Pumtek and DZI Beads
The market in dZi beads, and other etched stone beads including pumtek, has been one of the most fascinating and volatile. However, reliable information on the highly valued dZi, and now pumtek, is hard to find, despite the number of books written about them in East Asia, especially Taiwan. A major book being researched and written on these and related beads by Xiaoli Zhu, recent author of several books in Chinese on beads, will hopefully provide some substantial information. Ornament has published a number of articles on so-called etched beads, and there are quite a few good publications in the Western literature.
All these stone beads with man-made markings fall under the category of alkaline etched beads (Glover and Bellina 2003) and are found in the Middle East as etched carnelians, and as etched carnelians and patterned agates in Central Asia, India, the Himalayan region, China, Southeast Asia, and island Southeast Asia. Viewed as luxury goods in antiquity, important in dating and tracing trade, it is those etched beads known as dZi and related that have had great religious/symbolic importance and monetary value placed on them, especially among Tibetans and other Himalayan region inhabitants. To demonstrate this, a nine-eyed dZi was traded for forty-four hectares of land and their prices in the U.S. were more than eight thousand dollars in the mid-1990s (Liu 1995: 82). Last year, a nine-eyed dZi sold in China for two million U.S. dollars, a twelve-eyed selling for double that. Matthew Brody of Tiger Tiger had a woman fly in to show him a very rare eight-eyed dZi bought forty years ago by her mother in Tibet that now may be worth eight hundred thousand dollars. Prices for these patterned agate beads have increased about ten times in the last five years while that for pumtek has gone up perhaps eight fold in the last three years, although both these markets are slowing in price increases. While Chinese have been the primary buyers, Thai, Nepalese, Taiwanese, Tibetans, and East Indians are all also in this market. Only very recently have pumtek beads increased in value, but due to the high market value of all alkaline etched beads, all of them are replicated or faked, many with a high degree of skill, such as dZi made in Taiwan and/or China.
This article in its entirety appears only in the print magazine.