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Sea glass

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WHAT IS SEA GLASS?

Authentic sea glass is found on the shorelines and beaches of the world, not in the craft aisle of your local retailer!

Genuine sea glass, also known as “beach glass” or “mermaid’s tears,” is the antithesis of conventional gemstones. Gemstones are originally formed by nature and then fashioned by humans into the desired shapes. Sea glass is first created by humans but rendered a gem only by nature’s refining elements of waves, sand, and stone. 

Glass that was once bottles, vases, decorative glass, or dinnerware is deposited via shipwreck, beach bonfires, old coastal dumping sites, etc. into oceans and lakes. The tumbling action of the waves combined with the abrasive effects of sand and stone smooth the sharp edges of the broken glass. It takes years to produce a well-conditioned, perfectly frosted, smooth piece of sea glass. 

Some try to mimic this effect by using tumblers or chemical etching to alter new glass. But a trained eye can quickly tell the difference; authentic, nature-made sea glass has telltale C-shaped markers on its surface that are difficult to duplicate.

Each castaway bit of sea glass is unique and imbued with the mystery of history and time. These mysteries compel some avid sea glass collectors to investigate the source of the sea glass. Many are able to confidently date and identify sea glass shards to particular eras.

Sea glass comes in a wide array of colors, shapes, and sizes and is generally graded by the shape and level of overall frostiness from “craft” to “jewelry” qualities. The rarer colors of orange, red, and turquoise are highly sought after by collectors, while the colors white, green, and brown are more plentiful and considered common.

Authentic sea glass is becoming harder to find on beaches and riverbanks. It’s a diminishing resource as recycling becomes even more a way of life. For more information on sea glass and the difference between genuine and artificial/tumbled glass, visit www.seaglassassociation.org.

TIPS FOR WORKING WITH SEA GLASS

Working with sea glass presents some challenges, but with a bit of practice you can easily overcome them. You can capture sea glass well with techniques such as wire wrapping, custom prong settings, and bezel settings (my preferred method). You can also drill holes into the glass to use the pieces as beads. 

Here are a few things to think about when bezel-setting sea glass:

The shape and condition of the sea glass 

For best results, select a piece of sea glass that is similar to a cabochon — relatively flat on the bottom (no rocking back and forth) and consistent in thickness. Choose a piece with soft curves; sharp corners and crevices are trickier to bezel-set.

Consistency in height of the dome

Your sea glass may be taller on one end than another, so you’ll need to select bezel wire tall enough to accommodate the highest point on the sea glass. This means that you’ll have to remove some of the bezel wall in the shorter places so it doesn’t overshadow the glass. So, for an easier setting job, choose a piece of sea glass that has a relatively consistent dome.

Open-back or closed-back setting?

Some sea glass artisans prefer open-back bezels, which let light pass through the glass and are lightweight (great for earrings). Others prefer closed-back bezels, because they offer control over what can be seen on and through the glass. Keep in mind that if you choose a closed-back setting for your sea glass (or any other transparent gemstone), you will likely witness the “Dreaded Black Spot” under your bezel setting. See “Preventing the Dreaded Black Spot!” on the linked PDF, for tips on how to avoid this.

Scratched Tools

The frosty surface of genuine sea glass is attractive, but it also has the texture of coarse sandpaper, which can take a toll on the polished surfaces of your jewelry tools. 

I constantly have to deal with scratches on my bezel pusher, bezel roller, and burnisher. During the last steps of bezel setting, these tools can slip onto the surface of the sea glass, which scratches the tool. These scratches will then transfer to whatever project you’re working on the next time you use that tool. 

Regular maintenance of these tools is crucial to keeping them smooth and shiny. I have a separate flex shaft buff reserved just for steel tool cleanup; I keep it in my bench drawer for regular tune-ups.

Scratched glass

Many times when I’m bezel setting, my tools slip onto the surface of the sea glass, sometimes leaving a mark on the glass. Not to worry — a quick wipe with a damp towel or a clean finger usually makes scratches disappear instantly. 

 

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