The sky’s the limit when it comes the beads komboloi are made of and this post is by no means an exhaustive list of beads used to create komboloi. They range from bright cheap plastics that are great for fun and souvenirs to rare expensive ambers that are better as prized heirlooms or for the serious collector. I’m going to make a two-part post so I can hopefully give a better understanding of the beads that go into making a komboloi and the different qualities of komboloi.
Colourful, versatile, artificial beads
Artificial or plastic beaded komboloi are inexpensive and colourful and the versatile nature of plastic allows for nearly limitless creativity. They are easy to find at just about any tourist shop, but for those who aren’t lucky enough to be in Greece, they can be found at many online merchants. These komboloi are great for people who are collecting souvenirs and gifts, or collecting for the fun of having a rainbow of colourful strings. They are also a good starter for those who want to see if they like them before investing in more expensive komboloi made from natural materials. From a more practical perspective, inexpensive plastic komboloi can be great for kids and those who would like to try their hand at learning a new trick (so they don’t risk damaging their expensive komboloi).
Acrylic or plastic beads are inexpensive and comparatively simple beads that come in a range of colours and shapes. They’re the kind of beads you might find in childrens craft projects. Artificial or synthetic resins are a type of plastic that starts off as a thicker liquid and hardens into a permanent solid. One of the advantages of them is that they allow for a great deal of creativity for the bead maker. The bead maker can incorporate virtually anything into the resin and doesn’t need specialized equipment to do so. Depending on what the bead maker adds, they can be quite valuable.
Another type of commonly used bead is a synthetic stone or gemstone. They can be made from ceramic, wood, plastic…. whatever achieves a realistic looking end result. Or, they can be man-made of the same compounds and have essentially the same physical properties as natural stones and be considered to be that stone, just man-made.
The main difference between plastics and natural beads are cost, the sound of the beads when they clack together, durability (plastics can usually handle rougher use), and have a different feel in the hand. Many traditional komboloi users prefer natural beads as they also have a better energy. If you just want something bright and fun to play with, acrylics and resins are a great option.
The most common metal bead you’re likely to come across would be sterling silver. The difference between sterling and pure silver is that sterling is 92.5% silver and the other 7.5% is usually copper, nickel or zinc. This results in a more solid silver that will withstand the repeated use a komboloi normally has to go through.
Komboloi makers also sometimes use stainless or galvanized stainless steel. Metals such as gold or brass are rarely, if ever, used as the metals are soft and would not survive being handled for long without damage.
Metals can be colder and not have the same soothing energy or feel as natural materials but they have a nice bright sound when worked and can look really flashy when trying to impress friends with your latest trick. They also can look really good as an accessory.
Bone and horn aren’t just for cavemen
Among the oldest materials that are still used today by many komboloi makers and enthusiasts are those made from bone and horn beads. In ancient days, they didn’t have access to the wide range of materials they do today, so many komboloi makers used what was available to create the beads. Bone and horn were not difficult to come by and it was one more way to not waste.
One of the most common bone beads used today is camel. The bead can be shaped in a variety of ways and sometimes they are carved or have other materials embedded in them. Sometimes colour is added to bone beads by soaking them in a dye. They tend to have a thinner sound but stand up well to rougher use.
The softer sounding and feeling horn beads are generally made from Asiatic Yak, bull, or the antlers of reindeer. Horn, like bone, could be shaped or carved in a number of ways and can also have other materials embedded in the bead. Depending on the finish and embedded material, the value of the beads can vary. Pure bone or horn beads can be good for handling but beads with embedded materials might be better as collection pieces.
The warmth of wood and seed
Wood from a variety of trees as well as larger seeds can be used as beads for komboloi. As mentioned earlier, a long time ago (and even now in some places) people would work with whatever was available to create the beads. Just about any wood or larger seed can be used but with all the options available now, using wood and seeds is more for the warm aesthetic value.
Almost any wood can be used but some of the more common are olive, ebony and coconut. Besides being such an important tree to Greece, olive wood and kernel beads are beautiful to look at and feel. Olive wood is beautiful and has a lot of warmth and personality that is unlike anything else. The seed kernels of the olive tree are very hard and it takes a lot of work to shape each bead so they tend not to be used as much. Another common wood is ebony, which is a good choice as it’s a hard wood that can stand up to rough play. Coconut palm seed and wood is fairly common and tends to have a more deep and sweet sound when played with.
Besides being beautiful to look at and work with, some seeds also offer the bonus of a great aroma. Nutmeg seed and cinnamon wood are lovely warm beads that have a nice look, feel and sound. Aside from that, they also have a lovely scent that comes out when you play with them. Another aromatic seed that is used in making komboloi comes from the Juniper,
So many different materials
There are so many different materials being used to make the beads for komboloi that this list could have gone on for a very long time. Each material brings to the komboloi its own personality and benefits. Some are great inexpensive toys and some might be best left to the display cabinet. The next post will explore some of the more semi-precious and precious beads.
What did you think of this post or these types of beads and komboloi? Is there anything you’d like to know more about? Do you have a komboloi story to share? Please comment below, I’d love to hear from you!