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.

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