Few beads are surrounded by as much mystery and myth as the dZi bead (say 'zee'). These etched agates are found in Tibet, Bhutan, Ladakh, and Nepal, and are believed to be about two thousand years old. Many legends accompany the beads- that they were not made by man but created by the gods (by lightning strikes, or sometimes, goats – I am not making this up), that they bring luck and ward off evil, that they protect the wearer from physical harm by taking the abuse upon themselves, and that the bead itself will choose its' owner and will not stay with an unlucky person. (To which we can only add, certainly a person is unlucky who loses a dZi at today's prices).
Origins & Facts:
While possibly not actually Tibetan in origin, Tibetans and other Buddhist cultures (such as those of Ladakh and Nepal), have embraced these beads and imbued them with mystery and belief. As fascinating as the cultures are that surround these beads, perhaps the most notable feature is the almost complete absence of actual facts. What we do know is; that they are found in the Himalayan region and span from just one thousand years ago to possibly as old as four thousand years; it is certain they predate Buddhism by quite a bit; and it seems likely that they were made by the Bonpo people (but ancient beads have also been found archaeologically very far afield from Tibet).
Notwithstanding the above, the dZi bead has come to be commonly accepted as a 'Tibetan' bead, and Tibetans have become the world's experts on these fascinating beads. Tibetans evaluate the purity of a bead by many criteria, such as good contrast, desirable patterning, symmetrical shape and strong color.
Chung or 'lesser' dZi beads refer to natural or created banded agates without eyes, these are also much collected. dZi are more specifically, bleached, doped, masked and etched beads made from carnelian agate. People have been creating beads in this fashion for many thousands of years across many cultures.
Ancient dZi vs. 'Real' dZi:
In the last 20 years 'new' dZi beads have been made in China and Taiwan. These are what I consider to be 'real' etched agates, made in (probably) much the same way as the ancient dZi beads. Though I feel these are 'true' dZi beads (as opposed to mock dZi beads made of bone, glass or resin) and see them as desirable and collectible for what they are, they are nowhere near as valuable as ancient dZi. Tiger Tiger will never misrepresent these as being anything other than a nicely made new bead.
There are many, many people online selling these new beads with false claims of age. There seems to be thriving culture of unknowable or fantasy 'periods' for dZi beads (~how old is a rock?). Ebay in particular abounds with people selling new beads with outrageous claims. Many of these beads come with 'certificates of authenticity'.
The problem is obvious: There is no 'oversight committee' that can guarantee at least a modicum of integrity or expertise, such as the Gemological Institute of America (or AGS, AGL, EGL, IGI, etc.) provides for those buying diamonds and other gemstones, so every seller therefore provides their own 'certificate' (no doubt your 12 year old can generate a similar looking document in twenty minutes or so).
I've seen many online 'guides' on how to tell a real ancient bead from a new bead, but I believe the best way to learn about dZi beads is to handle them. Still, there are ways that the online buyer can can at least tell the real sellers, from the charlatans. Common sense can substitute for expertise in many cases:
- Does it cost $69.95? This should be obvious. A decade ago, even a broken dZi bead would sell for over a hundred dollars. Today, that price is closer to $600 for broken 'true' dZi beads, and at least a few hundred for Chung dZi.
- Does the seller have unlimited stock of the same bead? They are new. It's rare enough to find a 'more-or-less' matched pair of dZi beads, a whole string is fantasy. Or new beads.
- Does the online merchant have a huge selection, in every possible design? Fake, or new beads. Collectors may search for years to find that rare 9-eye dZi bead at a price that doesn't mean a second mortgage.
- Does that 'certificate of authenticity' actually provide any protection? Is it backed up by anything real, such as a money-back guarantee? Are they, in fact, putting their money where their certificate is? As mentioned above, there is no oversight for merchants who offer certificates, so what, actually are they saying when they 'certify' that the bead you just paid $600 is 'authentic'? 'Authentic' what? Authentic 'bead'? (Sure, it's a bead, it's got a hole, right?).
Here at Tiger Tiger, we understand that you can't always meet us personally, or more importantly, meet the bead, personally. That's why we offer our unconditional guarantee for any bead we sell as 'collectible': We will always refund your purchase price within 30 days for no reason at all, and at anytime in the future if you feel we have misrepresented the bead. Period.
Tiger Tiger has been selling, buying and trading dZi beads, online and in person for nearly 20 years. The best advice that I can offer to those looking to buy a dZi would be: Know the beads or know the seller. And don't forget your common sense.
Our Money-back Guarantee:
So, we don't offer certificates, but we do offer our money-back guarantee: All collectible beads offered by Tiger Tiger are sold satisfaction guaranteed. We offer a 30 day appraisal period, during which time the bead(s) may be returned for any or no reason for a 100% refund (shipping excepted). After that time, we will warranty without regards to time limit that the bead is as stated.
And if you want a certificate, we'll be happy to print one up for you ;~)