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Blue Mummy Bead Necklace

Blue Mummy Bead Necklace

Above: From the Vatican Gregorian Egyptian Museum

For thousands of years, artisans in Egypt and Mesopotamia created vibrant ceramics to echo the beauty of rare jewels. Once known by the Egyptian word tjehenet or "that which shines", the bright finish is the result of a chemical process we know today as efflorescence.

Beginning with ground quartz, elements such as copper, cobalt, and magnesium are combined to form a malleable, earthy paste. When fired at temperatures over 800°C, metallic oxides migrate through the porous material, cooling at the surface, and leaving behind the rich colors and glass-like surface thought to capture the visual essence of immortality.

There are two styles of beads in the current collection:

  • Barrel-shaped bead - A single barrel-shaped bead presented on a 14k Gold-Filled cable necklace. All beads in this style are blue as shown in the sample pictures.
  • Disc-shaped beads - A unique assortment of beads with multiple colors, available on Sterling Silver or 14k Gold-Filled 18” cable necklaces and matching accent beads. Click here to see this version.

Each style features hand-selected Egyptian faience beads dating to the 1st Millennia BCE. The necklaces come in a decorative box and include a small information card. The card serves as the certificate of authenticity and can be found underneath the padded lining of the display box.

Please Note: While we've done our very best to ensure that each necklace is beautiful, keep in mind that each bead was handmade thousands of years ago. This means the texture, size, and condition of each bead will vary. As a result, your necklace will be absolutely unique.

Acquisition: The beads come from a private collection acquired through the Egyptian Museum in Cairo during the late 1970s. This acquisition was reviewed by a private dealer in Washington, DC who is also a member of the American Research Center in Egypt and the Association of Dealers & Collectors of Ancient & Ethnographic Art.

About Egyptian Faience

Egyptian faience is made of silica, ash, and lime. The silica came from sand or quartz pebbles, natron or ash provided the alkali, and limestone contributed the lime. Craftsmen would pulverize the materials, combining them with copper, cobalt, magnesium, and other metals to create a powder which they then made into a malleable paste. When fired, metallic oxides migrated through the porous material, cooling at the surface, and leaving behind the rich colors and glass-like surface.

In the largely pre-literate ancient world, colors had intense cultural, social, and communicative value. For example, the vibrant blues and blue-greens of Egyptian faience spoke of the heavens, water, life, and rebirth. The color was imbued with spiritual significance and a sense of magic.

Faience first emerged in Mesopotamia during the 5th millennium BCE. Egyptian artisans began working with it the following millennium. During the Predynastic Era, production techniques were relatively simple. Craftsmen shaped objects by hand, then carved and abraded them to create detail after the drying process was complete. A copper-infused glaze applied before firing gave Egyptian faience its characteristic shine and color. The Egyptian word for this material speaks volumes. They called it "tjehenet" which roughly translates to dazzling or brilliant.

The middle of the 2nd millennium BCE witnessed an explosion of faience production in Egypt. Artisans began using clay molds to work with the material, and a new method of glazing, efflorescence, became popular. Instead of applying glaze after the shaping of an object, craftsmen began including glazing materials in the paste itself. The use of molds and the innovation of adding glaze directly to the paste led to the mass production of faience products, including rings, amulets, and tiles.  

The history of faience is tightly linked to the importance of visual symbols in a world in which most people could neither read nor write. Elites relied on visual imagery to communicate their wealth and legitimize their power. Ancient Mesopotamians were fond of using gold for this purpose. The scarcity of gold in Mesopotamia led to the development of trade routes designed to obtain the precious metal. Egypt had the gold the elites of Babylon and other Mesopotamian city-states wanted. Artisans familiar with faience production and faience objects themselves flowed along trade routes and eventually made their way to Egypt. 

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