Discovering the Treasures of Sea Glass
Strolling along the beach under a blustery wind, you'd find me focused, persistent, and filled with curiosity. The uninitiated might wonder what could possibly be the fascination that keeps me bearing the backache, tirelessly combing through the sand, and stones. I'm hunting for the unique gems known as Sea Glass or Beach Glass.
Delving into the World of Sea Glass
Sea Glass – small pieces of glass that the ocean has refined for years – are radiant, sea gems which manifest on our beaches, having been weathered by ocean water, shaped over a long time into dimensions that carry no sharp edges, but rather present a frosted, smooth, and etched look due to the ph levels in the salt water.
On the other hand, Beach Glass refers to the glass bits native to lakes and rivers. These pieces bear a different shape and texture; their journey lacks the relentless tussle from the ocean waves that shape the unique look of Sea Glass. In the United States, the Great Lakes are a great place to discover such structures.
Contrary to expectation, such beautiful pieces of sea glass and glass shards originally start life as discarded items – perhaps, a glass bottle tossed away without thought in the early 1900s, now reappears as a precious relic. other such items are:
- Ex-drink bottles
- Glass items from windows
- Beer bottles
- Wine bottles
- Glass Fishing Floats
Objects we wouldn't typically imagine as beautiful are transformed into richly hued, rare colours such as varying shades of green, amber, blues, yellow, grey, orange, red and black (which is actually very dark brown).
The Best Time and Places to Find Sea Glass
No geographical boundaries limit the reach of these genuine sea glass pieces. They are found on sandy beaches, rivers, and large lakes worldwide. The best time to go on a hunt is at low tide and after storms. Seaside locales, in particular, abundant in discarded glass items are reputed to be the best places to find these.
A region's history can provide clues. For instance, was there a glass factory nearby? Seaham Beach in the United Kingdom, once home to a glass factory, offers much to sea glass collectors with its rich deposits. Have a read of our detailed list of some of the UK's sea glass artists. (Contact us if you would like to be added to this list)
Iconic TV shows like Countryfile have highlighted the enchanting allure of these places. There was an episode called 'Searching for Sea Glass' where presenter Ellie Harrison takes a trip to the famous Seaham in Tyne & Wear, County Durham. Ellie spoke with Gavin Hardy from Seaham Waves about combing for sea glass and the jewellery he makes with these fascinating bits of glass.
Even when planning a holiday, a quick online search could reveal the best sea glass beaches around your destination, or search online at the International Sea Glass Association in North America.
Crafting with Sea Glass: From Unassuming Fragments to Stunning Artwork
The artists among us might want to drill, carve, or shape sea glass, transforming a simple shard of glass or even smaller pieces into stunning pieces of art glass or ornament for household items.
Jewelry, sculptures, and wind chimes are just a small selection of what creativity and a few steps of guidance can birth. Using tools like a rock tumbler to further enhance the surface of the glass can help to manifest a sea glass gem.
Sea Glass: History, Diversity, and Significance
Sea glass colors vary widely, depending on their original source. Clear glass predominantly came from window panes or household items, while brown glass could have originated from beer or medicine bottles. Unique and rare colors were typically sourced from specific glass products, such as soda bottles which produced shades like lime green.
Authentic sea glass, known to some as mermaid's tears or sea pearls, should not have shiny spots and will typically have a less frosted appearance compared to artificial sea glass, or 'seafoam' glass, which often has a notably shinier surface.
Sea glass from different bodies of water will also differ in appearance. Glass from fresh water bodies often looks different due to a different ph balance when compared to their saltwater beaches counterparts.
Regardless of origin, every shard of real sea glass, whether it's from clear glass bottles or radiant art glass, has navigated a journey of transformation, each piece embodying a unique shape and level of weathering. What was once regarded as trash glass messily discarded on the ocean floor is now sought after as drift glass, or authentic sea glass prized by sea glass hunters worldwide.
As shared by noted sea glass expert Richard LaMotte of the International Sea Glass Museum, "Each piece of sea glass is a story unto itself, every frosted surface whispers tales of past, and every unique shape hints of an age-old journey from discarded to discovered".
Whether we're talking about the rarest colours from Puerto Rico or the most common colours of sea glass, every glass piece is a testament to Mother Nature's surprising ways of turning trash into treasure.
As you embark on your hunting journey for these ocean glass gems, remember that quality piece of sea glass is a find worth treasuring.
How to Drill, Carve & Shape Sea Glass?
Whether you are creating a piece of jewellery, a sculpture or wind chimes, you might find it helpful to take a look at our tutorial on How to Drill Sea Glass. We guide you through the basics of using our small diamond drill bits or diamond core drills to drill through your sea glass in 4 easy steps.
- Sea glass image above courtesy of Jane Brannan
To find out more about the tools used to drill through glass have a read of our article 12 Things You Should Know About Diamond Drill Bits. This handy guide will problem solve and shine some light on how to use your tools correctly and what they should be used on.
If you are wire wrapping your sea glass then you may wish to carve a groove or channel into the glass to allow for a better hold of the wire. Diamond disc burrs or diamond point burrs are both great for this.
If you don't mind altering the natural state of your sea glass then an added touch is to carve a shape into the glass. Follow this tutorial for carving hearts into your sea glass: How to Carve Hearts Into Your Pebbles Or Sea Glass.
If you need to cut the sea glass into half or shape it in some way you can use a diamond wire hand saw blade in a saw frame. Follow this tutorial for cutting sea glass: How To Easily Cut & Shape Sea Glass and Stones Using Diamond Wire Hand Saw Blades
If you are bezel-setting your sea glass then you may need to file off one side to help it sit nicely, a diamond file works a treat for delicately removing material and shaping your glass. Try a fine 600 grit, half round diamond file. These are really popular with jewellers and can be used on many applications once you've finished your particular sea glass project.
If you have further grinding away to do at the sides in order for the sea glass to sit in your bezel, try using a small green silicone carbide stone burr. This is a gentle abrasive stone that will grind away finely and smoothly.
The above sea glass jewellery has all been made using tools from Eternal Tools. From left to right is a green sea glass bangle by Kriket Broadhurst, and a green sea glass and beach pebble pendant by jillyflower jewellery.
The bottom left is a stack of contemporary silver and sea glass necklaces by Kate Chell, and the bottom right is a leather cord bracelet with drilled blue and white sea glass by Jane Brannan of ScottishShores.
If you're a sea glass artist or jeweller and would like to be featured in one of our articles please contact us and tell us more about yourself.