old. They are typically cylindrical in shape, opaque and jet black in colour. They also seem to be very slightly faceted and as this is subtle it is only really noticeable under magnification. They also have slightly rounded ends which is distinct from other new dZi coming from Mainland China. The decoration is white or cream coloured and they are mostly seen with six eyes or nine eyes but other motifs can also be found (like the Sakor Namkor shown below). They are very uncommon because they were originally made in Idar-Oberstein in Germany (Jamey D Allen). It is unknown at this time just how many of these beads were traded to the Himalayas. Whilst they do not command the same prices as ancient beads they are still more valuable than other new beads being sold. The largest producer of new dZi beads is currently Mainlaind China. 

Above: Idar Oberstein 'Sakor Namkor' dZi bead
(crafted in Germany, 100 to 200 years old) 
Typically called 'Bhutanese' dZi by Tibetans.

Rare quailty new dZi with eight diamond shaped eyes.

Rare quality new dZi with mountain peak decoration.

Rare quality new two eyed dZi.

Rare quality new dZi with unusual decoration.

Rare quality new Sakor Namkor dZi.

Rare quality new dZi bead with 6 eyes and longevity decoration.

Old Tibetan prayer wheel inlaid with antique coral bead. It is very common to find old ritual items that are adorned with old beads. Since whole beads are very valuable most items are set with broken or partially damaged beads.