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Is Sea Glass a Gem?
Although some sea glass can be used in the same way as a gem, is it valuable? Is sea glass a gem? The word gem is a shortened version of the full name, a gemstone. A gemstone may be classified as precious, or semi-precious - roughly equating to its scarcity. In short, sea glass isn't a gem.
Gemstones are minerals. Often, when a rock or some organic materials are used in jewellery, they are referred to as a gemstone. A few examples of this might be:
- A Lapis Lazuli is technically a rock.
- Amber is an organic material.
- Jet is an organic material.
So, within some subjects, it is perfectly usual and reasonable for a non-gemstone item to be called a gem or gemstone.
There are as many people who collect sea glass, as collect gems, rocks or minerals. Some people collect it for its beauty, some for its rarity - and some people collect it and like to research the history of where it might have come from - what sort of bottle or dish.
Where Does Sea Glass Come From?
Sea glass, sometimes called beach glass, is most-often formed by the ocean upon discarded glassware, often from 70-150 years ago. Sea glass can also be found on the shores of some very large lakes, or even in some rivers.
Many years ago glass products will have been thrown, or dropped into the sea. And that's where the magic is..... some reasons that glass might be dropped into the Ocean would include:
- A sailor at sea, having drunk a bottle of beer, might throw the bottle overboard
- Old ships, cruisers, luxury yachts... in fact, all sizes of boats, will have had to dispose of all their drinking vessels, medicine bottles and broken china. It will have been perfectly normal for these items to be thrown overboard en voyage.
- A house might be taken in its entirety during a fierce storm, or as the result of a landslip. Windows, decorative glass, plates, bottles, crockery ... everything could have ended up in the sea.
Many pieces of sea glass are in excess of 100 years old. It's taken 100 years for these pieces of glass and pottery to be tossed around by the sea's waves, the sand gently smoothing the pieces down - all until one day they end up on a beach and are harvested by sea glass collectors.
Depending on the local currents and where the glassware was dropped into the sea, when sea glass appears on the beach it can be anything from large "craft quality" pieces, through nice jewellery sized pieces, all the way down to "tinies", which are miniscule pieces of smoothed glass.
Some sea glass is Jewellery Quality - and these are the pieces which are used to make jewellery, replacing gemstones as a component.
Sea glass is, by its very definition, a unique piece. Some colours are more rare than others. The value and cost of sea glass is based upon rarity, colour and size.
Sea Glass Value
Although sea glass is not a gem, it can still command gem prices for good pieces. Some rare colours, in good sizes, with a good frosted surface can reach very high prices.
Craft quality sea glass, however, can be picked up quite affordably.
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...
Using Sea Glass as a Gem
In the same way you can use any gem in jewellery, it is possible to substitute that with a piece of sea glass.
Most people are not "lucky" enough to live near to a beach where you can find sea glass. While it is lovely to find your own sea glass to use in jewellery, it is a very time-consuming, and often disappointing, way of getting the exact pieces you need. For many (including those who live by the sea) it can actually work out better to buy sea glass online. There are a few sites around the world where consistently good quality sea glass can be found - it can be easier, quicker (and cheaper) to simply find the size/colour you want and buy it.
Spend your time planning your piece rather than being frustrated at not being able to find the right colour, size and quality on your local beach.
Looking After Sea Glass
Sea glass has spent the last 100 or so years being tumbled around the ocean's floor, across sand and rocks, mixing with pebbles and being tossed onto the beach twice a day until it's plucked out of the sand by a collector. For this reason it is very strong. Only the strongest of glass pieces could have made it this far!
Once you have sea glass, you should clean it in warm soapy water - rub it with your fingers or a soft brush. Sea glass has a frosted finish and you don't want to rub that down as that's the magic of the sea glass gem that people love.
Once you've washed it, coat it in a very tiny amount of baby oil, to help it have that "just found" look again!
Ways to Use Sea Glass
Although sea glass is not a gem, you can use it in the same way that you'd use a gem in jewellery pieces.
Sea glass jewellery is a much-loved gift and some people have even had a sea glass themed wedding, with jewellery worn by the bride and given to the bridesmaids from sea glass gems.
As sea glass can be used like regular gems, it can be found in rings, pendants, bracelets and earrings.
Lesser quality sea glass is referred to as "craft quality" and can be used in dozens of craft projects, such as:
- Make a coaster
- In wind chimes
- Make a mosaic.
- Decorate the frame of a mirror or photo frame.
You are only limited by your imagination!
Whether you think that sea glass is a gem or not, you can't help but admire the beauty of it, especially when used in a constructive way (rather than simply chucking it into a glass jar on a window sill).
Sea glass catches the light and has a timeless beauty and classic simple lines. Sea glass jewellery is great to accessorize shorts on a beach, or to wear to a formal dinner. It really does cross all boundaries and barriers to be seen as a desirable, highly sought after, and treasured piece.