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What Are Dzi Beads?

What Are Dzi Beads?

If you’re a fan of natural stone beaded jewelry, there’s a chance you’ve come across designs featuring Dzi beads. These beautiful creations are incredibly eye-catching, but they also feel a bit mysterious. Many people wonder, “What are Dzi beads? What is a Dzi bead made of, and where did they originate?”

Since authentic Dzi beads are rare, they’re incredibly collectible. Plus, their unique look makes them stand out when added to jewelry, regardless of whether they’re older beads or newer creations. If you’re curious about the origins of real Dzi beads, here’s what you need to know.

What Are Dzi Beads?

Dzi (pronounced “zee”) is a Tibetan term used to describe a type of patterned bead. The shape of the bead can vary, with some being oblong or cylindrical while others are round or tabular. They’re traditionally pierced lengthwise.

Little is known about ancient Tibetan Dzi beads, primarily because any histories relating to them were relayed orally, and many have been lost to time. Additionally, it isn’t entirely clear how they were made, as some of the presumptive techniques required are relatively recent developments that weren’t available at the time of a bead’s creation. Also, there’s much speculation about their initial purpose beyond the ornamental.

Regarding colouring, most are deep brown or black, while any design is white. However, agate is a varied stone, so it can also contain shades of white, ivory, and beige. The lustre leans toward waxy, and the surface is very smooth, often because they are commonly worn, and many are passed down from one generation to the next.

Traditional Dzi Beads Patterns

While there are several types of Dzi beads, each featuring unique patterning, generally, the most desirable designs usually feature circles or dots commonly referred to as “eyes.” Those are said to effectively watch the wearer’s back, serving as protection from evil forces.

Traditional Tibetan Dzi bead pattern

Photo: Wiki Media Commons by Magickei

Along with the eyes, you’ll usually see a variety of lines. Some may feature staircase-like line patterns, while others may include hexagons or curves surrounding or moving over the eyes.

Tibetan Dzi beads without eyes have highly recognizable patterning, too. Zig-zags sitting between pairs of straight lines are a common example, though other designs may also exist.

What Are Dzi Beads Made Of?

A Dzi bead from Tibet is classically made of Tibetan agate, typically a banded variety. However, some are made of carnelian instead, though those are less common. Dzi beads may feature a piece of agate with very even colouring. However, some show swirls of colour, as agate can have variances.

At times, you may see red dots across the agate surface of a Dzi bead. Generally, these occur in areas where the agate is closer to white and usually indicate the presence of iron in the agate. These “blood spots” are often highly desirable, as they’re rarer than Dzi beads themselves.

Authentic Dzi agate beads are exceptionally rare. Additionally, even when a Dzi stone bead is found that seems to meet the criteria, it’s carefully scrutinized before it’s deemed genuine. Like many valuable jewelry pieces or stones, fakes are incredibly common in the world of Dzi beads, which is why caution is exercised before most experts will formally declare one’s authenticity.

How Are Dzi Beads Made?

Overall, how ancient Dzi beads were made isn’t entirely clear. While there are techniques today for applying similar designs, those weren’t viable when some of the oldest beads were created. It’s believed that artisans played a role, taking agate to shape the beads before adding the designs, and how they managed to apply the pattern is ultimately a mystery.

With modern Dzi beads, the application of the design largely depends on the material. For example, if the bead is created with clay, different hues of clay are carefully moulded together to create the patterns. With natural stone, a variety of etching and staining techniques can allow them to apply designs.

How Are Dzi Beads Traditionally Used?

As mentioned above, it isn’t fully clear how Dzi beads were traditionally used. Since many considered them protective stones, they are often worn ornamentally, usually in necklaces and occasionally in bracelets.

Some felt that the Tibetan agate beads had medicinal purposes. As a result, some ancient Dzi beads feature small divots, indicating that the owner ground some out, allowing them to add the agate powder to a treatment.

Modern Versions of Dzi Beads

Modern versions of Dzi beads often have similar colouring and patterning to their ancient counterparts. However, they’re made using modern techniques and, at times, non-traditional materials.

For example, some are created with clay, allowing the craftsperson to use two different shades of clay to create the base bead and design. Others are plastic or glass. However, some designers of recreation Tibet Dzi beads do use genuine stones, opting for modern techniques to apply the design.

Dzi Beads Meaning

Dzi beads with traditional patterns

By EniJew (Enijew) - Own work (Original text: self-made(自己的作品)), CC BY 2.5,

The original meaning of Dzi beads isn’t entirely clear. While “Dzi” translates to “shine, brightness, clearness, splendour,” in Tibetan, there is some debate regarding their origins and use.

Some of the oldest known Dzi beads date back to between 1000 to 2000 BC, and they’ve since been discovered in what’s now Tibet, India, Nepal, and several other spots throughout Central Asia. When it comes to a purpose, some think they are ornamental; others feel they have religious significance. There is even a potential connection to medicinal uses.

From a spiritual standpoint, the Tibetan Dzi beads meaning has been associated with good fortune. It’s thought that some Tibetans believed that Dzi beads were once insects and that discovering the stone was a form of gift recognizing that the person was good-hearted and well-intentioned. Others thought they were worn by demigods who tossed them away when they were anything less than pristine.

Some people also think that Tibet Dzi beads can do more. They’re said to attract wisdom and prosperity, though some connect the beads more to love, happiness, and protection. Often, the number of “eyes” on the stone is what gives the bead a new potential meaning, with five being highly sought because it’s considered “magical.”

Ultimately, regardless of their meaning, there’s no proof that any bead can benefit the wearer physically, emotionally, or mentally. As a result, Dzi beads from Tibet aren’t replacements for legitimate care, such as from a medical professional if you have an ailment. Still, wearing them is unlikely to cause harm.

How to Wear Dzi Beads

Flickr: Tibetan Woman with flower and katag offerings, wearing a dZi stone ring, memorial wrist bracelet to Tibetan prisoners, and mala, Tharlam Monastery Courtyard, Boudha, Kathmandu, Nepal

FlickrTibetan Woman with flower and katag offerings, wearing a dZi stone ring, memorial wrist bracelet to Tibetan prisoners, and mala, Tharlam Monastery Courtyard, Boudha, Kathmandu, Nepal

Technically, there isn’t a wrong way to wear Dzi beads. However, most prefer strand necklaces or bracelets, as those are particularly well-suited to beads. In some cases, a piece may solely feature Dzi beads. However, it’s more common to see a single, prominent Dzi bead, with the rest of the necklace or bracelet featuring other types of stone beads, metal rondels, and similar additions.

Many people also incorporate Dzi beads in Malas. Those longer strands of beads – often worn as necklaces or bracelets - are used to help a person keep count during meditation. Traditionally, the total bead count is 108. However, some may feature less, suggesting the total can be multiplied by a whole number to create 108. For example, a Mala may contain 54 beads, which is half of 108.

Dzi beads can be used in less traditional pieces, too. For instance, adding them to drop earrings can be an excellent option, allowing the pattern to be on display from all sides. However, necklaces may be your best choice if you’d like a more classic approach.

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