A NEW WAVE OF FAKE BEADS
As long as there have been collectors of ancient beads there have been a
production of fake beads.
However, in the last few years, a virtual tsunami of fake beads has entered the market!
This vertical rise in look-alikes is
due to the almost exponential rise of Asian collectors, especially from
mainland China. The growing demand for ancient beads has virtually hovered
up the market and this to such an extent that there are only a very few
genuine ancient quality beads left for sale. Real ancient beads are no more
to be found in the countries that ten ago still had plenty of them. The
sources have simultaneously almost dried up, and only low-quality beads seem now to be available.
However, there is no sign of any lack of beads in the seller's shops in Asia
or on the internet.
When one takes a look at the ancient bead market nowadays, there is one string after
the other of absolutely perfect high-quality beads available for astronomic
Such a massive quantity of ancient perfect beads, even exactly shaped after
the buyers taste, is however not
possible! The population 2000 years ago was only a fragment of what it is
today, and only the richest few of these few could afford to possess
high-quality beads. Furthermore, an overwhelming majority of these beads
would today only have survived with a lot of wear and tear and in more or
less broken condition.
So one does not need an academic degree to figure out that almost all of
these flawless, high-quality beads must be fake! Today the far east is
flooded with new beads looking old.
No more ancient beads to get after 2021!
Some of my 'spies' in the far East talked with bead dealers from Afghanistan
and Pakistan. They said that nowadays it is really tough to find any ancient beads and
within three years from now they will all be gone.
To mainland China where they will circulate within closed
circles of wealthy collectors forming a kind of
secret brotherhood, sealed off from the public eye.
The power of Bead-currency and the super rich
Here the real stuff will be used as a kind of bitcoins assisting high-end
business transactions. DZI is of course the leading bead-coin. High-quality beads will in this setting act as a form of liquid cash much more easy
and discrete to transport as compared to cash. Favors can be
bestowed, not with vulgar suitcases full of dollars, but with a discrete
handshake where a little black stone change
hands. As in the case of cryptocurrency, it is difficult for big brother governments
to get eyes on
transactions. A further advantage of the beadcoins is that there will not
even be a digital trace to follow. Huge wealth can change hands with only these hands
Bead hunger and the nouveau riche
In a situation where not only DZI but all kinds of real ancient beads are
getting more and more scarce: What can now satisfy the bead hunger for the
significant growing number of wealthy, but not so oligarch type of people in
and not so educated layers of the Chinese society are imitating the trends
in the upper class, but with lesser economic power, which in the Chinese
bead culture is equivalent to Chung DZI, lesser DZI.
For sure there are already a lot of genuine ancient beads circulating in the
wealthy segments of the Asian societies. There has been a
steady flow of real beads into China the last 20 years. There are of course also many
serious and knowledgeable Chinese higher middle-class collectors who love beads for the sake of
However, seen in comparison to the rapidly growing number of wealthy
bead-greedy people with no interest in beads as art or history they play a
A short meta-story about the mainland Chinese
Let me here for a brief moment go on a meta-level. There is nothing wrong
with this social phenomenon. The story of newly rich people with no brains has been told all over the globe at
different times in history. It is an unavoidable phenomenon when a newly wealthy middle
class is emerging at a fast pace. As the English say: It takes three
generations to make a gentleman. And for sure the new China is
'producing' new gentlemen and woman in an almost singular pace. I was
surprised to meet so many super intelligent and cultivated young Chinese
people at my last bead exhibition in Bangkok. You can see some of them in
the photo above.
Here in these 'Tr(i)umphant' times... Let China take over ASAP ... for God's
Fake it till you make it!
And now back to the theme. In the Chinese bead vacuum, a new wave of
high-quality copy beads has replaced the real ones. These fakes have
expanded from DZI to almost all other types of beads. Within the last few
years even the, for the eastern collectors not so demanded, Indus beads have
been falsified on a grander scale. In Bangkok, I also observed Chinese bead
dealers purchasing seal beads from the
Persian Sassanian culture. They were fake. The sellers knew that. The
buyers knew that. However, it was of no importance.
This shows that the Chinese interest for ancient beads has expanded into a
broader spectrum. Before only beads valued in the Tibetan tradition
were in demand. This tendency is not in sync with the usual 'collectors
cultural evolution-pattern', where new collectors have a very narrow
spectrum of interest and from there evolve into having a global sphere of
interest. Only Hong Kong Chinese have evolved organically into this global
No, the sudden mainland explosion of interest in all types of beads is
caused by blind hunger.
