Ethnic Jewels

An appreciation of ethnic jewellery and adornment

This is from an ebay auction-- an over priced necklace advertised as North African with amber and petrified wood beads. I don't know about the amber, but the petrified wood beads are in fact Tunisian scent beads and this is the first necklace I have seen on ebay with this kind of bead  Just thught I would share the pic and that knowledge, kind of a landmark for me. If the beads are, in fact, fossil amber, then the necklace is worth the price. But really no way to tell from the pic. The scent beads are truly unusual to see on this website.

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These may be baltic cognac amber, but more likely to be bakelite...lovely schkab beads though! Well sleuthed Patti!

hi patty, i see it as scented beads too,the barrel ones look to me as synthetic

the petrified stone is not used in northafrica. isaw it as decoration, big pieces,in the original stone size

Hello! I had one of these, pretty magnificent (I think!) and there's another one on Etsy for sale with yellow bakelite beads. Mine had red and black bakelite beads. I had a really lovely email from a young woman who gave me a great amount of information on mine. This is what she said;

Here is some info about this necklace. I have been collecting these for a while and think they are fascinating. This particular variety is urban Tunisian, and sold as wedding jewelry though also, of course to tourists during the colonial period, and a lot ended up in French markets for that reason.

They are technically not "pressed rose petal" beads, but rather a melange of some kind of resin (called locally "black amber" though not genuine amber) with rosewater, neroli or other spices and fragrances. The beads themselves (as well as the necklaces made from them) are called in various dialects in Tunisia and Algeria "skhab" or "s'khrab".

Yours must have been indeed very well protected and cared for, as often there is considerable loss of scent and breakage of the paste.

This type of necklace I consider urban Tunisian because they were commercially produced and assembled using mass-produced brass findings and French phenolic (i.e. bakelite) accent beads. Skilled artisans produced the beads by pressing the material in wooden molds to make the lovely shapes and khomsas. You are correct, they do have a rather Art Deco (if not exactly 'Egyptian Revival') aesthetic.

Women in rural areas originally produced these beads simply by hand molding them into boules, hearts or triangles, and stringing them sometimes with colored glass beads. They considered skhab to be very seductive, and so only appropriate for a bride to wear for her husband.

This craft is having a bit of a revival, as you can see on the following youtube videos, Algerian and Tunisan, of artisans working today in 'skhab' paste. Here they are both just using the hand molding technique to create simpler beads.

Good to see that the tradition still is living, or at least being revived in some areas.

I just love it when people share information - if you all already know this, please forgive a novice's enthusiasm!

Thanks for the lovely information. I am a scent bead fanatic and hunt them down all over the place., wish they were easier to find here, but I have a couple of recipes so perhaps someday I will make my own.

Very interesting information!  Question... there is another necklace on ebay which is North African advertising "wooden" beads.  Do you think these are scent beads?  It is eBay # 141535047459

Hi Patricia - let me know if you do try to make the beads - sounds great! I have a recipe somewhere for rose petal beads. Always wanted to try but never had enough petals.

Lynn, I think those are scent beads. They look very similar to the ones I had. The only ones I've seen so far have all been made with brass. The one you found on ebay looks really neat. Maybe it's not one of the tourist ones - cool find!

Thank you for the information Ann.  Someone from this site should go get them!  :) 

The making of scented beads as it was initially done by ladies at their own home would not imply the use of smiting techniques such as metal framing and metal wires stringing.

At most if a lady comes to be famous as a quality skilled scented beads maker, she could easily get her beads sold to a number of women from the local community who would even commission her for beads during special occasions such as weddings. The recipe is kept secret and the artisanal hand work would allow for irregular beads which would also differ in their quality (as regarded by locals) mainly through the concentration of volatile scented oils employed.....the more concentrated the paste in scented oils the higher quality it is considered to be....Some very old beads of excellent quality do still have a dark black colour, almost oily , maker had employed the best ingredients in good sizes and obviously even back then, the price was high...majority of ingredients were  far flung exotic or rare such as Agar wood or ambergris....

Examples shown on this thread showcase an obvious machine made beads and sometimes quite naive commercial patterns such as hearts, animals, crescents....they are obviouly made for a large scale merchandising and market and the very fact that many of these example are to be found in western hands today means that they were exported likely through the tourist trade....necklaces are symetrical, void of prophylactic or talismanic elements and especially do not showcase any precious material or techniques such as enameling.

Recently i have came across few pieces of jewelry that indicate there was a steady trickle of export adornments made in Egypt for the Tunisian and Algerian markets in the late Ottoman times which might also indicate that it was not a new trend back then (Late 19th century) but apparently the last stage of a flourishing trade westwards from the more refined ottoman colonies of Egypt and possibly the levant.

Among these pieces were characterless fake gilt coins and beads chokers with tiny "sented beads"!!!

We can surmize about an ancient eastern origin of these scented beads which disappeared from the middle eastern heartland but survived in the peripheral North African cities before it reached North african countryside.

Another vote for this theory would be the heavy use of cloves to make various jewels exhale an attractive scent which is still vivid in part of the north african countryside (i have also personally witnessed it in rural Iran around the Zagros mountains)

All these scented materials are far eastern and south asian ingredients that were likely made available when the trade networks were  firmly established in the medieval islamic flourishing world that linked without hurdles, the indonesian archipelago from the east to north african medinas and south spain riches!!

Lastly getting back to the tunisian tradition, it seems that between the old hand made beads and the tourist trade copper framed ones, there exists a thrid type mostly in heart shaped but also stamped of foliage and floral patterns, made using a light stamping mold (?) which were produced for the local market and often strung with the late enameled silver work.. a survival of the old traditions likely made for the attire of the wedding day in tunisian coastal cities ( mahdia, moknine, djerba..) where traditions have managed to survive longer than elsewhere in the country.

On my last visit to Tunisia, i have also witnessed the making of new scented beads which are surfing between hand and machine made in a very contemporary way, ingredients seems to be of a lower quality and prices but the effect is striking when used with contemporary silver...they make for lovely adornments and maintain the tradition alive.

On my trip to Tunisia in September, we found many wonderful scent beads, newly made, at a shop in the Tunis souk.  They were made in many shapes, different variations of the hamsa, lozenge, stamped and of various sizes and sold by the gram. It was like heaven. These beads are incorporated into necklaces, primarily found in Djerban wedding necklaces, temporals and novelty necklaces with different hands of Fatima. The new beads smell wonderful, the older ones have faint or no smell at all. I try to store all the beads in airtight containers to preserve the scent that they had. These beads were also incorporated in what looks like mid-century European or souvenir necklaces with resin amber beads. Some of these souvenir necklaces also contain stamped beads. Recently, I bought a necklace from a delightful Dutch lady who made her own beads from a recipe she obtained in Senegal, these lozenge shaped beads were strung on a necklace with old Dutch trade beads and she enclosed a recipe for me with a few of the ingredients. The Algerian beads seem to be entirely different from the North African, they are smaller, and colored and strung in great abundance on long necklaces. Moroccans and Palestinians also make clove necklaces for weddings, the apprearance of the necklaces are quite different in each country. Later, I will include some pics of the necklace shapes and designs.

Modern lozenge beads mixed with contemporary European beads made by StudioKroko in the Netherlands.

Contemporary Tunisian beads from the Tunis bazaar.

Scent bead necklace from Tunis.

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Created by Cordelia Donohoe Apr 10, 2017 at 4:03pm. Last updated by Cordelia Donohoe Apr 17, 2017.

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