September 3, 2019
Ojime, ojime beads, Japanese ojime beads, Meiji period and Edo period beads, glass, gold, sterling silver, and wooden beads, sagemono beads, etc. There are many ways to describe ojime beads and there are probably more than a few exhaustive blogs, essays, and other content-heavy web discussions all about what are ojime and what they were used for two hundred years ago but what about their place in modern times?
The subject of ojime beads is rather esoteric. Most people have no idea what they are, have never heard the term, and the beads themselves have mostly become relegated to the outer fringes of auction catalogs and to the interest of small circles of dedicated collectors. What is interesting about ojime however is that in some manner of design they may be considered to represent the pinnacle of bead art, mastery, and creation.
Ojime beads originated in Japan and served as a functional ornament to secure someone's wallet during the Edo period and Meiji period of the 18th and 19th century. The post-Meiji period or what is known as the Taisho period, (20th century), and beyond saw the people of Japan start to wear more Western-style clothing and little by little during the past one hundred years ojime were worn not as a necessity of use but for ornament during traditional formal events, as a symbol of tradition and not function. Along the way ojime, inro, and netsuke became important representations of Japanese art. Master artists created these functional works of art and they became cultural symbols of artistic mastery throughout the world.
Wallets during the Edo period and the Meiji period looked quite different than they do today, in fact, they were actually little cases made mostly of wood and lacquer (known as an inro or inro box), that was secured with a rope, a bead (an ojime), and at the top of the rope, a netsuke that served as a hook that sat atop a sash or belt.
These days unless you are attending a formal event in Kimono and traditional garb you probably wouldn't put your credit cards, car key, and drivers license in an inro, it definitely wouldn't even fit, and someone would probably steal it off your belt quite easily if you ever tried to wear one on the streets of New York.
Even though they no longer serve a functional role, ojime beads are still made today in various levels of quality, and some contemporary artisans create fantastic hand made examples of ojime beads. At Artzze, we offer contemporary journals for sale on the subject of the modern netsuke and ojime artisans, and some of the modern and contemporary ojime displayed in our catalogs for sale are really extraordinary modern works of bead art.
What is interesting about ojime is that the subject of beads is quite large. In modern times most of the beads produced and sold are commercially reproduced, you can buy a bag of plastic, or glass or wooden beads wholesale for a remarkably low price and much of what is sold is basically worthless. I am sure the manufacturer of those beads would disagree, and of course, those beads serve a purpose. However, the difference between antique bead jewelry, hand made artisan beads, and modern machine-made beads is a world apart. There are of course also ojime bead reproductions, mostly made in China and sometimes they are passed off as original and two hundred years old, however, the carving and detail are very low quality. Anyone with experience in handling ojime beads can quickly tell when an ojime bead is a modern reproduction based on the lack of quality in the carving and materials used.
Like modern commercially made machine manufactured beads, when you buy a reproduction modern ojime bead for six dollars, it is probably worth six cents. So there is no real bargain there, you aren't cheating the market. That is fine, not everyone needs or wants an original Meiji period mixed metal bead signed by a well-known master artist, and not everyone wants to pay for one, again the point is to highlight that modern ojime "reproductions" are not the same as original antique works of hand made bead jewelry and that is why there is a difference in price.
So how can you avoid getting duped? That isn't so easy, and this always comes back to the attention of the seller or venue. For example, when we sell ojime, we always handle them in person. We look them over, and do our best to determine based on other known and verified standards how this piece compares. If we are unsure, we do not sell the bead as old, or as stated to be from a period such as the Edo period, and if asked by a customer, we always do our best to better inform our customers of what we believe and know about a given ojime bead example. If a mistake is made on our end, we gladly will accept a return. I would think any reputable dealer or seller of ojime beads would have a similar policy.
The concept of antique bead jewelry and the example of ojime beads is interesting. Having sold more than a few ojime beads to collectors around the world, I am often interested to see the diverse crowds of buyers that are interested in these hand made works of art. Ojime are in fact still recognized as forms of jewelry that are now worn as necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and still used for formal traditional Japanese functions like weddings.
I tend to think if anything the interest to write this article is not based on the need to inform people that already know what ojime beads are and that buy ojime at an advanced level, but it is written to inform people who don't know what ojime beads are. Customers unfamiliar with the ojime market may look at online auctions or on some type of e-commerce site that sells ojime and see ojime beads for six dollars for a bag of ten and wonder why someone else is selling them for hundreds or thousands of dollars.
At the same time, there is always this intrinsic concern of getting what you pay for. Of course everyone loves a deal, we offer deals at Artzze, through our submit offer button format which is available on every product page, and of course, by no means do deals and sales dilute the quality of the products we represent.
The concern of getting what you pay for is similar to the concept of most giclee prints, in the sales of wall art, art prints, and wall art decor. Many companies sell the reproductions of art in the form of giclee art prints which are commercially printed on canvas or on high gloss paper. These art prints are made in the thousands, they probably cost a few dollars to make and can cost one hundred - two hundred dollars apiece retail. By the time the owners of these pieces are done using these art prints, they are mostly found in the bins of the Good Will for a few dollars which is probably much closer to their actual value. The original prices paid for giclee wall art prints are not cheap when you consider the cost of the framing. For 30% more money and sometimes less you could probably buy an original piece of wall art decor, and you would actually stand a chance of possibly getting your money back or more. At Artzze we promote the concept of sustainable home decor and one of way doing this is to sell customers products of value.
At Artzze, we do focus on every budget. We offer antique Japanese ojime hand-carved, vintage, machine-made, hand glass blown, antique, and even beads for sale at many different prices levels, however, from the viewpoint of a customer, a better understanding of value is always important for them to understand their options in the market with respect to their interest in ojime.