How to Add an Exotic Touch to Your Jewelry

How to Make Your Jewelry Look Exotic

by Leslie Rogalski

Global, multicultural, tribal, ethnic. These are words we use to describe things that are exotic to us and not of our national heritage, place of origin, or even time period in which we live. Most of us are very inspired by jewelry that looks exotic and some cultures’ designs may mysteriously appeal to us more than others.  Why are we drawn to elements from that culture? And how do we recreate that look in our own jewelry?

 In the November December issue of Step by Step Beads we’ve collected designs that recreate or emulate the techniques and "look" of different nationalities and traditions. As we worked on this issue, I tried to identify what each designer used to make their piece evoke a particular culture to me. My views are stirred by personal perceptions of colors, shapes, materials used, as well as techniques. Your views may differ, but that’s what makes the world go 'round!

  • Dynastic China: rich reds, dramatic use of black, larger beads, simple but important focal pieces.  Example: Chinese Lantern by Melissa Lee.
  • Japan: Natural colors and the use of pearls, floral elements, and delicate beadwork.
  • Egypt: Stringing or beadweaving the broadcollar shape, and symmetrical, geometric designs. 
  • Africa: stringing with natural fibers like leather and waxed cords; bold primary colors, the use of black and white wood, bone or horn beads, shells, natural wood colors; larger beads, generally symmetrical designs.  Example:  Batik Boheme by Carter Seibels 
  • Middle East and Mediterranean: old coins, leather or waxed linen as a stringing element, aged-looking, handmade elements in clay or metal.
  • Native American: natural stones especially turquoise, beadweaving and bead embroidery, and lots of fringe.  Example:  American Treasure by Carole Rodgers. 
  • Ukrainian: netting as a technique, vivid colors with intricate patterns.  Example:  Netted Diamonds by Maria Rypan. 

New Free Project – One Week Only!
Netted Diamonds 
by Maria Rypan

From Step by Step Beads comes a netted collar by Maria Rypan, known for her stunning, traditional Ukrainian beadwork.  Note:  The free download period has ended.  You may now purchase the Netted Diamonds instructions

Our love of beading is undeniably without borders. On a recent visit to The Bead Museum in Washington D.C., I viewed a timeline of beads not only dating far, far back into history but encompassing beads from every corner of the globe. I was struck that this is a widespread common bond. No matter what country we call home, or wherever our ancestors were born, we all have beads as part of our traditions of ornament and art. What a wonderful unifier!

Happy celebrating! I hope you enjoy beading around the world in the upcoming November issue of Step by Step Beads


Leslie Rogalski has a degree in illustration and design, and she sold wearable art and handwoven beaded art at the American Craft Council Shows and Buyers Market before joining Interweave in 2005.  In addition to being editor in chief of Step by Step Beads, Creative Jewelry, and Jewelry Gifts for the Holidays, she often teaches at Bead Fest and is a presenter on the PBS television series, Beads, Baubles, and Jewels.  If you have comments or questions for Leslie, please post them on the website.

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