Having lived in Saudi Arabia for some years, I have a lot of real gold and precious stone jewellery. I am sure that you have seen pictures of the gold souks in the Middle East. Expensive jewellery is very important to Arab women, not just for adornment, but, as I understand it, because it is their nest egg. Divorce being common, personal effects and jewellery were traditionally the only things that a women could keep when she had to return to her family after a marriage breakup. So they buy lots, frequently, sustaining those astonishing gold souks. When you live there long enough you eventually catch the bug. The expat women in my compound used to go shopping together on the compound bus and afterwards we’d do a show and tell on the way home. 18 carat gold and diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds always featured very largely among the purchases.

These days I don’t wear any of this jewellery anymore. It is too impractical, too unsafe to keep around the house and therefore stowed away in the bank. I hope my female descendants will enjoy it more than I do.

I also don’t wear rings or bracelets at all because they annoy me, and I can’t wear earrings as my pierced ears seem to be sensitive to metal, even 18 carat gold. But I do like chunky ethnic style necklaces, and lots of them! I make them mostly myself, from semi-precious stones and silver beads. I caught that particular bug the first time I went to Beijing and visited the Pearl Market. There are of course a lot of pearls of every variety and description, and I did not escape without a few purchases.


But what really made me goggle-eyed was the ethnic silver jewellery. The word ‘silver’ being used loosely, as it is usually silver plated or at best very low grade silver. But I loved the look.


They were not only selling the finished jewellery, but the stones as well. Usually you pick your stones and they make up the necklace for you on the spot with whatever ‘silver’ beads you like, but my DIY obsessed brain immediately went into overdrive. So I hung around and watched how they did it, then hunted down some sources for the silver beads. They are not on display in droves like the strings of stones, but you can find them if you look and ask around. You can also find some solid silver, but I am no expert and wouldn’t know the real thing if I fell over it, so I am happy to buy whatever is sold as silver plate. You pay anywhere from a few cents for a small bead to $1.50 for a large one, so it is not an expensive investment if it doesn’t turn out to be what you were told. The only thing I worry about are beads with lead content, and I take the precaution of buying from shops frequented by airline staff and expats. They ought to know what they are doing far better than I do, and they usually cultivate a trusted source.

These days I also buy the beads and findings to go with my semi precious stone stash in one of the large craft chains. Not a whiff of silver, they are some sort of metal and even sometimes plastic, although you really can’t tell.


At least there is no worry about lead content, and no need to polish the beads either every now and then. I can live with the knowledge and nobody looking at any of my necklaces would be any the wiser. I started out stringing with the nylon thread used in the Beijing necklaces. You finish off with a knot tied onto the clasp, then take a lighter and melt the end of the thread so the knot doesn’t unravel. This works fairly well with short, lighter pieces of jewellery, and I have chokers made this way that I have worn for years without any problem. But I also have a liking for long and chunky necklaces to wear with my Lagelook tops. So I have changed over to wire, and lately to tiger tail, and crimp beads. My design skills are rudimentary and my technique is very simple, but the purchase of a few simple tools and the discovery of crimp bead covers has lifted my jewellery to a more polished level.

I also use silk cord with large beads tied on at intervals for a different look. The necklace on the left is made of silver plated beads and the one on the right of vintage glass beads. I tie a knot in the string for the bead to rest on. To the cobalt blue glass beads I added a silver Turks head bead at top and bottom for a bit of subtle bling. I tie the silk thread off to close the necklace and then make a knot in the end of each strand. Not very sophisticated technically but it works for me.

strung on silk

And the same technique again below, this time on the left a happy marriage of antique glass bought in Bali and handmade Moroccan metal beads bought in a market in Amsterdam. On the right some hand made wood beads with brass inlay I bought at the antique market in Beijing. They had lots of them for sale all over the market, so they must be some sort of bead used frequently in China for something or other, maybe worry beads? I would love to know what they are, if anyone recognises them.


And here are some of my of doughnuts, Chinese coin and stone carvings used as pendants on various types of string. The yellow/black jasper pendant on the braided thong was my very first effort.


Some coral with silver plated beads and plain.  coral2

Jade squares and tubes, and at the bottom a necklace with some unknown turquoise coloured stone.


Amethyst, rough tumbled or polished, and Phoenix stone.


What I love about jewellery making is that it totally lacks the angst of sewing. If I cut into this beautiful fabric, will I muck it up? Will it tun out not to suit me? Will I find a pattern later that would have been better?

Absolutely no such regrets with jewellery making. Don’t like what I have made? Take the wire cutters to it or undo the knots and start again. Have a better design idea pop into my head for those stones or beads? Ditto. There is no decision I can make that is not reversible, it only takes an hour or so to make up another design. The only bad part is that I can easily make more than I can ever wear, and I think I have just about reached that point now. I guess can just give away stuff away as presents.

I am toying with the thought of venturing into silver wire work, which will slow me up a bit. But I am not going to Beijing this year, so no new stones and no inspiration. The new technique will have to wait.
This post is linked back to RUMS.