Since the beginning of time, humans have sought to adorn themselves with various objects that symbolized status, beauty and belonging. Beads were probably the first durable adornments ever to be worn. The use of beads throughout history is intriguing and complex and one that must transcend the belief of beads as being mere adornments. The function of beads is one that reflected the socio-political, cultural, economic and religious heritage of the societies to whom they belonged.
Beads have been an important item of world trade for millennia and an integral part of African societies in particular. Beads crafted out of gold, bone, ivory and cowrie shells were not only used to express and communicate cultural values but were also used as a form of currency with which to trade goods.
However, when talking about trading beads, one cannot overlook the role they played in the expansion of European colonialism and imperialism, and the historic injustices it brought. During the age of “European expansion”, whilst the adornment of the European aristocratic elite was dominated by the abundance of precious gems flowing from their newly acquired colonies in the Americas and the East, glass bead-making boomed in Europe. With Venice at the helm, followed by Holland, Bohemia and Moravia, tons of colourful glass beads were exported to Africa by traders and explorers in exchange for gold, ivory, and slaves. Historically termed as ‘slave beads,’ the demand for such beads grew as they were highly prized by African societies. Easy to transport and in high demand, they proved to be a cheap and profitable trade currency yielding huge margins for European merchants.
Millefiori, ‘a thousand flowers’ in Italian, were among the most renowned and popular trading beads originating from Murano in Venice. Millefiori was an ancient mosaic technique re-discovered and refined by Venetian glass masters. Beads formed from multi-coloured canes called murrines were fused together creating a mosaic flower-like effect, making each bead unique. Though such beads were not greatly coveted by Europeans at the time, they have now come full circle becoming collector pieces and taking pride of place in many museums around the world.
The Millefiori collection is a fascinating ensemble of antique trading beads, consisting of Millefiori, Chevron, Feather, Aleppo beads and many more. Each bead has a story to tell, a history that spans centuries and continents. From the intricate Millefiori beads to the bold Chevron and Feather designs, this collection is a celebration of ancient human creativity and craftsmanship.
But the Millefiori collection is more than just beautiful little works of art. It is a reminder of our past, a call to change the narrative and a symbol of our shared humanity. In a world where differences often divide us, this collection is a simple symbol of humanness that reminds us that though we may come in many different guises, we all derive from the same source. We are all connected, somehow, in some way. And just like a humble string of colourful beads, we are all connected, unique and beautiful in our own way. With the collection's vibrant display of colours and designs I would love it to be a symbol of hope, unity and of the beauty that comes when we come together as one.