How to Make African Jewelry

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Africa has a long-standing tradition of producing hand-crafted jewelry in distinctive shapes, colors and textures. You can create your own jewelry inspired by African style by using the same raw materials as the jewelry makers in Africa. Your pieces can be as simple as a pendant necklace or as ornate as some of the pieces used in African healing rituals, ceremonies and spiritual practices.

Things You'll Need

  • African beads
  • Jewelry wire or cord
  • Crimp beads
  • Crimping pliers
  • Clasp
  • Get inspired by looking at examples of African jewelry. Authentic Africa (see resources below) has photographs of many traditional types of tribal jewelry, from Nigerian coconut disc necklaces to Ethiopian crosses, and Kenyan bone necklaces to Mali wedding beads.

  • Determine a style. If you are going for a single pendant necklace, look for a larger bead or charm that has an interesting pattern or color. If you are going to string multiple beads, try placing them against a neutral background (black velvet is the traditional background used by jewelers) to see how they look in combination. You can also combine a pendant with smaller beads.

  • Procure African beads. African Trade Beads (see Resources below) sells diverse types of African jewelry supplies and beads, and the company claims the materials are purchased in an ethical manner, typically directly from families in West Africa. Note that some of the pieces are ancient or limited edition and come at a steep price, while other beads are more accessibly priced.

  • Measure out a good length of beading thread or, if the beads are larger, leather or cotton cord. It should be enough to wrap around your neck plus 5 inches. If you are using wire, slide a crimp bead on one end as well as one part of the clasp. Loop the wire through the crimp bead, tighten it, and then flatten the bead with crimping pliers. Trim the wire tail.

  • String the beads. If you want a symmetrical pattern, start with the center piece and add segments on each side. Add the second part of the clasp or, if you are using a hook clasp, attach a jump ring. Pull the wire through the clasp and trim the excess.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you are purchasing beads online, pay particular attention to measurements and note metric conversions. One inch is approximately 25 millimeters or 2.5 centimeters.
  • Use high-quality jewelry wire or cords that will not fray with use.

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