“I knew this beaded necklace would look as good in Europe as it did in Africa”

Rare African trade beads are at the heart of the Ndau Collection

Ndau Collection gold vermeil, Vaseline bead, glass bead and brass bead necklace from the African Renaissance range, $330
Ndau Collection gold vermeil, Vaseline bead, glass bead and brass bead necklace from the African Renaissance range, $330

I love to pick up jewellery on my travels, bringing back memories every time I wear a piece. On my recent trip to Zimbabwe, I happened to spot some interesting items in a small shop in the lobby of the Victoria Falls Hotel, a grande dame built by the British in 1904, with the powerful “smoke that thunders” filling the horizon at the end of the flower-filled gardens. Unfortunately, I was not on my own and my companions were less inclined than me to dawdle, so I was hurried away.

Imagine, then, how pleased I was a few days later when at Victoria Falls airport I saw another shop featuring the jewellery, which turned out to be from a line called the Ndau Collection (from $150 for a silver ring). This time I could browse to my heart’s content, though in fact it didn’t take me very long to make a decision. I spotted a beautifully crafted necklace ($280) in shades of my favourite turquoise, mixed with gold vermeil and various gorgeous beads. It was just the right length and was, I knew, something that would look as good in Europe as it did in Africa.

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Interested to know more about the history of the necklace, a little of which was written on a slip of card inside the decorative bag it came in, I looked up the maker, Gail van Jaarsveldt. A bead collector and jewellery designer for over 30 years, van Jaarsveldt was a founder of the Ndau Collection, which she now runs with her daughter Christie Halsted, and the company uses carvers, wire workers and silversmiths local to Victoria Falls. It specialises in silver and is intended mostly as an everyday collection mixed with one-of-a-kind collector’s pieces – the latest range, African Renaissance, is the one that mixes gold vermeil with rare African trade beads.

I spoke to Ndau’s creative director, Christie Brookstein, who told me a little more about what I had bought. The Prosser beads threaded onto my necklace are also known as “glass trade” beads and were originally created as buttons by English brothers Richard and Thomas Prosser in 1840 using the “cold paste” technique. A French maker, Jean-Felix Bapterosses, later bought the rights and added cow’s milk to the mix to achieve malleability, producing pressed beads from his factory in Briare, which were then used as currency by European merchants. Other beads regularly used in the collection and featuring in my necklace are “Dogon Donuts”, which are brass beads made from clay moulds by the Dogon people of Mali; clear turquoise beads from Nigeria; glass beads from Ghana; and Vaseline beads – originally from Bohemia. As Brookstein put it, my necklace is a slice of African history.

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