Beads made far away from Tibet and in entirely different traditions of
manufacture and use are on eBay, by facebook-dealers, and other
more or less fraudulent bead-websites straight away baptized within the
to suit the Chinese taste with known spices. Even beads from Africa are now
called Chung Dzi and with this name stamped on them, they are quickly passed
over the desk. When the hunger is great, you can eat any food, even fake
food. In this expansion into a broader spectrum of beads, it gets even more
difficult for the collector to spot the fakes. So fake-production and
bead-type expansion are linked together.
Not too many of the new wealthy collectors have sufficient experience to see
if a bead they like is hot or not. Only experienced collectors can tell the
difference between these new wave fakes and the rare originals.
In Taiwan, they even have TV programs about fake bead production. In such a
show a fake-maker showed how he used ancient drills and then placed his
beads on a string where they were going endlessly back and forth until the
holes looked like being used for generations. The fake-maker even openly
said: The Chinese like it this way.
Cheaper beads are cheaper faked
As earlier mentioned, even the previously not so demanded Indus beads have
popped up in larger and larger quantities of fakes. These replicas are
however still relatively easy to spot. Why? Because the prices for Indus
beads are still far away from the hyped bead-coin world of DZI. Who bothers about making a sublime fake
of a type of bead that will fetch a relatively low
It is not cheap to make a really perfect imitation bead. Yes - you can
tumble the bead in a leather bag as it was done in ancient times. You can drill the hole with
ancient copper tools. However, it is still challenging to imitate either
excavation patina, stupa/burial patina, and patina by wear through 30
generations. Even more difficult it is to mimic ancient scars and cracks.
I cannot substantiate following thought. However, you can follow it as a way
to widen your perspective.
Let's say it will cost 2000 USD to make a high-quality replica bead in a Chinese
laboratory that can fool even more experienced collectors. Then the price of
such a bead, if it would follow the regular profit rate of the dealers,
at least 10.000 USD!
The sugar coating of ancient patina
Through scientific methods, primarily developed in Taiwan, but also mainland
China, replicas are getting better and better. This expensive high-end replication
is mainly targeting the Chinese DZI-hype. The latest news, according to my 'spies',
is that mainland China now has advanced laboratories
that can analyze the chemical components of the stone material of the bead.
From that chemical analysis, they 'sugar coat' the bead with a perfect
My precious one!
The next question is now:
How come this massive scam can take place apparently without being exposed?
Of course pure ignorance plays a great role, but it is also about psychology. It is desire... Too much of desire clouds the
mind. The dealers know very well that a huge percentage of their beads are
well made new copies. I guess that many of the buyers also deep down know
that the bead they purchased is a simulacrum and not the real thing, but
they don't want to know. They suppress their suspicion and consciously make
an effort to perceive the bead as a real one. This phenomenon, by the way,
is the case with all kind of ancient material.
How can I know that? I know that because I know this trick of the mind from
Many years ago I proudly posted a picture of an
'ancient' bead on the net. A
world known expert (with a big ego, but that not the issue in this context)
wrote to me that the bead I had posted was a modern fake. Seen with my
contemporary knowledge I can for sure say that he was 100% right, but at
that time I refused to see the truth and instead I got angry with him. I
felt aggression towards the man who had pointed out plain facts! Even today,
many years later, I still can observe this tendency in my mind to glorify my
beads and put justified doubt aside. However now I somehow can compensate my
own natural born foolishness with what I would call meta-consciousness, a
loving, but slightly ironic self-awareness that as a GPS correct for the
wrong course set by an over dose of greed.
Meta-consciousness is by the way cultivated in Meditation.
So what can collectors of ancient beads do today? Here I will give some
pieces of advice, primarily targeted to collectors from the West, since I am
• GET HOLD OF THE SCARRED BEADS!
The huge demand for the perfect ancient quality bead is mainly coming from
China. This demand, however, makes it more easy for the western collector to
distinguish between the real and the simulacra:
The scarred and not perfect beads are the real ones... The rest is hype
created by unconscious greed.
A perfectly imperfect bead
In the west we are for sure as 'stupid' as the eastern people, but not on
this particular issue: We are not obsessed with absolute perfection when it
comes to ancient artifacts. We are not so afraid of wrinkles, cracks, and
scars. We even like to feel the energy of beads which has been through a
tough time. We adore them as metaphors of heroes of our own culture who got
defined through survived battle scars and came out stronger.
