Cornaline d’Aleppo

The term cornaline d’Aleppo (French for carnelian from Aleppo) was used as early as 1870 to describe beads more commonly called white hearts, which are made of glass, not carnelian, and have little to do with the Syrian city of Aleppo. They are cased glass beads, made by applying a layer of glass over a core of glass of a different color and/or type. Strictly speaking, cornaline d’Aleppo, refers to compound beads in which translucent red glass is layered over an ivory or white glass core, or sometimes an opaque yellow or even pink core—especially larger beads or beads embellished with lamp-worked eye dots or trailed floral motifs. The beads may be either drawn or wound; some have drawn cores with a wound casing. Although most are small oblates 3 to 5 mm in diameter, they come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including tubes, slices, ellipsoids, barrels, bicones, or spheres, ranging up to 16 mm in diameter.

 Sometimes, however, the term cornaline d’Aleppo is loosely applied to other beads of this type. The earliest, first made by the Venetians soon after they mastered the technique of making drawn glass beads, around 1490, are commonly called “green hearts” or, more rarely, “pre-white hearts.” They are always cylindrical with a thin layer of opaque brick red glass over a core of translucent dark green glass, which may appear to be black unless held up to the light.

Not until the early 1800s did the Venetians develop white hearts, when they revived the technique of making rich translucent ruby glass with gold and layered it over an opaque core. By 1860, these master glassmakers succeeded in producing pure white glass for the core, which made these beads even more luminous. During this century of innovations, industrialization shifted much of the manufacture of drawn beads to large factories. First Bohemia and then France began to make white hearts. In the 1890s selenium produced a more vivid orange-red glass, and around 1900 saffron and even blue white hearts appeared. Today white hearts are also made in India and China and come in brilliant shades of green, yellow, orange, cobalt blue, and turquoise, as well as bright red.

The name cornaline d’Aleppo probably arose from the resemblance of the ruby glass white hearts to carnelian. This highly prized reddish variety of chalcedony has been widely traded from South Asia for 5,000 years and doubtless passed through Aleppo, an important crossroads on caravan routes linking Asia, Africa, and Europe. More specifically, it has been suggested that the name refers to legendary banded stones from Aleppo that were believed to have magical powers to heal diseases of the skin.

The likeness of cornaline d’Aleppo to carnelian is more than physical. These cased glass beads have also been widely traded and highly valued. In West Africa, green hearts were bartered for palm oil, ivory, and even slaves. When white hearts were introduced, beads ranging from tiny rikiki, as small as seed beads, to large round “ox eyes were cherished for their color. In Ethiopia and Sudan, 10-12 mm beads decorated with white dots were popular. In East Africa, the Samburu favored deep red ellipsoids, which they strung on elephant tail hair. In Asia more orange colored white hearts were preferred. In the North American fur trade, cornaline d’Aleppo, known by Native Americans as Hudson Bay beads, was the medium of exchange for beaver pelts in the mid-1800s. Known as “the Spanish trading bead” in Guatemala, it was coveted as a coral substitute. Called ventimilla in Ecuador, red white hearts were often strung with silver beads and coins in multiple strands, as they were in other areas in Central and South America. Enjoying popularity worldwide, cornaline d’Aleppo became one of the most sought-after trade beads of all time. These fascinating beads can be found incorporated in traditional jewelry throughout most of Africa, in both North and South Americas, and in India, China, Thailand, Indonesia, and other regions in Asia.

12/16/2009 : 2009-12-16 modified