Today, most cinnabar beads sold by reputable dealers are actually carved lacquered wood (see picture) with some sort of colored resin applied over it. I am not even sure if real cinnabar beads are available any more. This is a good thing as cinnabar is now known to be toxic.

Cinnabar was prized for centuries as a source of red pigment - for artists, it was vermilion in their paintboxes. The Chinese used the pigment  in lacquer which was painted onto wooden carvings.

It was and also still is a source of mercury (quicksilver), the only metal that is liquid at room temperature and pressure.

Cinnabar is a mercury compound - mercuric sulphide or HgS. Skin contact with cinnabar is harmful. It is highly toxic if inhaled or ingested and can be fatal if enough enters the body. Death by mercury poisoning is not pleasant.

The Romans liberally painted statues and even their gladiators with it. Their womenfolk incorporated it in their lipsticks not knowing they were harming themselves. Back then, mining for cinnabar was so hazardous the Romans used it as a particularly cruel form of capital punishment.

In the 16th century, the Spanish also used convict labour in Almaden, Spain, which has the greatest reserves of cinnabar. These short-term prisoners were originally thought to have been spared the harsher conditions of prison ships. It would have been better not to have been picked for the mines because 25 % of them died horrible deaths before the end of their sentences. Fortunately, modern miners can safely recover this mercury ore with proper protective gear and ventilation.

So fake is more than good, it is lifesaving.

Victoria Finlay(2002). Color: A Natural History of the Palette
Original Post by THE BEADING GEM
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