Thursday, June 30, 2011

Above: Natural Chalcedony from the Gobi Desert. Similar lighter coloured
material would have been used in ancient times to create dZi beads.

 In the short biography* of Kyala Khenpo Chechok Thondrup it mentions the following:

"Throughout his life, he did many short retreats or less strict retreats of a month or two on enjoying the essence (bChud Len, rasayana), sustaining himself solely with the elixir drawn from flowers and a white stone called Chongzhi (Chong dZi)."

*from Masters of Meditation and Miracles by Tulku Thondup

Ancient tabular stone bead that appears
to be made from Bowenite. 
32 mm diameter. Depth 9 mm

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A high quality new dZi bead from Taiwan (Mid 1990s). 
Displays the Sakor Namkor design with extra eye.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Hand carved turquoise frog. Sourced in Nepal. 40 mm x 31 mm

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ancient Two Eye dZi bead with blood spots.25 mm x 11 mm

Friday, June 10, 2011

This is a large ancient Chong dZi that was sourced in Nepal a few years ago. It was broken in half, so I had a friend put a 24K gold band around the centre. Thanks Jhinpa! 70 mm x 20 mm

Here we have an antique (not ancient) dZi bead created in Idar-Oberstein, Germany. These beads were probably created in the late 19th century and are made from agate. They were first correctly identified by Jamey D Allen, a respected bead researcher in the USA. It is likely that they were the first convincing stone replicas of ancient dZi to appear in the Tibetan/Himalayan marketplace. Prior to this, there were decorated Chinese beads made from serpentine and also various glass imitations. Later 20th century imitations include ceramic, plastic, glass, wood and bone. The Taiwanese beads started to appear in the early 1990s and they are the closest in appearance to genuine ancient beads.  

I was recently shown a six eye Idar-Oberstein bead by a very respected dZi dealer in Kathmandu. The selling price was almost $6000 (May 2011). The is the most expensive Idar-Oberstein bead I have seen to date - but having said this it was also the best example. Tibetans believe these beads originate from Bhutan, so they call them Bhutanese dZi. Which is probably another way of saying they don't know where they come from. Even though they are not so old they are still very collectible and highly appreciated by Tibetans in Nepal. They are also not as common as you might expect, which is why they command high prices. Of the many thousands of beads I have viewed over the past 15 years, I have seen less than 10 Idar-Oberstein beads for sale. The majority of the Idar-Oberstein beads display six and nine eyes. The bead above displays the Sakor Namkor (square & circle motif) decoration and measures 31 mm x 12 mm.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

 Above: Two newly created tabular agate eye beads (Luk Mik). 
Probably from China (sourced in Nepal). 26 mm
The surface has added pitting/impact fractures
to give the appearance of age.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Taiwanese dZi

Above: Close up image of a new six eye

This is a new six eye dZi bead from Taiwan (1990s). Notice that the dig on the bead is smooth and rounded at the edges (not sharp) to give the appearance of a bead with ancient wear. It is important to recognise that many characteristics you would expect to find on ancient beads can also be seen on new beads. Some bead makers have clearly taken a great deal of time to make beads look as authentic as possible. These beads are in the minority but they are certainly in circulation and have been for more than 20 years.

Taiwanese beads first appeared in the early 1990s (possibly late 1980s). In recent years the quality of new dZi from China and Taiwan has deteriorated, which is why the earliest Taiwanese beads often get confused for genuine ancient beads. Also, if a new dZi bead has been worn on the body for a number of years it will start to develop its own patina as it rubs against the skin. Sharp edges will start to become smooth and the more porous areas will absorb oils from the body. This can also start to change the colour of the bead and it will begin to look and feel like it is much older than it actually is.

Some points (not set in concrete) that might help you with identifying ancient dZi beads with eyes and other decorations.

  • Most new beads have a very uniformed shape with perfect symmetry. This can mean that both ends are perfectly rounded, which is a characteristic seldom seen with ancient dZi.
  • New beads typically have a glass-like surface polish.
  • New beads are machine drilled and the hole is usually very straight and of a uniform size. Ancient beads were drilled by hand from both ends and therefore the holes are less likely to be so aligned. One end may have a hole that is more off centre for example or one hole may be slightly bigger than the other. Taking a cast of the perforation may also tell you how the bead was drilled. Also, look at the holes and see if they are sharp at the edges. Most ancient beads will show holes that are rounded or misshapen from rubbing against cord for centuries. The ends may also show wear from rubbing against other beads.
  • If you have a bead that clearly displays a great deal of weathering on the surface - such as impact fractures and rounded surface digs, and the ends show absolutely no signs of wear - this 'might' be a sign that this bead is new. Modern bead makers rarely concentrate on the ends of a bead. Also, look at the tiny impact fractures. If the bead has circular marks and they are all exactly the same size and shape - it is likely this has been applied with a tool and thus it is not a sign of great age. Many new beads are simply placed in a tumbler until the desired look is achieved. It is therefore important not to base your trust solely on the appearance of a beads surface.
  • Look at the quality of the decoration. Ancient dZi usually have a decoration that penetrates deep into the body of the bead. I have seen beads with a decoration that can penetrate the stone up to 3 mm, which is why a stone will not lose its decoration after 2000 years of rubbing on the body. Ancient beads rarely look like the decoration has been 'painted' on the surface for example. The decoration should blend with the base colour of the stone in a natural way. The lines of the decoration should be skillfully applied, well balanced and generous. New beads usually have much thinner lines and the decoration can be painterly. New beads often show decorated lines that become translucent at the edges and they do not always blend well with the base colour. Somtimes new beads display  a 'halo' effect or a border around the decoration, which is much more noticeable under magnification. This halo effect can be seen clearly on the new six eye bead shown above. The halo effect can also be seen on some ancient beads, however, I believe it is less common because ancient bead makers were much more adept with the chemical process of decorating beads. 

