Acquiring The Sea Glass Gems
The art of working with sea glass to create pleasing jewelry designs begins with the acquisition, cleaning and sorting of the sea glass gems. The glass is washed by soaking it in warm water with a little dish detergent. After the glass is rinsed in a colander and dried, it is examined for chips and flaws.
The sea glass gems we choose for our sea glass jewelry must be already nicely shaped and free of any obvious flaws, usually indicating that they are fully “cooked” and quite possibly very old.
It’s important for you to know that we are sea glass purists and thus we never cut, shape, or alter the sea glass we use in our designs. All the sea glass we use in our sea glass pendants, necklaces, earrings and bracelets is exactly as it was found on the beach.
After a sea glass collecting expedition, we will only be able to use about 1 out of every 100 pieces we find, because the supply of naturally formed sea glass is so diminished. Thankfully, over the years we have acquired a large collection of jewelry quality sea glass to use in our sea glass jewelry designs.
Sorting Sea Glass by Size, Color and Shape
The sea glass is then categorized by size, color and shape, labelled and “filed” in heavy duty zip lock bags. We also catalogue the sea glass into four basic categories:
- small sea glass for earrings
- sea glass that can be drilled
- sea glass that can be bezel set in sterling silver
- sea glass that will be gently wrapped in sterling silver wire because it is too thick to drill or to bezel set
Small sea glass pieces that we plan to use for earrings are further sorted into similar shapes, e.g. teardrop, oval, triangular, round, elongated, etc. to match up earring pairs, an undertaking that can be mind boggling and tedious, like the beginning stages of a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle! The matched up pairs are then bagged up until we are ready to transform them into one of a kind sea glass jewelry creations.
Organizing our sea glass gems is time consuming, but developing a codification system is an important tool for a successful jewelry artist, no matter what the medium. It’s a way to keep track of what you have and, sometimes more importantly, what you don’t have and really comes in handy when someone calls for a custom order!
Designing Sea Glass Jewelry
Some of the early design decisions are made during the organizational process. The goal is to determine the best outcome for each type of sea glass jewelry gem by not risking damage or breakage to a piece that may not lend itself to the drilling process. So it follows that each sea glass jewelry design is inspired by the shape, size and color of the sea glass gem.
Once that decision is made, the fun part of designing sea glass jewelry begins.
The first thing I do when I’m in the “design” mode is to simply look at the different colors of sea glass, often dumping out some of the bags of categorized glass until I see the one piece that inspires me, almost like it’s calling out, “pick me, pick me.” It’s as if I already have an idea in my mind and I’m just looking for the right piece that melds with my vision at that moment in time.
Sometimes I want to make a simple, single pendant. Other times I’m tempted to choose multiple pieces of different colors that are pleasingly similar in shape and size, arranging them in a specific color pattern that I believe will be pleasing and harmonious.
Certain shapes of sea glass appear to be compatible with the contour of a sterling silver charm, for example an oval shape with a starfish charm.
Countless hours are spent searching for just the right sailboat hull and sail shape for our sailboat pendants. My husband, Mike, is particularly good at this, putting dozens of combinations together and leaving me to accept or reject his work (with no hard feelings, I might add!).
An outside observer might view this process and decide that we are just playing around with the sea glass, which we are, but it happens to be an important part of the creative process!
Silver or Gold Sea Glass Jewelry
The next step is to determine the metal type/color to use in the design. The precious metal we use most often is .925 sterling silver which is, by definition, 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% of another metal alloy, usually copper. This is much different from silver plate, where a layer of silver is placed over another metal or alloy, and can be scraped off or tarnished easily.
Some sea glass colors, mostly the deeper, dramatic hues such as cherry red, deep cobalt blue and orange, seem to blend well with a warm gold tone, so occasionally I will use these colors with gold. For our gold metal we use gold vermeil (pronounced ‘ver-may’) consisting of .925 sterling silver coated with at least 2.5 microns (that’s 1/1000 of a millimeter) of 14K gold.
Sea Glass Jewelry Making Techniques
My approach to making sea glass jewelry is to present a clean, uncluttered, refined design, unencumbered by shiny crystals, beads and other embellishments that may fade in and out of style.
Frankly I just don’t believe that a beautiful, ocean-created sea glass gem needs much of anything except to be presented in a pleasing, attractive design that is true to its nature and capable of withstanding the test of time.
Some of our sea glass is carefully drilled with a diamond tipped drill bit and then, using unobtrusive, neat & tight sterling silver wire wraps, is attached to a necklace, bracelet or earring finding.
Other sea glass jewelry gems are too valuable and/or too large to drill without risking the possibility of shattering them, thus ruining their value forever. These we choose to bezel set (encircling them with sterling silver/protecting the edges).
A few of our antique, vintage sea glass gems that were once a part of an electrical insulator or a large piece of art glass are gently, but securely, wrapped with sterling silver wire, making an unobtrusive “cage” designed to show all the beauty of the sea glass gem within.
Read more about our sea glass jewelry styles here in Our Sea Glass Jewelry.