The most common question I get from people who aren’t familiar with all the special wonders a coastal beach has to offer is …..
What IS Sea Glass? How is it different than machine tumbled or cultured glass I can find at craft stores?
For anyone who is an avid beach comber, this question can be frustrating. In some ways, it is similar to the difference between a Diamond and a Cubic Zirconia. While both are absolutely beautiful, one receives it’s value by the force of nature over the time it takes to be formed, the other is created by machine and receives it’s value by the ability to mimic the one from nature.
The first time I was asked this question, I had only just started collecting myself, so, although I knew what sea glass was, I didn’t realize that cultured glass products were sometimes used in place of authentic sea glass without being marked as cultured glass.
This is the main reason why I wanted to do this post! With many people out on the beaches and becoming more aware of the existence of sea glass, I thought it was important to share what the differences were between the two.
First, let’s talk about Authentic Sea Glass….
Authentic Sea Glass is made from man-made discarded glass of generations past that has found its way into the sea and been tumbled for decades (possibly centuries), broken down by the tidal currents, crashed against rocks, sand, coral and other ocean life, washed up onto coastal beaches. This beautiful treasure is formed completely by nature, no two pieces are exactly the same.
It can be found on almost any coastal shore, from large pieces to small, shades and patterns can vary, and brighter more vibrant colours are a rarity to find. For the avid sea glass hunter, the common finds are whites, browns, ambers, shades of greens and while some are older than others, the common colours are sought after as well frosted gems. The “Frost” as is most referred to, it the white haze that envelopes the various shades. This frost occurs as the glass is tumbled over time in the salt water, which then creates pits and dings from crashing against the other debris in the water. You can see the “C” marks the ocean debris makes in the glass.
Less common to find are the shades of blues that have been created by old Vick’s and Milk of Magnesia bottles of yesteryear, or manganese rich clear glass of the 1800’s which has changed to a beautiful pale lavender.
The more rare the colour, the less likely it is to find several in the exact same shape, size and frost. Colours such as teals, aquamarines, reds, oranges often come as one of a kind pieces meaning they are highly sought after increasing the prices for many pieces listed in these colours.
There are a variety of queues to let you know you are looking at real authentic sea glass. There is frost, a variety of shapes and sizes as well as many “C” type marks, soft edges.
So how exactly different does real sea glass look compared to cultured or machine tumbled crafting glass you can find at Craft Stores or online?
Consider the following examples:
Notice in the photo above, the piece of cultured glass on the left is very soft with no real pitting or “C” shaped marks while the piece of sea glass on the right is heavily frosted, less see-through, showing an abundance of “C” marks.
- Authentic Sea Glass is made by the sea and tumbled onto the coast lines by the waves. It takes nature more than 50 years to transform broken glass into sea glass gems
- Cultured “Sea Glass” is manufactured glass made to look like sea glass by use of a rock tumbler.
Whether you are searching for Authentic Sea Glass on your own along quaint coastal towns, online or a local giftshop, or you are looking for the ability to have several pieces designed to look all the same in cultured pieces, the following are a few key descriptions to note & questions to ask your artist:
Key tips to look for when searching for Authentic Sea Glass designs:
- Key words to look for in listings: Authentic, Genuine, Surf tumbled, beach found, & ocean tumbled are a great place to start.
- Notes the general area where the glass was found ex: Found along the Bay of Fundy Shores
- Do they have any photos of the sea glass found in nature?
- Does the artist have several of the same rare colour in the same shape and size in their shop?
- Cost $$ By definition, rare pieces cost more, so if you see, for example, a large red or Turquoise “sea glass” design for a steal of a deal, it is most likely cultured glass and not authentic.
With Authentic Sea Glass, the Designer is exclusively using what washes up on shore, which makes for more One of a kind Items to choose.
With cultured glass, it gives the Designer the ability to create many of the same design, with a lower price point and with more uniformity.
While both have their advantages in the creative process, there is no doubt in my mind, that the story behind the found piece of sea glass is often even more of a reason to cherish each Sea Gem find ❤