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Sea Glass - What's it all about then!?

Updated: Feb 23, 2023

Genuine sea glass isn’t a new thing. It’s old. It takes at least twenty or thirty years, but usually decades more, even one or two hundred years, to make the perfectly frosted, smooth edged, nugget of sea glass, that we find on the seashore. But what actually is sea glass? Sea glass starts off just like any other shard of glass; broken, jagged and sharp. But when we find it on the beach, the edges are rounded, the surface is smooth, and it is frosty in appearance. It is no longer a danger to hold tightly in our hand. So, how come?

Origins of this particular ‘species’

How any one nugget of sea glass found its way into the sea, is anyone’s guess, but there are a few well-known routes by which most pieces will have got there. The most common of which are as flotsam from shipwrecks and jetsam from sailing vessels. And many years ago, glass factories ditched their waste glass into the sea. Then there was (and in some countries today still is) the deliberate dumping of general rubbish onto our beaches and into our seas. Oh, and for the romantics out there, we mustn’t forget the odd message in a bottle, that never made land intact. The travels of any one piece of sea glass, have been long and tumultuous since it entered the sea. It will have been tumbled over and over again by the ocean and scoured by sands and stones over decades and even centuries. Each piece of sea glass is so unique, that finding two perfectly matching pieces is extremely rare. But that is one of the alluring attractions about sea glass; it’s individuality.

Colour coded.

Sea glass, like all glass, comes in many colours. Each colour reveals a little of that nugget’s past. There’s the cobalt blue of old poison and medicine bottles, or the rich, red sea glass of what may once have been ships’ and maritime lights, or fancy dinnerware.

The extremely rare, bright orange sea glass that could possibly be from old lanterns, carnival glass or the taillights of old motor vehicles. There are numerous shades of green. The very dark green sea glass, almost black in appearance, most likely was once from bottles used to hold alcohol. The bright, emerald green glass was another colour used for bottles of medicine, fishing buoys and for bottles to hold mineral water. To this day we can still buy our mineral water in glass bottles in this shade of green. Much of our olive oil still comes in bottles of olive-coloured glass, just as it did many years ago, and we must not forget the original and iconic, pale green of the old Coca-Cola and other beverage bottles.

Sea glass can also be found in pink and lavender. These are rare colours to find nowadays, but once were cheap and cheerful dinnerware and homeware for those who had to ‘watch the pennies’. Clear, or white sea glass, as it is commonly now known, could have been an old milk bottle, a flower vase, a pitcher, or an old car windscreen. The black sea glass, so hard to distinguish amongst pebbles on the beach, isn’t actually black at all. If lifted to the light, this piece of sea glass will reveal subtle hues of either brown or green. Hundreds of years ago, very dark, thick glass was needed to keep the sunlight from spoiling liquor, such as rum, gin and beer.

The first thing you will probably notice about sea glass, is that it isn’t shiny. Being scoured by sand and tumbled in the sea for decades, has removed the polish and dulled (‘frosted’) the surface, and the more complete the surface of the piece of sea glass that has been frosted, the more ‘perfect’ the piece is said to be, though the odd ‘crease’, ‘dot’ and ‘dimple’ to many, is preferred, as it gives that particular piece a character and more ‘charm’ than those that have uniform smoothness.

If you were to look closely at the surface of sea glass, you would see tiny curls on the surface, like a letter ‘c’. These little curls are an indication the piece is genuine and not a manmade, artificially tumbled piece of glass. These curls are the result of decades being in contact with sea and sand, something that artificially tumbled, acid-etched, man-made glass, cannot acquire.

Faking it

A fake piece of sea glass is not sea glass! It is man-made glass, also called ‘cultured glass’ and something very different. It is a term given to broken pieces of glass that have been machine-tumbled. These are, overall, mass-produced, with little personality and no history, whatsoever. If a piece of this man-made glass could talk, it could not go back in time and tell you of 60-feet waves, that tossed a schooner in a storm, a hundred miles from shore, with all souls lost. Or elegant dinner parties with gossip galore, where gentlemen snuffed tobacco and business deals were sealed. Or of the old horse-drawn milk cart, laden with their morning’s delivery, the clink of milk bottles on a frosty spring morning, and the steamy snort of the dray horse to be heard every now and then. Fake sea glass could not tell you of anything other than being in the barrel of a tumbler, on a production line, packaged, then shipped. They are produced in large quantities, in colours and uniform shapes, that in the world of the real sea glass, are rare to find and few in number. They show little of the attributes that make a true piece of sea glass unique and a treasure to find, keep or wear: the individuality of shape, the frosting, the pores, and textures of the surface of the glass, and the classification of colour rarity. A true piece of sea glass jewellery appreciates in value over time, an item of jewellery made with man-made glass, does not.

Up close and personal

I started this blog with three words – genuine sea glass. Genuine sea glass has a history. It has age, maturity, and a vintage to it. It is unique and it is very personal. It is personal on so many levels. Firstly, it was made by someone who lived in another era and in another place. It then belonged to another who used it in their daily life. Somehow, it ends up in the ocean, and because of long-shore drift, currents, and tides, it travels many miles from its original point of entry into the sea, to where it is found on a beach by someone who appreciates it for its aesthetics or uniqueness. Or by someone who collects it when out beach cleaning. Then, in this story, is the artisan or artist, who works with that piece of sea glass, adding a little of their personality when they create a piece of jewellery or work of art. Last, but not least, comes along someone who admires the finished product, and appreciates the history of that small nugget of sea glass. They may see it as a personal symbol, a reflection of themselves, in some way or another. And so, the story goes on. Who knows what is next, for that little nugget of sea glass…?

To see our collection of sea glass jewellery, all made with naturally tumbled sea glass collected mainly on our local beaches of Anglesey, North Wales, with a few rarer pieces from beaches further afield, and to find out about the Seapig story, please click here.

Written for Seapig by Lizzie Hudson

Some photos belong to Seapig and some photos are courtesy of:

Photo by form PxHere

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