Orange Beads

Orange beads are surprisingly common in Asia and parts of Europe. In Asia, I see a lot of orange glass beads or terracotta beads, whereas in Europe, I see a lot of amber beads.

Last week I talked about red beads, and some amber beads are easily more red than orange. But most amber beads are orange, whether that’s reddish-orange, orangey-orange, or yellowy-orange. The color ‘amber’ means something between orange and yellow for a reason.

Amber is the most common non-glass material I’ve seen for orange beads. There are terracotta beads, but many of them tend to be painted. I also haven’t working in areas with terracotta beads, so I am very unfamiliar with them. There seem to be terracotta beads in Egyptian contexts and other Mediterranean/Middle Eastern areas, I just haven’t studied them in any real capacity (hmm, I sense a research project!).

There are also sardonyx beads, which are red onyx (though it often looks more orange). These can be found in the Indian subcontinent and parts of the Middle East.

Orange glass coil beads from Indonesia

Orange glass coil beads from Indonesia

Orange glass is made by adding cuprous oxide (copper) to the glass. This is basically the same compound used to make red beads, and the difference between colors comes from the amount and point at which the colorant is added.

Most orange glass beads I see are from Southeast Asia, though there are many in South Asia as well. Generally, they are drawn or coiled, which is a type of wound bead in which you can see the individual layers of wrapped glass.

DS 018There are examples of translucent orange glass in Europe that seems to mimic amber (like the one above). I’m not sure what is used to get the coloring, though I expect it’s also copper. These particular beads make me wonder if they’re meant to pass for amber beads, if everyone knew they weren’t amber, but used them as a cheaper substitute, or if they weren’t mean to bear any connected to amber and were seen as completely separate.

Overall, orange as a color for beads is generally either amber-colored (whether amber or glass or something else) or opaque rust-colored glass. I don’t tend to see much else.

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About Heather Christie

Heather is an archaeologist, photographer, and writer whose research focuses on beads and bead trade, particularly in a maritime sense. She's currently working working on a PhD in Digital Design (focusing on heritage visualisation) at the Glasgow School of Art.
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