Seeds are the most common plant part used for jewellery making. Seeds are generally uniform, often colourful and hard-wearing, and lend themselves well to forming necklaces and bracelets.
Many of the robust seeds used in botanical jewellery are known as ‘drift seeds', meaning that they travel, often great distances, across water. These are commonly seeds from the tropics which float well in order to aid dispersal. The sea heart (Entada gigas) is a very popular drift seed. Its bean pod is the largest in the world and can grow up to 2m in length.
Despite being very attractive, some seeds used to make jewellery are poisonous. One of the most well-known of these is Abrus precatorius, also known as the rosary pea or crab's eye. Seeds are bright red and black and often made into elaborate items of jewellery. Once the seed coat is broken it is highly toxic and ingesting even a small amount can lead to death.
Many of the necklaces within the Collection have been made for adornment. However, there are also a large number of rosaries used in different cultures and religions for prayer or meditation. The term rosary comes from the Latin for rose garden and applies to the set of beads itself and also to the act of counting the beads. In India bead chains are used for religious or superstitious reasons and are worn by most classes.
Beads are counted and prayers often recited in worship or meditation. This occurs in many of the world's religions including Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. In Buddhism, the beads are a tool for meditation and the aim of counting the prayer beads, traditionally with 108 beads, is to produce a sense of peace and tranquillity. The material from which the Hindu rosary is made indicates the particular deity being worshipped. The number of beads ideally matches the number of letters in the Sanskrit alphabet. Rosaries worn by the followers of Shiva (Shaivites) are traditionally made from rudraksha (Elaeocarpus ganitrus) and are one of the oldest beads used for this purpose, they are categorised by the number of sections or mukhis which the seed is divided into, with one being the most coveted. Christians use many different forms of rosaries, depending upon the person using the rosary, or the particular prayer.