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The Most Expensive Bead

A Roman glass bead sold at auction in 1992 for $5,250. A few years earlier, the estimated price for a Lukut Sekala in Sarawak (East Malaysia, on the island of Borneo) was about $4000. A single Bodom, a glass bead made in West Africa, sold in London in 1931 for £300, then worth $1500 -- and now a conservative $30,000!

Left - A Lukut Sekala from Sarawak 1988 price $4000.

Right - A jade Chinese hat ornament, not as expensive

Yet these don't even come close to the most money spent for a bead. In 1988 over $700,000 dollars was paid for a necklace of jade beads. This works out to about $8000 per bead. Back in 1973 a jade necklace with fewer beads sold for the equivalent of $12,000 per bead.

The latest record was set in late April 1998 when a jadeite necklace of 30 beads sold at Christie's Hong Kong for $942,308, or $31,410 per bead! At the same auction a double-strand jadeite necklace fetched more than $450,000 and a strand of black jadeite beads more than $380,000. (All in U.S. dollars.)

However, the real record is a single pendant of jade that sold in Hong Kong in 1988 for $958,974, not Hong Kong dollars, mind you, but U.S. dollars. Nearly a million.

Jade is the most valuable bead material. It has been fundamental to the Chinese way of ordering the world for thousands for years. It was used to mark status, especially the Emperor himself, for sacrifices, for painting and writing tools, for seals, to bury with the dead and to wear while living.

Jade was also prized by the ancient Mexicans and peoples in Central America. To them it was a symbol of water, therefore of life, and, indeed, a bearer of life itself. The last Aztec Emperor, Moctezuma, gave Cortés three jade beads and told him they were worth 100 pounds of gold each.

Jade is found all around the world, and some other peoples who have paid it particular attention include Neolithic (New Stone Age) Europeans and the native Maori of New Zealand.


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