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Type I Dzi vs. Type II Dzi

by Eddy Hsu 4月 04, 2023

Type I Dzi vs. Type II Dzi

Dzi beads are a fascinating subject, and collectors often classify them into many different groups with varying names due to the dzi bead culture crossing into various countries and languages. However, most collectors mainly focus on "Type I" and "Type II" beads.


So what is Type I and Type II? Some people use the terms loosely to sound knowledgeable, and this has resulted in incorrect information floating around about what they are. Type I and Type II do not refer to the kind of patterns on the beads, but rather to the techniques used to etch the patterns onto the beads.


Ancient Type I beads are much older than ancient Type II beads. The peoples of India and Mesopotamia first crafted dzi beads around 2000 B.C. These early dzi beads were usually made of some variety of the silica mineral chalcedony, such as carnelian or agate. A two-step process was used to enhance the colors of the stones and create the white line etchings. First, plant sugars and low heat were used to darken the natural colors of the beads. Then, natron (a naturally occurring mix of sodium carbonate decahydrate, nahcolite, sodium chloride, and sodium sulfate) was applied to the bead surface to create the white line etchings. When done correctly, the etchings penetrated the bead to a depth of about 1 mm to 2 mm.


When dzi culture was passed to Tibet, the technique for coloring and etching beads was modified, and production of a new kind of dzi bead was made possible. These new styled dzi beads are now referred to as Type II beads.


It is speculated that the modification of crafting techniques was not intentional at first, but rather an accidental occurrence. And like any art form, when new creations are made possible, artisans will explore the techniques until certain satisfactory results are reached. Chalcedony, being a porous mineral, easily cracks under the application of high amounts of heat. However, the thin air of the higher reaches of the Himalayas is in some degree similar to a modern vacuum chamber where chalcedony can be heated without causing cracks. This allowed for the use of potash (salts and potassium in water-soluble form) and white lead (hydrocerussite) along with the application of higher levels of heat to "bleach" the stones first, which is characteristic of Type II beads. Then, the areas that should remain light/white get stenciled on and then masked, while the rest of the bead gets treated for the darkening effects. The result is that the lighter etching appears to go all the way through the beads. It also allowed for the creation of a smoother bead surface.


This information should help clarify some of the confusion surrounding Type I and Type II beads for those interested in dzi bead culture. It is important to keep in mind dzi jargon is often used more than necessary to give dzi mystique, which helps promote sales.

Eddy Hsu
Eddy Hsu


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