When I hold an almost too perfect bead in my hand, it is like holding
something dead, something which has no essence. Touching, feeling and seeing
an ancient and naturally scarred bead, I feel awe. It is almost as this bead
is whispering to me through its hole. I hear the silk Road stories that this
bead has 'heard' at countless caravanserais. The old bead is a focal point
of crossroads of human life. As an antithesis to the contemporary greed, it was a
carrier of the belief in something transcendent, something good and
righteous. It became hope in what the ancient Indians have termed Satyam, Shivam,
Sundaram - The Truth, the Good and the Beauty.
The ancient signature & the custodian
I once again return to the ancient and scarred bead in my hand. I imagine
one of its wearers being an enlightened Buddhist monk. Another bead I look
at was maybe used for
generations in the same family. Another bead was found in a tribal
chieftains ornament. I imagine it being traded and traveling from owner to
owner to all corners of the world until it finally made a more extended stop
on Papua New Guinea. And now it is here in my temporary possession. How
wonderfully strange are the ways of beads!
Yes - I feel the concentrated living history when I hold such tiny beads
full of wear and tear in
And I become a living part of this history by the very act of this
I love the scarred old bead as I love myself for my imperfection.
To sum it all up:
It is a win-win situation to be a caretaker of a scarred bead.
It is most probably not a copy since it is not valued in China and... it is full
of natural magic.
And remember... the bead will survive you... you are just a short event in
time and space - you are a bead on the string of a bead timeline.
Yes - custodians we are.
Final words of advice
Don't purchase ancient beads and never DZI unless you are 100% sure about the provenance of the
beads! In a bead apocalyptic, not so far away future, exact provenance
will be the holy grail.
Be extra super careful when you purchase very expensive beads within the
hype-field of the Chinese dreams of perfection.
Be extra careful with beads without scars and cracks.
Beads and Baudrillard
Beads as an antidote to the simulacra
There was a photographer taking pictures of journalists who were being filmed by a TV crew as they reported on a PR event, and there was me writing about it.
(Victor Lewis Smith - Grasping the Zeitgeist with the ace fashionistas 2007)
Already in the late seventies the French philosopher, Baudrillard coined the term ‘simulacra´.
Baudrillard defines the simulacra as
the generation of models of the real without origin or reality.
In the modern world of media and internet, man is increasingly removed from contact with the ‘real world’.
He is much more in touch with the signs replicating the real world. In the cyberspace and modern media world, these signs now start to refer to each other instead of referring to real things in the real world. These signs that refer to other signs in a kind of feedback is then starting to simulate reality, a hyper reality. In this way news
is referring to incidents in ‘reality programs’ (what an ironic name) in the same way as they report news from Gaza.
In this way the real, according to Baudrillard, is slowly swallowed up by the hyper-real, or what we could call an unreal world that is trying to substitute the real:
It is no longer a question of limitation, nor of reduplication, nor even parody.
It is rather a question of substituting signs of the real for the real itself.
To cut it short: we live in a hyperreal world,
an unreal media and web-created world that looks real,
but actually could be described with the old Indian word, Maya, or Matrix if you prefer an updated word.
In this plastic fantastic world of simulacra, or should I say silicone, Baudrillard predicts that there will be a growing, desperate longing and need for what is really real. But Baudrillard is a pessimistic man.
He saw that only quickly evolving fakes, simulacra, would be given to quench this thirst, with the result that the thirst would be even greater.
I must confess that though I agree with Baudrillard's basic philosophy, I am not at all that pessimistic.
I see a world where we in our hunger for the ‘real’ will redirect our search for the real to our ancient
history and here find ‘tokens’, symbols of reality that in themselves can emanate
Any ancient art object will remind us of the real inside ourselves.
In my case, I get this thirst for the real quenched when I hold an ancient bead in my hand. A genuine ancient bead is a sign and a piece of reality at the same time.
This bead was made more than a thousand years before
the world wide web. It was made in a time where time was almost standing still - and only in this kind of time, it is possible to make a bead like this. And after its making, it has become one with human life through symbiosis with sweat from countless generations. Or it has become baptized through the sweat of the earth for millennia.
This bead is like a tuning fork. It makes me vibrate with what is real inside myself.
This timeless bead in time, in my hand right now, reminds me of my favorite monk, Meister Eckhart, when he says:
The happenings of a thousand years ago, days spent millenniums since,
are in eternity no further
off than is this moment I am passing now;
the day to come a thousand years ahead or in as many years as you
can count, is no more distant in eternity than this very instant I am in.
All else is simulacra - especially fake beads!
Gunnar Muhlman - dedicated to Kevin Ball in honour of his ability to distinguish between the real and the simulacra.