Background of African Jewellery

Beaded Jewellery Africa

The Tradition of Beads

Zulu women have long practised the art of beadwork as part of their cultural heritage. In traditional Zulu beadwork, beads convey messages in their design and use of colour. The African Collection’s beaded African Jewellery designs are contemporary creations and, as such, do not adhere to the strict colour codes of traditional beads but rather draw on the old and new to create unique pieces.

While beading, women have always talked with each other and their daughters about life, values and social expectations.

Significance of Beads

Traditional Zulu bead designs relate to courtship or marriage. The combination and arrangement of colours denotes marital status. The wearing of traditional bead jewellery was used as a system of identifying individuals who could be approached for courtship.

Like the Zulu language itself, the bead language is rich in nuance and complexity and can only really be fully comprehended by those immersed in the culture. There are seven basic colours which can have a positive or negative connotation, depending upon their arrangement. White is the exception and is always a positive symbol of purity and true love. If white is placed next to a colour, the positive aspect is taken, eg white next to blue signifies fidelity and is the conventional engagement symbol.

Colour Positive Meaning Negative Meaning
Black Marriage, regeneration Sorrow, despair, death
Blue Fidelity Ill feeling, hostility
Yellow Wealth, a garden, industry, fertility Thirst, badness, withering away
Green Contentment, domestic bliss Illness, discord
Pink High birth of rank, an oath, promise Poverty, laziness
Red Physical love, strong emotion Anger, heartache, impatience
White Spiritual love, purity, virginity None


The desire for personal adornment appears to be universal, dating back at least 25,000 years. African beadwork not only serves as decorative African jewellery but also as a complex introduction into the colourful web of traditional life.

The Zulu, Ndebele, and Xhosa of South Africa also use beads to create culturally distinctive forms of African jewellery. Ornaments are used to delineate the unique identity of each culture and most of the beadwork found in eastern and southern Africa is worn by all members of society.

The Future of modern African Jewellery

Beaded Jewellery Africa is evolving. Today in many cases beaded African jewellery represents a melding of the traditional and contemporary, resulting in unique styles. Plus, hand made African beads are often used to produce this affect.

The African Collection hopes to bring African jewellery and African beads to the wider world.