Mardi Gras is known for its carnival atmosphere, partying, and ‘throws’. The throws are usually beaded necklaces, doubloons, and other trinkets that are tossed to spectators from floats in the New Orleans parade.
There are millions of pounds of beads used in the celebration every year, and although most of those necklaces are made of plastic, their colors shine because they also contain metals. Many of the inexpensive necklaces are comprised of MOT (Molded on Thread) beads, which are then applied with a metallic finish. The beads are either dipped in paint, or the paint is sprayed on the bead.
The metallic acrylic paint is created by taking a binder made of acrylic polymer resin and water and combining it with powdered metal and pigment to provide the desired color. Iron oxide, stainless steel, mica and other reflective rock powders may also be added. Titanium dioxide is added to make light move around and through the pigment and back off the titanium dioxide so that a shiny look is achieved.* Other metallics used include bronze, aluminum, copper or gold powders, and silver pastes containing aluminum powder or flakes. In the past, many of these cheap beads contained toxic metals, like lead (Pb) and cadmium (Cd) and were banned. Unfortunately, despite the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) limits of lead in children’s products to under 100ppm, there are still some beads out there that contain higher concentrates of those dangerous heavy metals and should be avoided. (Portable XRF analyzers are helpful in screening consumer products for lead and other toxic metals.)
The more expensive metallic beads have a metal surface coating, commonly made of nickel-plated brass, yellow brass, gilding metal, copper, or sometimes gun metal. These beads are typically used for unique jewelry necklaces, decorative chains, and crafting. Metal-lined beads are clear or transparent glass over a real metal, like silver, or metallic colored lining, and are used because they offer an inner shine and sparkle as they catch the light. Even more expensive necklaces can contain precious metal beads but would be worn at a fancy ball, never thrown in a parade.
Another metal throw that is not worn around the neck is the doubloon. Doubloons are coins stamped with images and logos of the sponsoring Krewe (social organization). These coins are usually made of aluminum and anodized in many different colors. In an article about the Origin of the Doubloon, author Edward Branley wrote that in addition to the basic aluminum doubloons thrown from floats, many Krewes mint special doubloons in bronze. Some of these are dual-colored or even tri-colored. A number of organizations carry doubloons to an even more valuable level, minting the coins in sterling silver. Krewe members give these coins away as keepsakes for family and close friends.
And if you happen to be in New Orleans, check out another metal that blankets the city, iron. The lacy cast iron scrollwork of gates, fences, and windows along St. Charles Avenue as well as the decorative wrought iron balconies in the French Quarter are wonderful pieces of art.
By the way, are you wondering why the Mardi Gras necklaces are usually purple, gold, and green? Purple means justice, gold means power, and green means faith. .. though in this blog, we prefer to focus on gold!
Mardi Gras 2014 is Tuesday, March 4
*How Is Metallic Paint Produced? http://www.ehow.com/about_6674094_metallic-paint-produced_.html