Sea Glass or Beach Glass?
Whether you call it sea glass, or beach glass, it's all the same thing. The name you use will be based on which name you first heard.
Collecting sea glass has been a great past-time for generations, most will be stored in plain glass jars and kept on a window sill - later on I'll show you my tip for keeping your seaglass looking as fresh as the moment you plucked it from the sand...
What is Sea Glass?
Sea glass is the product of decades, if not more than 100 years, of the sea and waves constantly pounding discarded bottles against the sand of the seabed and beach - to eventually bring you these unique gems right to your sandalled feet on the sandy shores.
Not every beach has sea glass - in fact it's a rare event. Perhaps on one beach you will spend 2-3 hours just discovering 2-3 pieces. Some people are lucky enough to live near, or discover, entire hoards in one patch.
However, do not be mistaken - sea glass is not only rare, but becoming more rare due to a combination of less glass products being produced and more people being aware that sea glass exists and collecting it for themselves. In fact, it's rare that I am on a sea glass beach alone - there are usually 2-3 other people diligently concentrating on the sands, waiting for their magical gems to be uncovered.
For me, the most exciting sea glass finds have been those delivered on the incoming tides - as I am walking along the water line, suddenly a piece of sea glass is exposed - and I have to leap into the water to grab it before the next wave buries it back under the sand! Of course, walking along an inbound tide is something to be treated with caution as you will find yourself swamped by large waves if you're not careful (and even cut off on some beaches, so do make sure you understand tides and know your escape route).
Seaglass is typically quite small - as it is the result of years of grinding down by the ocean the pieces you end up with vary from tiny chips up to typically just over 1/2". While it is possible to find larger pieces - for example bottle bottoms - these are rarer to find. If you find a 1" piece of sea glass that is of a rare color and jewelry quality then you've done well. On a good sea glass beach I'd expect to find one peice like that every 15-20 hours of searching! Maybe you have a better beach ... if you're very lucky indeed.
When buying sea glass it is essential you understand the size. Most sellers will show a coin alongside to show the true size. Photos are usually larger than the reality.
Sea Glass Colors and Rarity
Sea glass comes in various colors - of course, since the original product was a bottle (usually, but not exclusively), this does mean that the range is limited to some degree.
Some sea glass colors are more rare than others. Bottles for everyday products will have been made in bulk, e.g. medicine bottles, wine bottles or milk bottles. Bottles for decorative items will have been made in much lesser quantities (e.g. perfume bottles, decorative plates and glass sculptures). This means that green, brown and white sea glass will be more commonly found than blue, orange, red, yellow or other colors.
In some parts of the world, some colors are easy to find and people living in those areas might be surprised to find that they are lucky enough to have a ready supply on the doorstep. For most of us, we either don't live by the sea, or we live where the common colors are all we can find :(
Here is a quick overview of the colours and their rarity:
- Common: Green, brown, white
- Less Common: Light blue, bright green
- Quite Rare: Yellow, royal blue
- Rare: Red, orange, purple, Vaseline (like a neon green)
Genuine Sea Glass or Faux Sea Glass?
Genuine sea glass has been naturally formed, by waves and sand, over decades of time. Genuine sea glass is unique and has special properties.
There are, however, a few forms of faux sea glass which are available, or which you can make yourself - these are not the same thing and have nowhere near the same value as real sea glass.
Value of Sea Glass
Genuine sea glass has a premium value attached to its rarity. If you are buying sea glass, or making/selling products (such as jewelry) from your sea glass, then the price will reflect this rarity. Fake sea glass can never equal genuine sea glass in value because it can be produced on demand and not have to be 'discovered', which in itself can cost a lot in terms of time (or even travelling costs) to find.
Sea glass is free when you are already on the beach - but if you take a day out to go and collect sea glass for yourself you quickly find that the cost to you of transport and your physical labor. If you plan to use sea glass to make products, then for many it is far cheaper/easier to simply buy it from ebay.
Trust me on this - I lived in an area where sea glass was available - and I spent a month trying to find the best spots for it - after one month and 1000 miles of driving I still hadn't found one beach that would give consistently good quality sea glass such that it made financial sense as a use of my time.
But sea glass isn't all about time/money and profit. It's about joy and excitement when you spot a piece glinting in the sand.
Buying Sea Glass
If you are buying sea glass, or sea glass products, you need to know what to look for.
Genuine Sea Glass: This will be advertised as genuine sea glass - that is the unique selling point of the item. They will usually tell you where the sea glass was harvested - usually an area, not a specific beach.
Surf Tumbled Sea Glass: This description can mean one of a few things. It can mean original, genuine sea glass that wasn't of a very good quality, so it was further tumbled (in a tumbler) using salt water.
Tumbled Glass: This is fake sea glass, man-made using a tumbler.
Faux Sea Glass: Completely man-made sea glass. This can be made by a variety of methods.
Questions to Ask When Buying Sea Glass?
- Is it genuine sea glass?
- Has it been modified by any further tumbling or processes since being found?
How to Make Sea Glass (Faux Sea Glass)
For some people, making their own sea glass is what they want.
Many people who make sea glass mosaics might go down this route. The mechanics of making your own sea glass are simple, beyond that there are extra things you can do to give a more authentic look and feel to the glass. Make no mistake though, if you do make sea glass, it is NOT and will never be genuine sea glass. Make sure, if you are making products to sell, that you are clear on this point. If your piece is attractive and you are clear about how the glass was sourced, your buyers will buy it because they like it. On the other hand, "con" one serious sea glass addict and your name will be mud online and offline.
