Ethnic Jewels

An appreciation of ethnic jewellery and adornment

I am looking for information about these beads which I acquired in the Tibetan community of Dharamsala, India in 1973. They were said to be Tibetan red amber, and had been used for a Tibetan mala (rosary). There are 105 beads, almost 1/2 inch wide, and a few of them are opaque. They are very light.

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Hello Edwina,

The use of amber, particularly red amber, as a Tibetan prayer strand would be very uncommon.  Though it it certainly not impossible, strands such as you show are more likely to be Chinese. They might be worn by Buddhists; or possibly derived from Mandarin necklaces.  I have a strand of these—and I will show three similar strands and a toggle from the same collection as the one I own.  You can read my comments, attached to the photo.  This is a FaceBook post I composed a few years ago. There is no reason to doubt that a Chinese mala might have been taken to Tibet, and then taken on to Dharamsala by a Tibetan refugee.  But this would be an unusual occurrence.  Whatever their story may be, these are handsome and valuable beads.  Be well.  Jamey fb_red_amber_1014.jpg

Hi Jamey,

Thank you for replying to my query. So you do think these are authentic red coral, not plastic or anything else? Where would they have originated?

I looked up "Tibetan amber mala" on eBay, and one came up that looks authentic. It is yellow amber. Still, if my beads were used as a mala, there are only 105, not 108.

Before 1959 Tibet had extensive trade with China, and most of the "elite" goods originated in China, such as silk brocades and fine ceramics. Utilitarian ceramics were made locally in Tibet.  I don't think even turquoise was mined in Tibet, but came from Iran.

I understand this is an informational site, so you may not be able to answer, but how can I find out the value of my red coral, as I would like to sell and don't know how.

Thank you so much,

Edwina



Jamey D. Allen said:

Hello Edwina,

The use of amber, particularly red amber, as a Tibetan prayer strand would be very uncommon.  Though it it certainly not impossible, strands such as you show are more likely to be Chinese. They might be worn by Buddhists; or possibly derived from Mandarin necklaces.  I have a strand of these—and I will show three similar strands and a toggle from the same collection as the one I own.  You can read my comments, attached to the photo.  This is a FaceBook post I composed a few years ago. There is no reason to doubt that a Chinese mala might have been taken to Tibet, and then taken on to Dharamsala by a Tibetan refugee.  But this would be an unusual occurrence.  Whatever their story may be, these are handsome and valuable beads.  Be well.  Jamey fb_red_amber_1014.jpg

Hello Edwina,

You wrote "red coral" twice in your message—though we are discussing amber (!).

It is very true that many products, particularly for the wealthy, came to Tibet from China.  As an aside, even turquoise was largely from China (mined at Hubei, in all likelihood).  However, although I have seen many Tibetan malas, and quite a lot of "Tibetan amber," I have never seen an amber mala.  So I have been discussing my practical experience.  But I cannot know everything, nor think I've seen everything—so I cannot dismiss the idea that there MIGHT be amber malas in Tibet.  I just think it is unlikely.  I recall, in the 1970s, I bought some faceted amber beads that were clearly European (made for the British and Russian markets) that I was assured were "from Tibet."  How ever unlikely that was (and I think it was a mistake!), the seller was adamant.

It is nearly impossible to authenticate amber from a photo.  Even a good photo (and your's is not really very clear).  If you join my online Amber Group, you can read about performing simple tests that will reveal whether your beads are imitations. If they pass these tests, a reasonable conclusion is that you do not have a known plastic fake.

Spherical Chinese amber beads, whether yellow or red (or reddish) were made in China from amber that was imported from Europe (the Baltic region) and from Burma.  Although Burmese amber is conventionally said to be "red," the color, most often, is a reddish tone leaning toward a brownish-orange—and is often turbid.  (Not highly translucent.). As I mentioned in my comments related to my beads, and those from that collection, I suspect they have been enhanced by having been boiled in oil that was dyed red to impart color.

Nearly all of the antique Chinese beads I have seen, made from authentic amber, have had distinct micro-crazing.  An overall pattern of very fine crackles. Plastic imitations generally do not (for this class of beads).  If you cannot see crazing with your unaided eye, a magnifying glass should reveal it.

Here's a link to my Amber Group.  You have to have a Yahoo account, and to join to get inside.  But that is easy and free. Once inside, read the documents I have posted in the Files Area.  You'll find two documents (PDFs) related to tests and authenticity. And one that is specifically about Tibetan amber.  I hope this has been helpful.  Jamey

https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/amberisforever/info

P.S. — Many old malas have fewer than 108 beads—because occasionally a bead breaks.  This can happen more often with friable materials like amber.  One of my occupations is appraising beads.  You can contact me privately:  jamey4beads@yahoo.com

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