If you’ve been lucky enough to spend time walking on the beach, odds are you have come across some amazing finds. Whether it was a beautiful shell or something more significant, beaches around the world are known for turning up treasures that you wouldn’t find elsewhere.
Nothing is more indicative of this than discovering a piece of genuine sea glass washed up along the shoreline. If you’ve never heard of this remarkable treasure, then you’ve truly been missing out. What makes sea glass so unique is that it is a combination of nature and mankind working together to create something precious and beautiful.
While this incredible material has been around for many years without garnering too much attention, it is now something of a cottage industry due to its rarity and extraordinary qualities.
If you’re intrigued, then join us on a voyage of discovery as explore the depths of this phenomenon and see what makes sea glass so desirable to so many. Once you find out what it’s all about, you may become sea glass obsessed as well.
What is Sea Glass?
While it would be more pleasing to say that sea glass is a term for some type of naturally forming material, the fact is that it begins its journey to beauty as nothing more than ordinary glass, mostly old bottles and jars, broken dishware and even glass windshields and tail lights from older cars.
In the days before municipal landfills, people simply buried their trash, or if they lived near the water they dumped it into the ocean thinking that it would just disappear.
While some of the trash was taken away by the currents or simply biodegraded over time, much of the now broken glass stayed close to the shore where it traveled with the waves up onto the beach and then back into the ocean, over and over again, tumbling incessantly back and forth with the rocks and sand.
Over a period of 30-50 years, the water, rocks and sand smoothed the glass edges and turned what was once a lowly piece of dishware or a cast away milk bottle into a small, gem like creation.
How is Sea Glass Made?
Part of the reason why sea glass is so captivating is the length of time it takes to create. It can take decades, even as long as 100 years, to evolve a piece of everyday glassware into a beautiful, gem like piece like those so popular and collectible today. In fact, you could call sea glass a “reverse gemstone.”
Precious gems such as diamonds, rubies, and sapphires are mined from the Earth and refined by man to be enjoyed. Sea glass, on the other hand, is created by man and then refined by the nature, which is why it is so enchanting. For sea glass to be called authentic, it has to be made by natural forces.
Artificial sea glass may look shiny and beautiful, but it just doesn’t have the same appeal. The reason it’s not as desirable is that it looks too “new,” the shapes are too perfect and it just doesn’t have the same mysterious allure.
Authentic sea glass is not clear or shiny and it is not always perfectly shaped. It has a more weathered, natural look and feel. Because it’s been broken down by time, tumbling, and salt water the chemical composition of the glass has actually changed through a natural dehydration process, a critical reason why it looks different than manufactured, tumbled glass.
Sea glass comes in many shapes and sizes.
Although naturally occurring sea glass comes in many shapes and sizes, some of the older, well tumbled pieces can be distinctly oval, triangular, teardrop and even heart shaped. Sea glass hearts are amazing, whimsical creations of nature, much revered by sea glass collectors.
Some sea glass gems are flawless with no obvious dings or chips. Some show a pattern from a piece of dishware or an old automobile tail light or railroad warning lantern. Others have visible air bubbles inside showing that perhaps they came from a hand-blown glass bottle.
A frosty appearance is one of the biggest indicators of true sea glass.
A frosty appearance is one of the biggest indicators of true sea glass, although not always. There is a non frosty variety, nicknamed “silky” because of its smoother, less pitted surface and they are just as genuine. The sea glass finish depends entirely on the weathering conditions (is the sand fine or coarse, is the bottom sandy or rocky, etc.) as well as the Ph balance of the water. All these factors can affect the quality, shape, and surface appearance of Sea Glass.
Technically speaking, there are two varieties. One is sea glass and the other is beach glass. Beach glass is formed in freshwater areas, like lakes, rivers, and streams. As a result, beach glass usually doesn’t have as frosty an appearance as sea glass, but it is still weathered, polished and highly desirable.
Why is Sea Glass Popular?
When you think about a gemstone, you realize the reason for its popularity is its scarcity which creates its value. Sea glass, on the other hand, is rare by definition. Because much of the glass is old to begin with, tumbling in the ocean or lakes for decades or even centuries to become reshaped, smoothed and changed, today’s sea glass is more rare than many other materials.
Sea glass that has been refined for thirty to fifty years is far more valuable than the original bottle or glass from whence it came.
Time and quality go hand in hand, so if you find a piece of sea glass that has been refined for over thirty years, it will be far more valuable than the original bottle or glass from whence it came. It’s the same reason that ancient artifacts are popular. Because they are not common, they are more desirable, even if they may not have an intrinsic value.
Another reason sea glass is popular is that each piece is one of a kind. You can find a hundred pieces on the beach, and each one will be different, like a snowflake. Even parts of the same glass bottle will turn out differently, with each one having a particular shape, smoothness, and amount of frosting.
Is Sea Glass Valuable?
Yes and no, depending on the age, condition, size, shape, color and authenticity. There is tremendous amount of sea glass changing hands on social media sites, and other sales sites like Etsy and Ebay. Search for sea glass on either of these and you will find upwards of 10,000 listings offering sea glass for sale. Make no mistake, sea glass is a commodity. It has real value, with some individual pieces selling for up to $1,000 and more.
