By Jean Forman
Like so many others, I have discovered a passion for sea glass that has led me over the years to find new opportunities, new skills, and new friends. At first, I did not realize its potential for beautiful jewelry and art, and simply enjoyed the hunt and discovery of the glass. But, as my husband and I retired and began traveling extensively around the world, I found sea glass in almost every continent, from Antarctica to Australia to South America, and began to learn more about it. Also, I began creating jewelry with it. Another surprise opportunity for me was to give talks about sea glass on cruises we took.
Several years ago, I mentioned the interest of many of my fellow travelers in my sea glass to a travel agent for a cruise line, and she contacted an administrator to see whether I could present a talk about sea glass and hold a jewelry trunk show on the next journey. Since then, I have given talks and shows on many Silversea cruises, in Alaska, Africa, Australia, Greenland, and more. Following is some of the information I share in my talks.
What exactly is sea glass and is it actually made by the ocean?
These are often the first questions I am asked when I begin my talks about sea glass. Many people I meet have never heard about sea glass or seen it before. Usually, I start my talk with a simple explanation: sea glass is actually a human-made product that has been recycled into a beautiful item by the tumbling waves and sands of oceans, lakes or rivers as well as the chemical reactions between the ocean’s waters and the glass. It usually takes many years for the glass to become smooth and opaque, so it is no longer sharp or transparent.
How is sea glass created?
In many places around the world, glass beer and wine and soda bottles, glassware, art glass waste, glass insulators, lights, medicine jars, and more have been discarded into the seas. Some of the best places to find sea glass actually are not pretty beaches, but instead old dumping areas or ports. For example, I have found beautiful sea glass off the coasts of Africa, Greece, and Alaska where people have lived and discarded waste glass. In a sense, therefore, sea glass is made by the ocean!
Where can I find sea glass?
I have looked for sea glass all over the world, from Antarctica to the Arctic. Wherever there is a beach, there is the chance there will be sea glass. However, often I just have a walk on a beach and do not find any sea glass at all. The best places to look are near where piles of rocks or pebbles have collected on a beach. Sometimes, you have to look in the water, and grab the sea glass before the waves take it away! Pretty, white sand beaches often have very little, if any, sea glass.
The easiest places to find sea glass are well-known “glass beaches” in California, Hawaii, and Bermuda. These are not really beaches as much as former dumping grounds. There are regulations and limitations on collecting in some of these places, and the glass is more limited because of so much collecting, the use of plastic instead of glass, and glass recycling.
Is sea glass valuable? What about fakes?
During my sea glass talks, many people naturally want to know about the value and rarity of sea glass. As anyone who has looked for it knows, it can be a challenge to find, especially uncommon colors like red, orange, yellow, and blue. In fact, a sure giveaway of a fake is when a very rare color is priced very low or if two perfectly matched earrings of a rare color like orange are offered. Glass that has been broken up and tumbled by machine certainly doesn’t have the history, beauty, or texture of genuine, ocean-tossed sea glass.
Unfortunately, many sellers claim they are selling genuine sea glass when it is really machine tumbled, artificially made, seeded in the ocean, or otherwise manufactured. One time, in Puerto Rico, I saw a man selling bracelets that looked like sea glass, and were beautiful reds and blues. I asked him where he found these colors, and he said he simply painted the glass.
Fake sea glass has emerged because genuine sea glass is becoming harder to find and is prized. Some red pieces, for example, can sell for hundreds of dollars. There are always sellers who do not reveal the true origins of their imitation glass, so buyers need to be very careful who they purchase from. To be sure, I only use sea glass that I have personally beachcombed or that my customers provide for their custom designs.
However, even more interesting and valuable than color may be where the piece was found and its provenance. What did it come from? Sometimes there are letters or numbers or a design on a piece that give you a clue. Collectors often prize these pieces.
Also, sea glass can be a special souvenir of a lovely vacation, occasion, island wedding, or anniversary. A recent customer asked me to create several designs for her family with sea glass her late mother had collected years ago on North Carolina beaches—truly a meaningful memory of her mother that her family can wear and cherish.
What are sea glass marbles?
These are also rare finds that are that are sought by sea glass collectors. When I was in Bermuda on vacation, I learned about marble bottles. It used to be that marbles were used as stoppers on bottle necks. A hole was drilled in the marble and a metal rod inserted to keep it in place. Luckily, I found one of these marbles while there.
What do you do with sea glass?
After collecting for a while, I began creating jewelry with the sea glass I found around the world. One day at Starbucks, I was wearing a sea glass necklace I had made, and a woman came over to me and asked me where I got it. That was the beginning of my decision to sell some of my creations. I am fortunate to combine newfound passions for beachcombing for sea glass and creating unique artistic jewelry along with my lifelong love of travel. I feel so lucky to have found these passions and skills to bring pleasure to others as well as myself. Truly, my sea glass journey has been a very lucky one!
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine May/June 2019 issue.