Seed beads, also called ‘rocailles’ and sometimes ‘pony’ or ‘crow’ beads are the most commonly-used type of bead in Lukumi religious practice. The historical centres for their production have been Italy/Venice and also The former Czech Republic and Germany (Bohemia). French also had a nice little seed bead industry going on for a while, too. Italian producers near enough stopped in the 1960s and in the last few decades, the Czech Republic really has taken the lead in high quality seed beads in multiple uniform sizes and a dazzling array of colours. In Asia, China has started producing seed beads however they do not have the same colour range or quality control in uniformity of sizing as the Czech beads and that is reflected in their relative prices. Also, some Chinese beads are lightly coated in the colour which means once the beads are worn or washed, the colour comes right off and you are stuck with a dirty white necklace. Japanese beads, in contrast to the Chinese ones are perhaps the most uniform and regular in size. They are also very costly and are sold by the gram rather than the hank, kilo, or pound like Czech or Chinese beads tend to be sold. Japanese beads like Toho and Miyuki brands are uniform and excellent for jewellery projects requiring really small beads and using intricate patterns. Japanese beads are feats of bead engineering!
I like to use Czech beads as every bead is more or less the same size and they offer every colour I need, including striped beads which are incredibly important for a number of orishas. Pink beads are particularly rare and costly, or should I say, the correct pink beads – have a look at previous posts for the tone.
These seed beads have been used in a number of European, African, and Native American cultures for centuries, and there is nothing nicer than seeing a well-crafted piece, be it for religious use or decoration, or both, made with these stunning Czech beads. Their sizing and global trade are worthy of their own posts. Be prepared for many more posts discussing the history of these little treasures.