................I will add more to this post when I have some more time.

Above: A new six eye dZi bead. (Taiwan 1990s)

Above: A new two eye dZi bead from Taiwan or China. Artificially aged. 33 mm x 11 mm

The above bead is a good example of an artificially aged bead. The body displays a number of digs that have been rounded and polished. This gives the impression of genuine old weathering, worn smooth from centuries of close contact to the body. Also, the decorated lines give a false appearance of ancient corrosion or heat damage. However, the maker has completely neglected the ends and perforations, thus making it easy to recognise the bead as a modern replica.

The ends show the original colour of the stone material (white). The black/grey areas are the artificial base colour. The ends are highly polished and perfectly rounded. The stone at the ends is comparable in quality to many newly created agates coming out of China. Both rounded ends look identical in shape and the holes are central and straight - they are also exactly the same diameter at both ends. The ends show no signs of weathering or any indication that this bead has been strung. In fact the holes still have a sharp edge, which suggests they have been recently drilled. However, it is important to note that smooth edges does not always indicate a bead is ancient. There are many ancient dZi that also show no signs of weathering for a number of reasons, however, the quality of the agate, style of decoration, drilling methods, provenance and other indications should be enough to determine whether it is genuine.

Since I have also seen a large strand of these beads (in Nepal) of comparable quality and size, it also makes it easier to know they are modern replicas of ancient beads. Makers of new dZi tend to make beads that are very similar looking in shape, size, quality of material and style of decoration (see Enijew for example). Therefore if you see many beads that look identical in quality it is likely they are fresh out of the same factory. Ancient dZi that have been worn for generations, often have a very unique usage patina - which is very difficult to fake. It is therefore extremely hard to find ancient dZi that are a perfect match. So if you see a seller on ebay offering beads as 'ancient' and they have a whole store full of very similar looking beads - be careful!

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

A new six eye dZi bead created in the early 1990s (Taiwan).

Above: This is a new three eye dZi bead from Taiwan (early 1990s). We have been posting the most convincing new dZi beads to this blog for years, in effort to help collectors distinguish between genuine ancient beads and the finer Taiwanese replicas. This is the very first Taiwanese bead I purchased.

Above: A new Taiwanese dZi from the early to mid 1990s. Displays a wave, lotus, square and circle decoration. What is interesting about this bead is the size of the holes (4 mm). They are the largest holes I have seen on any new dZi bead. From experience the vast majority of new beads have a hole size of no more than 2.5 mm.


The above bead is a newly created three eye dZi from Taiwan (less than 10 years old). It displays red blood spots which are natural iron inclusions inherent in the agate. Tibetans often look for blood spots to help distinguish ancient beads from the modern replicas, however, it is now mistaken to believe that blood spots can only appear on ancient beads. The above Taiwanese bead is proof that this is not the case and more and more new beads now display this quality.

Many new beads can also have 'brown' coloured inclusions that are often confused with blood spots, however, they are not always the same thing. Also, the spots on the above bead are clearly inherent in the stone and this means they have not been applied to the surface of the bead. Many new beads have also been given artificial surface fissures/cracks which are coated in a red dye to give the appearance of age and blood spots (see the bead below). This is often called 'Dragon Veins' by Chinese sellers of new dZi. If you look closely at the bead below, you will also see that one of the holes has a build up of red dye. This is a clear sign that the dye was added after the bead was drilled and therefore not a natural occurrence.

 Above: A new dZi bead with red dye applied to the body. 
This gives the appearance of red veins and is an
attempt to imitate the red blood spot inclusions
visible in some ancient beads.

The bead shown below is a rare quality Taiwanese bead from the early 1990s. This bead displays 'brown' inclusions which are very different from the 'red' spots that Tibetans look for when identifying ancient beads. It is possible these inclusions are simply the result of a chemical reaction between the decorated lines and the base colour during the heating of the stone.

Above: A new 'Mountain peak' dZi bead with brown inclusions.

Above: A new Lotus/Vase dZi bead with brown inclusions that are
often mistaken for 'red' blood spots. They are not the same thing!

Above: A new Taiwanese Tiger dZi bead with dense 'black' 
iron or hematite inclusions that are inherent in the stone.

Above: This is the reverse of a newly created Luk Mik 
bead from China. Many red blood spots can be seen 
in what appears to be a more crystalline zone.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Antique amber bead with repair. Sourced in Nepal. diameter 35 mm
Antique carved ivory bead from Tibet. 25 mm x 17 mm