Many factors must be present to sell sea glass for top dollar. Prices can vary widely, from pennies per piece for small pieces in odd shapes with chips and flaws (sometimes called “roughs”) to flawless, nicely shaped, jewelry quality pieces that might sell for $5-10 each if they are rare colors like deep aqua or cobalt blue. An even more rare, genuine, medium size piece of jewelry quality red sea glass may sell for close to $100 or even more.
The pricier pieces are normally purchased by jewelers and artisans hoping to sell them in one of their sea glass jewelry designs. The “roughs” or less perfect pieces are used by artists who use sea glass in home decor items such as mirrors, mosaic renderings and lamps. And there are many sea glass lovers out there who just like to display their beach found or purchased sea glass in a glass vase on the mantel. As always, beauty and value is in the eye of the beholder.
The person who is a true sea glass aficionado revels in finding that elusive piece of sea glass on a peaceful beach walk.
Most likely this person is a sea glass purist, someone who appreciates the mystique and value of naturally occurring sea glass and the thrill of discovery.
A sea glass purist knows the value of genuine sea glass. He or she knows that as the supply of a commodity diminishes, the value increases. This is true of sea glass as its supply is waning at the very same time that sea glass mania has taken hold. Sea glass cannot be replicated by artificial means. Genuine sea glass is created by nature, not mass produced in a factory where it is acid etched to make it look real. Sea glass enthusiasts revel in the mystery and romance of finding sea glass, constantly wondering who might have been the last person to have held it in their hands. Each sea glass piece has a history, a story.
Perhaps it came from an ancient shipwreck during a horrific storm or spilled from a house that washed into the sea. It may have been a treasured piece of family glassware that, accidentally broken and discarded, eventually finding its way to the sea. Or a marble tossed into the ocean during a child’s game, eventually washing up on the beach, timeworn and softened by years of tumbling.
Other sea glass lovers assign deep value to a piece of sea glass they may have found while experiencing a life challenge or even the death of a loved one. They find symbolism, relevance and meaning in that particular piece, holding it close like a talisman to guide them through their sorrow. Read our post, SEA GLASS & THE STARFISH, A TALE OF RENEWAL & HEALING, for how sea glass can be a metaphor for life.
One of the critical keys in ascertaining sea glass value is its color.
Most sea glass comes from old bottles and jars used for everyday products like baking powder, mineral water, milk, wine, beer, spirits, medicine bottles and the like. The more common colors of white, brown and green were the colors of milk, beer, soda and wine bottles, probably accounting for 80-90% of the sea glass now found.
One of the most rare and sought after sea glass colors is red. Red glass was expensive to make because gold chloride, a costly additive, was necessary to make the color. As a result there was very little red glass mass produced, adding to its scarcity. Orange and turquoise are also considered extremely rare because there was very little glass made in these colors.
Is Sea Glass Easy to Find?
These days, it is becoming more difficult to find quality sea glass. There are multiple reasons for this. Overall, the most common factors that affect the scarcity of sea glass are time, location, changing habits, and its current popularity!
Because it takes years for sea glass to form, you can only find it in certain areas.
For example, a great place to start would be locations that have been around for decades or even centuries. Factories, shipwrecks, colonial settlements and old dump sites are fantastic places to look for high-quality sea glass, provided that those areas have not already been already scoured by other people.
We are much more cautious about how we treat our natural world.
Another leading cause of the decline in sea glass is the fact that we are much more cautious about how we treat our natural world. Back in the day, people wouldn’t think twice about dumping their garbage into the ocean. Now we make sure to recycle our bottles and cans, and ocean dumping is no longer allowed.
While this is good for the environment, it does mean that the amount of sea glass will only continue to decline, as there will not be any new material to replace it. In a few decades, sea glass may not exist at all, save for a few key places.
Beach replenishment buries whatever sea glass remains.
Other reasons for sea glass scarcity are erosion and beach replenishment. On many so called “Sea Glass Beaches,” the remaining pieces are constantly being ground down until they become the the size of a grain of sand. And on the East Coast, particularly, major beach beach replenishment after storm damage buries whatever sea glass, shells and other artifacts of sea were still left behind.
So while it’s not easy to find sea glass, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look for it. If you are really interested in starting your own collection, the only place to start is on the beach! There are many informative books about sea glass to start you on your journey. You just never know where a diamond in the rough, sea glass jewel will be hiding.
From Trash To Treasure
We know that sea glass has value because of its scarcity and gem-like appearance.
More importantly, for many, the value is about the search for an elusive treasure that becomes deep and personal. The symbolism resonates, for finding a special piece of sea glass can be a mystical experience, a commune with nature as we walk along the shore, picking up pretty rocks and driftwood, and discovering that lone piece of beautiful colored glass that we can carry in our pocket to comfort us.
If we look at sea glass as a metaphor for life, we can see that though it’s been battered, thrown away and broken down, at the end of its journey there has been a transformation… into something far more magnificent — from trash to treasure!
Shopping For Sea Glass Jewelry
If you are interested in discovering your favorite sea glass that can be worn close to your heart in the form of jewelry, and don’t want to make your own, we invite you to shop our online sea glass jewelry store. All our sea glass is genuine – found on a beach – sea glass, and has been hand crafted in our studio to make a unique and elegant piece that can be worn for all occasions. Feel free to start your search below or Click Here to shop our Sea Glass Jewelry collection today. Your purchase is guaranteed to satisfy or your money back.