By Rachel Shubin
As sea glass tumbles through the waves and sand, it becomes stronger and more beautiful over time—not unlike the bond of marriage. Getting married on the beach against the backdrop of the sea is a perfect way to celebrate your love for your partner. Including a piece of sea glass or beach-inspired jewelry for the big day is an excellent idea for those who cannot have a destination beach wedding but want to include an aspect of the beach in their ceremony.
Janet Payne from Cape May, New Jersey, has been collecting sea glass since 2001, walking on the beach every morning at first light. In 2006, she founded Janet Payne Jewelry and began creating designs featuring locally found sea glass, freshwater pearls, and silver charms.
“As soon as I pick up the piece of sea glass, I think of what I could do with it,” she said. “I try to let the natural beauty of sea glass or Cape May diamonds take center stage and use simple settings.” Cape May diamonds are quartz rocks that have a diamond-like sheen when tumbled and polished.
“I recently sent a pair of sea foam sea glass earrings to a woman on the west coast of Ireland getting married this July,” Janet said. “She said it would match her engagement ring perfectly, which is also sea glass. She was happy to be wearing sea glass from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.”
Each piece of sea glass is different, just like the brides that wear the unique pieces. Another wedding style Janet has created is hairpieces. “I once made a white sea glass hair piece for a young bride, which went perfectly because she had bright red hair,” she said.
In addition to jewelry for brides, sea glass jewelry also makes great gifts for bridesmaids. “I’ve done earrings for a group of bridesmaids to wear at the wedding, which was the bride’s gift to them,” Janet said. “I can’t make the same piece again because each piece of sea glass is different, so all the bridesmaids can have the same color, but each is slightly different.”
The ocean inspires Hali MacLaren of HKM Jewelry to create wearables from beach finds. Hali grew up visiting Cape May, spending her whole summers on a boat until her family purchased a beach house. “I’ve been a collector my whole life, be it shells, rocks and fossils,” Hali said. “My main inspiration is all about the beach. I love being able to use found objects from my favorite places to create new, strong, wearable trinkets.”
She has created designs for bride gifts, bridesmaids, groomsmen, and entire wedding parties. The first design Hali made was a set of rings for a bridal party. She had dinner with the bride and bridesmaids and brought stones from Cape May for each to pick for their ring.
“They each got to pick what they wanted and I made them each their own custom ring,” she said. “The bride’s sister-in-law commissioned me for a set of rings and each bridesmaid brought me stones from their favorite beach. They had pieces from Asbury Park to California and Australia. It was really fun to make.”
For wedding parties that want to match the groomsmen to the bridesmaids, Hali offers cufflinks. Her jewelry also makes a great gift from groom to bride or vice versa.
“I made custom cufflinks for a man who was part of the bride’s wedding side,” she said. “He got custom carved clam shell inlaid cufflinks with wampum.” Wampum is the purple part of a quahog clamshell.
Across the Atlantic, Kate Pearse of Glasswing Jewellery began her business in 2005 in the beautiful, rugged coastal area of West Cornwall, U.K. In 2016, she set up a workshop near the coast in South Devon. Her work features engagement and wedding rings, where she incorporates sea glass into delicate settings.
“I was always intrigued with the idea of setting sea glass into a delicate, fine gold jewelry pieces and setting off the frosted roughness of sea glass with the sparkle of diamonds,” she said. “Once I’d made my first piece like this, I knew it was the start of a new collection.
From an elopement on Hornby Island in British Columbia to weddings in the misty highlands of Bonnie Scotland, Kate’s work has been in many romantic settings.
“The customers who order Glasswing rings tend to have a strong commitment to environmental and ethical standards when it comes to what they buy,” Kate said. “This tends to inform a lot of the decisions around what engagement and wedding rings they purchase.” Customers can send their sea glass to Kate to be incorporated in a ring. Her turnaround time depends on the complexity of the piece.
“The fact that sea glass goes so well with diamonds is an added bonus,” Kate said. “Most of the diamonds we use are recycled diamonds, often from vintage and preloved jewelry as is the gold and silver. I also used traceable and properly ethical gemstones.”
Finding inspiration in everything is the method Rachel Kenney uses to create sea glass jewelry for her company, REK Inc. Now based on the central coast of California, Kenney originally began creating her sea glass designs when she lived in Mackinac Island, Michigan.
“I try to find inspiration in everything. I feel like I have a million ideas in my head,” she said. “A lot of the time I don’t create with a set plan for the jewelry, I just play around with the glass and various silver and gold components and a design will stem from that.”
Kenney believes sea glass jewelry can be for everyone, and she has created alternative engagement rings, tie clips, and cuff links.
“A couple I love would always visit my shop and when they got married, we decided on using a special moonstone rock they found on one of their many trips to the local beach,” Kenney said. “Some couples will come to me for special anniversary gifts using pieces they’ve collected.”
One engagement ring Kenney created was a wedding band for a bride which nestled into her engagement ring, using cobalt sea glass the couple had found. Kenney made the groom a set of matching cuff links and a tie clip. “One wedding, I made all the bridesmaids a matching earring and necklace set with different colors of sea glass,” she said. “The groomsmen had sea glass cuff links and the wedding took place on the beach in Southern California.”
Kenney, a lifelong artist, loves working with customers-turned-friends to create beautiful pieces of custom jewelry. Besides sea glass, she also works as a metalsmith, which is one of her favorite mediums.
“Wedding rings and custom orders get me so excited, and I love what my customers come up with,” she said. “They make me try new techniques and I love to play a small part in helping someone create another special memory.”
For those who love the sea, celebrating a special occasion with a custom piece of sea glass jewelry is the perfect way to combine ceremonies and natural ocean treasures.
- Janet Payne Jewelry: janetpaynejewelry.com, Facebook/Instagram @janetpaynejewelry
- HKM Jewelry: hkmjewelry.com, Facebook/Instagram @hkm_jewelry
- Glasswing Jewellery: glasswingjewellery.com, Instagram @glasswingjewellery
- REK Inc.: rekinc.net, Instagram @rek.inc
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine July/August 2021 issue.