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    Ancient Tibetan Dzi Bead


    length: 2.4cm, width: 1.5cm, weight: 8g



    private collection, London.

    This fine dzi bead is of unquestionable authenticity. It is ancient, of tapering, barrel-form, and of dark-brown agate that has had designs etched into it – two ‘eyes’ within rectangular frames.

    The time and place of manufacture is a mystery. Tibetans and other Himalayan people valued the beads highly, and some regarded the beads as having supernatural origins: it was believed that they had either fallen to earth being dropped by the sky gods, or that they were created deep within the earth. It is unlikely that the beads were made in Tibet itself and possibly came from Persia, India, or Burma, during ancient times.

    The example here has all the signs expected of a good quality ‘pure’ dzi: it is well-weathered, and has several medicine ‘dig’ marks which themselves have developed patina.

    Dzi beads are prized as protective amulets. The ‘dig’ marks are where tiny bits have been gouged out over the centuries for grinding up for inclusion in a traditional Tibetan medicine.

    The hole drilled through the centre of the bead is uneven as might be hoped for, and it has wear and is generally misshapen from centuries of being rubbed by the cords from which it was suspended. (New beads are machine-drilled and the holes in them typically are straight and uniform.)

    Dzi beads are believed to protect their wearers. When a bead spontaneously breaks then it is believed to have served its purpose – it has absorbed danger and broken as a consequence. The beads have become so valuable that few Tibetans own more than a few beads and are wary of wearing them openly for fear of theft.


    A young Tibetan noble woman wearing necklaces that include multiple dzi beads (Lhasa, early 20th century).


    Allen, J., ‘Tibetan zi beads’, in Arts of Asia, July-August 2002.

    The Heart of a Sacred Kingdom – Her Majesty the Royal Grandmother Ashi Kesang Choeden Wangchuck: A Lifetime of Service to the People and Kingdom of Bhutan, Gatshel Publishing, 2017.

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