DESNA, Czech Republic — When the January issue of National Geographic landed in his mailbox last year, Petr Pus nearly fell to the floor. There on the cover and throughout the issue were members of the Kayapo tribe, living far up the Amazon in conditions more Stone Age than information age, all of them adorned with face paint and a glittering assortment of beads.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Mr. Pus, the marketing director for Preciosa Ornela, which claims to be the world’s largest producer of high-end glass beads. “They were literally wearing our beads.”
Venture up the Amazon or into a Masai Mara village in Kenya, explore a jungle bazaar in southern India or even a roadside shop in Arizona selling Navajo knockoffs, and the chances are excellent that most of the beads you will see were produced in this unlikely mountain village a stone’s throw from the Polish frontier and a short drive to Germany.
For four and a half centuries, since Czech artisans brought back the secrets of glassmaking from the Venetian island of Murano, the narrow and tree-choked valleys of northern Bohemia have been producing a dizzying array of glass beads in all manner of colors, sizes, shapes and decorative flourishes.