Among the various adornments worn by the ancient Celts and undoubtedly used for trade, were beads. Examples dating from the earliest times have been found throughout Europe, Britain and Ireland. Some of the finest of these have been unearthed in burial mounds and chambers constructed for high-ranking Celtic chiefs and their followers.
These beads vary from the plain to the highly decorated, and they have been found made from gold, silver, stone, black jet, bone, amber and, occasionally, semi-precious stones. It is quite possible that the ancient Egyptians, who were highly skilled at bead-making and used lapis lazuli, carnelian and jade in their highly polished necklaces and decorations, influenced the Celts.
Today, Celtic beads are being ingeniously created in a workshop on the side of a green hill in West Wales by me, Annie Wealleans, alias The Black Dragon of Black Dragon Crafts.
And before you get excited, can I just tell you that my shop isn’t real and we aren’t on a street where you can come to actually browse our beads! I’m afraid it isn’t possible for you to visit in person (occasionally strictly by appointment) but I hope you’ll enjoy being on these pages instead.
Black Dragon Crafts was first established in 1974 (in another lifetime!) but my first Celtic bead was fashioned from a piece of cake, during an inspired workshop tea break back in 1990. The concept developed, my journey began and the first beads were eventually injection moulded in recycled plastic and plated with silver. They won a “Best New Product” award at their launch! The plastic proved problematic and I eventually progressed to having them cast in solid pewter by the lovely Ray, with a silver or gold plated finish. Then I had a lucky break: Ray retired and I was able to buy his casting workshop and start casting them myself! I couldn’t have done it without the help and support of Rob, to whom I am eternally grateful.
They aren’t plated anymore; I love the honesty of naked polished pewter. The pewter is lead free – we use no nickel in any of our products either. Pewter is a “soft” metal alloy composed of approx. 95% tin, with copper plus a little antimony and bismuth, mainly to help the mixture harden. All are natural materials, the mining of which has almost no impact on the environment. My beads appreciate a wash in soapy water from time to time and will eventually lose their brightness. If you want to restore them and keep them bright, I recommend a polish with “Peek”, or a gentle rub with a non-abrasive nylon scourer. For myself, I love to see them age…they grow dull and tell stories, like a tankard or charger from the olden days.
I heat my pewter to 350°C, then pour, cast, file, barrel, drill, polish and antique the beads in my Beadoir …it’s a hot, dirty, noisy, dangerous and dusty process, which involves many hours on my feet, blistered fingers and zero romance. But I love it. To start with a stick of raw pewter and eventually end with a batch of beads is wonderful and never ceases to amaze me.
Beads from my Celtic Beadshop are unique and original, they look fabulous and feel valuable. They are designed with love and the Celtic knots adorning them are my own versions of the artwork of the ancient Celts. Each knot is endless and interwoven, an enduring symbol of Eternity and a timely reminder of the interdependence of all things. Beware of imitations and be aware that my precious beads are Design Written and mustn’t be copied.
Black Dragon jewellery is made in a dust-free part of the workshop, which is presided over by a large Dragon sculpture. The space is bright and airy, with beautiful views over the surrounding countryside and lots of shelves, overflowing with components and packaging.
There is a wood burning stove in the centre, which keeps us warm in the winter and enables us to burn all of our rubbish.
All of the jewellery is assembled by hand, with the help of several cats and the lovely Chris, who has been on the team for 20+ years and is now very skilled at her craft. (making jewellery) Many different gemstones are used in the process, along with various filler and spacer beads, all of which are very carefully sourced. Everything is carefully packaged and beautifully presented. See those little boxes with information about the gemstones in the lids? I personally design, print, cut and glue that information into each one of those lids…it’s a labour of love but one which I hope you’ll appreciate! Rob is joining in more and more – he keeps the machines serviced and is getting good at solving problems and refining techniques.
The workshop is only 60 steps from my house, so it’s always right there and I rarely stop working. My work/life balance isn’t balanced at all. I should probably be thinking about retiring but ha ha ha, not yet!
By the way, anyone “local”, or visiting Wales and wishing to see my jewellery for themselves, could visit “ORIGIN” at 23 King Street, Carmarthen. “Origin” displays the work of almost 30 artists and craftsmen from West Wales. It is a Co-operative and was the first Community Craft Co-operative in Wales, established in 1990. Annie is one of the original Member Directors and is still on the Board now. The shop is lovely, well worth a visit – it is staffed by Co-op members so you will always meet a Maker there!
Please keep an eye on the Newsdesk for developments, I’m still full of ideas and will probably never stop scheming and dreaming about my beads.
Until then, enjoy everything and keep smiling, I’m here if you need my help! This website may be ‘automated’, but please remember that my team and me are not. We pride ourselves on a fast, efficient and friendly service and we hope that you’ll forgive us if we should ever fail. We are only human.
I hope you’ll enjoy using and wearing my beads. Each one has been handled many times and will have its own peculiarities and flaws. It is what makes them special.
With all best and beady wishes