ethnic jewels

An appreciation of ethnic jewellery and adornment

amber, copal and ressin from Ethiopia.Photo on 2013-09-13 at 13.25

amber, copal and ressin from Ethiopia.Photo on 2013-09-13 at 13.25

A variation of the mysterious and confusing material,amber, copal and ressin.
the only amber in ths picture are the pieces doen on the left. (all I have left of my beautiful collection. The are light in weight, if thrown into water they drift down to the bottom. their weight is 1.1 compared to water 1. They are rather soft and brittle and if not protected the beads are often worn through at the hole and the sides coned of. Large piece necklaces were often protecte for that by having pieces of leather strung in between the beads.
The necklace on the right is what people call copal. The ressin from the trees has been given an hardening process. There are two colors in Ethiopia,yellow and red (red is clear,if amber very rare as beads). This necklace is slightly brown because if has been worn for some years (10) The opaque copal beads of Ethiopia if genuine, do get gradually darker in colour when worn and this because of the sun and the heat of the skin. So.....after many years a piece like the middle chain is the result.
this represent at least several generations. And I was lucky to be called by the dealers when some arrived in town.
By the way Amber or copal is mostly worn by the moslem women and they believe stongly in the protection against evil things and ilnesses special concerning the longs. This is also the case for many countries who believe in amber.
The three loose beads show the different ages in the color. This for the yellow colored .
This antique copal is very much sought after, has become rare and therefore pricy.
The weight of copal is heavy throw them into the water and the plomp down straight to the bottom.
Amber,copal will burn and pastic will melt (if a match is held to it. All the variations of different countries I do not know, because they have become very devious to immitate these materials. And therefore be alert when they use the termination amber or even the copal.

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Comment by ingrid Langerak on September 21, 2013 at 22:28

Harald I went through the whole civillian war. But invite me to be your friend and I can answer you on this personal questions. (I do not know in this system how to invite you.)

Comment by Harald on September 21, 2013 at 22:02

That must have been in the "good old days" , living in Ethiopia that is. I just did hear about a week ago that a lot of Dutch people did live in Ethiopia (Haile Selassie-time?). There seems to have been a big Dutch factory? 

You must know a lot about the art of that country, very little is known to most collectors. May be there are not many picture books about the item. Only lately I came across some books when a dealer showed me some pictures about jewelry.

Comment by ingrid Langerak on September 20, 2013 at 22:09

Yes Harald, I lived  in Ethiopia for 30 years and a lover of Ethiopian antiques.  Ethiopian jewellery is a lot more sober than the Maroccon. I myself never made pictures because that is how I am. But I will try to find  some pictures. The tassles are also on the silver prayer beads, just one. The tasseled necklesses were only with the real yellow amber ones. The nomadic women mostly had the copal ones and they turned red. It is late and have to work tomorrow. Good night. Love your exchange and thank you for passing on your knowledge.

Comment by Harald on September 20, 2013 at 21:41

Thanks again for your reply. Those beads you have are very interesting. I do not know much about those. Lovely colors. 

In Egypt I have seen these kind of egg shaped beads but they might have been the fakes you tell about. We did not trust them then (10 years ago) although they had beautiful colors.

It is interesting to know the Harrar woman had silk tassels to their beaded necklaces like the woman in Morocca had tassels on their big necklaces. 

Do you still have pictures of those? It would be so nice to see what your necklaces looked like. I get the idea you must have lived in Ethiopia to have seen so much. 

Comment by ingrid Langerak on September 20, 2013 at 20:55

Thank you Harald for your reply, it is educational. All I know the beads I put on show are all copal, the real thing. It does not melt when  with the aceton  test.(I didn.t know about this test) And the very dark red ones(on my foto) like I wrote earlier have become so dark through the heat of the skin and sun this is a process of 60 yrs or more. and have still a yellow inside when broken. Since those dark red ones are rare dealers had (1984 about) to boil them in oil) had this been any plastic substance they would have melted away (I have done this together with some dealer to see  the result) but than they get red all through and often if done fraction too long will crack. Also I had quite a collection of the real amber large ones from the Ogadin and eggs shaped ones in long chains (those were worn by the nobility women from Harrar town,  with a silk tassle on the end) unfortunately I sold them for good money(but still sorry I have none left). So I am not unknown with the material, only I do not know all the imitations they produce in Marocco and now on large scale in China.  To double test you aceton hint, I just did it and like you said nothing happens to the beads.  Mind you the dark red ones are very pricy because they are just not available any more already since 1996  dealers  used to save them for me and called me as soon as they had some, because I am deeply in love with them love the color, the texture ect. Mind you in Ethiopia only the moslem women do wear these beads, not the christians. They really believe the healing power and protection against the evil eye.  

Comment by Harald on September 20, 2013 at 20:35

The old silver jewelry from Yemen does not have silver marks as far as I know. They do have signatures of the silversmith though. But by far not all of them. The ones with a signature are the old ones made by the Jewish silversmits. Hard to find items with signature now a days.  

Comment by Harald on September 20, 2013 at 20:14

Ingrid, I think the copal you talk about (resin picked from trees and hardened) is something entirely different from the semi fossilized copal used in old jewelry in Yemen and Morocco and may be Ethiopia, but I am not sure because I only had one strand from there that was copal.

Now I understand why some people write about how to recognize copal from amber by using acetone.

They say copal will melt by using acetone on it. But they mean the stuff you tell about and that will certainly  dissolve.  

To be sure about the acetone story I tried it on a real copal bead, nothing happens at all. It stays nice and shiny.

Comment by ingrid Langerak on September 16, 2013 at 11:04

Betty if the anklets or bangels are from Yemen, (which can be brought as a gift, of course) they should carry the silver mark from the sultan, as is a must in Yemen. In Ethiopia it was not marked. only now because of the tourist the jewellers in Addis Ababa do give it the silver mark (just the kt.)

Comment by ingrid Langerak on September 16, 2013 at 10:54

Harald, thank you for your detailed info. I do not know about the copal used for paint. But saw once a documentary how the ressin was picked from trees and it mentioned that the families forming the beads gave it a hardening process kept as a family secret.My experience lays more with the actual beads and their different stages. And to differentiate the amber, copal (ressin beads, or plastic,)
Thank you  and will read your message once again in order to learn more.

Thank you again and



Comment by Harald on September 16, 2013 at 10:03

Thanks for the story! But what do you mean by copal given a hardening process?

Copal is already "hard" and can be polished beautifully. Copal is already half fossilished. Copal is somewhere between 50 years to 1.6 million years, based on the geological environment in which it is found.

Or do you mean recent copal used in the Paint industry?



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