Bali’s unique wooden beads
As an exotic holiday island, Bali is famous not only for its scenic panoramas, but also as a producer of colorful ethnic wooden beads.
Walking through the Seminyak and Legian areas, you’ll find various ethnic-style shops displaying their pretty, colorful wooden-bead jewelry, from necklaces, bracelets, earrings, to eye-stopping rings.
For those who enjoy creating their own style of bead jewelry, you can stop off at a row of bead shops along Jl. Pelita, near to the international airport, Ngurah Rai. Among the shops, two belong to Bapak Rosyi and Ibu Nafis, who came from Java over a decade ago, and started in the bead business nine years ago.
The wooden beads are desired by jewelry buffs and jewelry businesspeople, both local and foreign, despite the presence of synthetic jewelry materials. Wood can be easily shaped, painted and mixed-and-matched with other materials for attractive jewelry.
The shops sell wooden beads in a huge variety of types of wood, shape, size, color and pattern. The woods include bentawas wood, coffee wood, sono wood, palm wood and coconut wood. The coffee, sono, palm and coconut woods are mostly used in their natural colors with an additional varnish or polish to accentuate their natural hues, while the other types are usually spray-painted with more colors than the rainbow, including white, black, brown, yellow, orange, blue, green, turquoise, purple, pink and red.
The shapes of the beads also vary from round, oval, flattened disc, coin nets, teardrop, diamond, triangular, fan-shaped, tube, bamboo, even to a donut shape. Meanwhile, patterns are also invented according to the latest trends, which include crackled, spotted, dotted and scaled patterns. The beads come from Java, while the additional colors and patterns are added locally in Bali.
“We get new ideas for these patterns from our customers and the foreign visitors who bring samples of beads from abroad, but prefer to use wooden beads,” said Ibu Nafis, who before opening her own bead business used to work in a bead shop herself.
The tiniest beads come in the size of a peppercorn at only 5 millimeters, while the largest are about 5 centimeters. They are sold by the string and in plastic bags. A string can have up to 65 tiny beads, while the 12-millimeter size can have around 27 beads. In a plastic bag, there can be 150–300 beads on five strings, depending on the bead size. A 5-millimeter string of natural color beads will cost around Rp 550 to Rp 3,500 for the longest string, while the colorful, patterned beads are sold at Rp 1,500 to Rp 10,000 per string.
The shops along Jl. Pelita open from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day, each containing up to 3,000 strings of beads. During high season, the shops can sell up to 1,000 strings every two or three days, depending on customer request.
- Photos by Zul Trio Anggono