To make sea glass you will need:
- A rock tumbler machine - just a regular rock tumbler machine from craft shops
- Some suitable glass
- Liquid (usually water)
- Agitants - these are the items you put into the tumbler that will smooth and frost your glass
A good rock tumbling machine will last you for years and they are quite affordable if you're planning on making a few lbs/Kgs of glass on a regular basis. It can even pay for itself as you can make faux sea glass for resale.
Rock tumblers are sold based on how much weight you can place in the drum. Sea glass isn't a heavy item, so you might not need a large tumbler. One of my beach collected hauls was 14 pieces ideal for making small pendants and these weighed just under 4oz in total. The size of tumbler you want will depend whether you're trying to make 20 pieces to make pendants, or enough to create a sea glass patio in your garden!
For the glass, people won't usually be breaking up glass bottles - instead the easiest (and safest) solution is to buy glass either in the form of glass nuggets (typically fish tank nuggets or the ones flower arrangers use). It's also worthwhile speaking to any local stained glass companies to see if they've got scrap to either give you or sell to you.
Water is all you need. Alternatives are to use a seasalt and water mix - or, if you live close to the beach, to even use seawater. Tumblers aren't large, so you only need a few cups of water.
With a rock tumbler, what you mix in with the water will depend on what you are tumbling and why. A rock tumbler can be used to smooth beach pebbles, create faux sea glass, or even (as used by jewellers) to harden sterling silver, gold and copper after making a piece of jewelry.
To make your own sea glass, sand is the closest you will get to re-creating the wave/sand action on the glass - and sand is what most people will use. You can buy this from builders' merchants, online - or even scoop up a bucket of sand when you're next at a beach. Remember - it's not silky smooth sand you'll need, the rough/gritty sand is what you want as you're trying to gently frost and smooth your glass.
Rock tumblers will usually be sold with some grit. You can use this grit, plus some sand if you have it. If you've a few tiny stones then put these in too.
Alternatives to Using a Rock Tumbler for Seaglass / Beach Glass
Unfortunately there are no alternatives to using a rock tumbler for seaglass / beach glass or small stones and rocks. No other gadget can continuously turn and churn the contents for many hours at minimal cost and in such a small space. You can't do it by hand.
This is one time you really have to just buy yourself a small rock tumbler. They bring hours of joy and fascination.
Simply read the instructions for the manual (to get the quantity mix right for your glass, water added and sand/grit/stones), place everything in the drum, switch on - and walk away. How long the tumbler will take will depend on the size of the grit/sand you've used, the size of the glass and the end result you are after. Just keep checking it every few hours and you can stop the tumbler once your sea glass is looking just how you imagined it to be.
Just remember: Never try to sell this sea glass, either on its own or as part of a product, as being "genuine sea glass". You must be true to the product and not mislead people.
What is Sea Glass Used For?
You can find sea glass in a wide variety of products.
Sea Glass Jewelry:
I make sea glass jewelry, pendants, necklaces and earrings. I use a method called wire wrapping to hold the sea glass in place. It takes the best quality sea glass to make jewelry.
Sea Glass Mosaics:
Whether you want to make coasters for drinks, or entire patio slabs and even garden walkways, using sea glass in mosaics is very popular. You can use any quality of sea glass with mosaics.
Sea Glass Mirrors:
You can transform an ordinary mirror into a beautiful mirror for your bathroom by adhering sea glas to the edges.
Sea Glass Photos:
You can even take photos of your sea glass and sell them as mounted photos or prints or postcards. These are increasingly popular and a "must have" for people who love inspirational art on their walls.
Sea Glass Crafts:
Sea glass is used in a lot of crafts, from drinks coasters to pot plants and from wind chimes to fridge magnets or wine stoppers. A variety of quality of sea glass is used in crafts, depending on what you are making and who it is for. Many items are sold online and in craft stalls.
Sea Glass Jars:
Whether you stick sea glass to the outside, or top, of jars, or simply fill jars with sea glass, these make very attractive ornaments - especially when placed on a windowsill that will get the most sun. Many people collect sea glass from their holidays in jars, growing their collection on each holiday, it's a constant memory of the good days they had.
Sea Glass Hunter's Handbook The perfect gift and guide for both novice and seasoned collectors. Inside you'll find information on the best ways to search for sea glass, explanations of sea glass origins, a sea glass dictionary, personal stories from experts about their favorite finds, and a list of some of the best beaches around the globe.
Pure Sea Glass is an incredible reference for any coastal enthusiast. More than 200 elegant images by photographer Celia Pearson present some of the best sea glass ever collected, along with samples of the classical glassware that is often its source.
The perfect tool for the curious beachcomber! Unlock the secrets in your sea-glass treasures with fascinating tips from Richard LaMotte, author of the definitive guide, Pure Sea Glass. This Card Deck shows how to follow clues of color, shape and common marks to determine the age and rarity of your sea-glass shards. The Pure Sea Glass Shard Identification Deck is an ideal gift for any beach lover or glass collector.
What's Your View on Sea Glass?
Do you own any sea glass?
Sea Glass Beaches
If you know of a beach where you can find sea glass, let us know by posting the location below.
Tell Us About YOUR Sea Glass
If you've got some great sea glass, or memories, why not tell us about that in the comments box below?