Ethnic Jewels

An appreciation of ethnic jewellery and adornment

Here we go again.  I do not know Morocco phenolic amber beads, I have watched the video which Sarah placed,very educational. But my question is:

The Ethiopian beads are what I think made of resin.  They start out in the yellow color, now if these are worn  through the years by women, sometimes even cattle, because they believe strongly in the power of the amber bead, they slowly turn to the color red due to the heat of the skin and the sun.  Ones a trader of Ethiopia and me boiled some of the resin beads in oil and they became very dark red, but as we did it too long they tend to get some cracks. (we did these to see the difference between the newly boiled ones and the ones which had gotten their color through wear of many years.  (Big difference really).  Now my question is as on the video the phenolic beads of Morocco do they get a different color through wear and the warmth and could they be boiled in oil without melting?  This is a question which is with me since I joined Ethnic Jewels.  Because I strongly think that the beads of Ethiopia are mostly of resin, this besides the real collective amber beads  of course. (They do not get another color, they remain yellow throughout the years.)

Gr. Ingrid Langerak

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Comment by Jamey D. Allen on May 9, 2014 at 12:58

Dear Ingrid,

I would like to suggest that you read my long message posted here, about amber and copal.  It will answer many of your questions:

A few comments pertaining to your post:

The most common plastic imitations of amber are derived from cast phenolics, devised in 1926, and quickly became available worldwide, but mass-produced in the 1930s (not the 1920s).  This material is OFTEN called "Bakelite," was first made by the Bakelite Company, and is chemically related to Bakelite--but it should be considered separately from that material and should not be called "Bakelite."  Some choose to call it Catalin (though this is the product of another company, and not all cast phenolic plastics were made by Catalin--but it's a convenient name).

Anywhere in Africa, actual amber beads are imported, and most often derive from European Baltic amber.  However, since ca. 1930, the exportation of cast phenolics has overwhelmed any use of real amber.  A lot of Ethiopian "amber" is this material, as well as other inferior plastics.  Unfortunately, (as discussed in my essay here), the name Copal is frequently given to fake amber beads, to distinguish them from real amber, and to disguise the fact that they are merely plastic.  Actual organic copal beads are quite rare (for reasons I explain).  Here's another unfortunate wrinkle:  Cast phenolic plastics are Synthetic Resins.  Consequently, it is somewhat accurate to say these plastic beads are "resin."  However, this is, again, a deceptive construction, designed to make the buyer believe that, like amber and copal, the material is "natural," when it is not.

In 1976 I wrote the first exposé that revealed the true nature of "African amber" and "copal" beads, in  a three-part article published by The Bead Journal.  In that article, I explained that it's possible to heat phenolic beads and make them change from yellow to red.  And, many times, it also results in the cracking and/or breaking of the beads being treated.  Heating can be accomplished dry, in an oven, or wet (by frying the beads in oil).  I used the dry method, myself.  Phenolic beads can also be dyed red, though the penetration is superficial.

Unfortunately, the audience that has been the most resistant to accepting that "African amber" and "copal" beads are plastic have been Africans.  They fervently believe the stories they were told, and have repeated for generations now.  But it is EASY to prove what these beads are made from.  Only in the 21st century have I made much headway in getting African bead sellers to listen to reason.  It has been a long haul since 1976.

By the way, phenolic plastics do not melt!  One of the valuable features of this material is that, in its manufacture, the resinoids become crossed-linked, and permanently non-fusible.  A plastic or material that can be melted is not phenolic plastic.  (The same is true of Bakelite, of course--which is why it has many industrial and domestic uses.)

I hope this is helpful.  Be well.   jamey D. Allen 

Comment by ingrid Langerak on April 28, 2014 at 17:48

Dear friends,  after I more or less came to the conclusion with your comments that it must be phenolic resin beads most probably from the period 1920 (the very dark ones) and younger with the lighter color, and the opaque beads.  Thank you.  It also means that phenolic beads can stand intens heat like boiling oil.

The see through beads are from a different phenolic plastic. Not quite sure how and what.

Just read a googled page, "old phenolic beads" got there Baltic amber from....and fake. where on the site I clicked on the writing  and a very informative page appeared.

So thanks you Toya's and Sarah's input One burning question for me solved.  Great. Xo Ingrid.

So this page also answers Betty's question about its age.  And Eva's curiosity.  Fun and again a bit richer in knowledge.

Comment by SARAH CORBETT on April 28, 2014 at 16:42
ingrid, you are correct, the morccan yellow beads remain the colour they are when made. the phenolic beads behave in a different way .
Comment by ingrid Langerak on April 28, 2014 at 12:42

I added them on the Ethnic Jewels, my photos page with comments.

GR. Ingrid

Comment by ingrid Langerak on April 28, 2014 at 12:21

Toya, thank you for responding, I have added several photos to show you what I mean,

99% of the antique(old) ressin beads from Ethiopia are not cracked.  The cracking came in when I boiled some yellow ones in hot oil,because the heat was to intense. they became dark throughout, as with the natural dark coloring through wear are beautiful and shiny and when broken the inside is still yellow.  

There are different beads which are red all through and see through.  These might be bakelite ones???

But old I do have them from around 1965 and their holes were worn already then.

Please look at the photos and wonder.  

You know my question is when phenolic amber, can they resist being boiled in oil? and not melt? 

Comment by Toya on April 27, 2014 at 23:35

I am not sure I can answer your entire question but I know that the old phenolic amber beads will develop cracks with age and are supposed to darken with age as well. I do not own any new beads so I can't compare the colors of old and new. I have read that a patina develops with age on old bakelite and other plastic beads as well.

Comment by ingrid Langerak on April 27, 2014 at 22:52

Yes Toya, the resin of a tree. (like the petrofied amber)

Comment by Toya on April 27, 2014 at 22:47

 To clarify- When you describe the Ethiopian beads as "resin" do you mean they are made of copal, which is a plant resin? This would be different than phenolic, which is a man made plastic substance.



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