Here is a riddle for our readers: What animal is a Taiwanese sign for hope, the start of an international jewelry business, and also the object of an ongoing live window display in midtown? The answer is the turtle, specifically the turtles of Lucoral & Lupearl, which sells precious corals, fine cultured pearls and natural gemstones. While today the company employs over 1000 people worldwide, owns six pearl beds, and has offices in eight different cities, the business was started out of extreme desperation. In 1962, a typhoon off the coast of Taiwan devastated the home and livelihood of the Lu family. Shortly after, the Lu's noticed that the local turtles were attracted to pearl beds, and after following them, the family found thousands of pearls and the source of what it is now an international company.
Upon entering the front room of Beads of Paradise, we were greeted by long strings of brightly colored beads, boldly patterned fabrics, and African art filling every inch of space. While this certainly makes for fun exploring, the magic really happens further back in the store, which is replete with thousands of beads and endless jewelry-making materials. Welcoming anyone from novices to experts, the shop holds regular beading classes on Sundays. What sets this store apart from others where beading materials, pre-made jewelry, or textiles are sold, is that they are serious about beads. Really serious. Glass cases throughout the shop are filled with beads from all over the world and all periods of history. We noticed a bowl of small bead fragments labeled with the location and date of Djenne (a town in Mali), 700 AD. We became quite curious and had to investigate further. After talking to Joe, one of the managers, not only were we convinced of the validity of the labels, but as people with no previous interest in beads, we were now hooked on this store. Joe knows everything about beads, and his passion is so clear that we could not help but get excited with him. He gave us the history of several of the oldest beads in the shop - the very oldest being warring state beads from China dating to 300 AD. He then proceeded to pull out his favorite books on beads and show us how they go about dating and validating the beads. Finally, we were whisked away with a fascinating discussion on early bead-making techniques and early man’s impulse for self-ornamentation. In the end, Molly purchased one of the original Djenne beads that had caught her attention - for a mere $3. 00. It was a tiny broken fragment, but still, the fact that a piece of history was made so accessible to her was extraordinary. Of course, for those able to spend more, there is a vast selection of much larger historical beads in beautiful condition. Beads of Paradise is sure to delight anyone with an appreciation for history, jewelry, or craft-making - and if Joe is around, we recommend engaging him in a conversation on ancient cultures.