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What Is Sea Glass? Why Is Sea Glass Jewellery So Popular?

If you’re a beach lover in Cornwall, chances are you’ve enjoyed combing your fingers through the sand looking for shells. Occasionally, you might come across a small pebble-shaped burst of colour, which is sea glass! Sea glass is responsible for a jewellery movement rapidly growing in popularity, due to its eco-friendly credentials and the thrill of sea glass hunting.

We have a fantastic relationship with sea glass jeweller Laura Talbot of Porth Jewellery, who regularly holds jewellery workshops at Inspire Makers. Laura shows you how to make your very own piece of Cornish jewellery made from sea glass you have found on Cornish beaches. To find your own sea glass, create your own unique piece, and wear it proudly is incredibly fulfilling! When she’s not teaching, Laura is busy in her studio making jewellery collections that we are delighted to stock in the shop.

What Is Sea Glass?

Sea glass is formed when a piece of glass is washed out to sea or lost overboard from a ship. The constant power of the waves and abrasion against pebbles wears the glass down, softening the sharp edges and leaving a rounded shape with a frosted effect on the glass. 

The colour depends on the origin of the glass, for example, blue sea glass has often been formed by old medicine bottles. It takes about 50-100 years for sea glass to reach our beaches in its final form before being made into jewellery. It’s not hard to find sea glass in Cornwall, if you’re looking carefully, you’ll come across these colourful gems multiple times on most beaches.

Hand with green sea glass pieces laid out on it
Blue sea glass pendant necklace with sterling silver chain
Porth Jewellery

Why Is Cornish Handmade Sea Glass Jewellery So Popular?

We asked Laura why people are increasingly interested in sea glass, she explained that ‘it is very calming and therapeutic to go searching for your own sea glass. Finding favourite or rare colours soon becomes a bit of an obsession’. Laura, alongside many other sea glass collectors, enjoys searching for sea glass and recording where each piece is found. Each colourful treasure acts as a reminder of a special day, or a favourite place and adds provenance to the jewellery. 

During workshops, we’ve seen plenty of partners making Cornish sea glass jewellery for their loved ones, creating beautiful rings or necklaces out of sea glass they found together that signify an important moment or place in their relationship.

Sea Glass jewellery is also increasing in popularity as people shift to a more sustainable way of living. Knowing where the materials for our jewellery have come from and who it was made by is very rare in the jewellery industry. This is an industry plagued by unethical treatment of workers and the devastating impacts of mining. Sea glass is incredibly sentimental and sustainable, it’s a win-win!

Sea glass jewellery collection on display, with dark blue, turquoise and light blue sea glass pieces
Porth Jewellery

What Is The Difference Between Sea Glass And Beach Glass?

The two are often used to describe the same small pebble-like forms of glass shaped by the sea. Although the glass is found on the beach once it’s washed up, it is eroded and formed by the sea. It’s worth noting though that beach glass may reference glass that has formed on freshwater shores, in rivers and lakes, however, this is less common to find. 

Is Sea Glass Sustainable?

Sea glass is an incredibly sustainable choice to make when it comes to jewellery. We’re by no means saying chuck some glass into the ocean to get the process going, but once glass enters the water the formation of sea glass is entirely natural. Endlessly washed and tumbled by the motion of the ocean, before being washed ashore, it requires none of the mining and chemical manipulations that traditional gems have needed. We like to think of it as the glass being recycled by the ocean! 

Since sea glass isn’t a natural beach or sea form like pebbles and shells, you are allowed to take it away from beaches. So, you don’t even have to feel guilty for finding the beauties. Attention should be paid to how your sea glass has evolved into jewellery, and whether the jeweller follows sustainable practices. 

green and blue pieces of sea glass on Cornish slate rock

How To Make Jewellery From Sea Glass?

Over to our resident expert Laura for an insight into how to make jewellery from sea glass… 

‘Sea glass comes in all shapes and sizes, with varying finishes depending on how long it’s been in the sea for, and how aggressively tumbled it has been. This can affect the quality of the glass or whether it’s suitable for jewellers. Jewellery-grade glass is well-rounded and smooth, with a nice texture to the surface and often a frosted finish. Newly discarded glass is still shiny and doesn’t have the soft feel of aged sea glass.

I make secure silver settings for my sea glass, so the light is reflected inside the setting holding the piece. This helps the glass really glow, showing off its glorious colour. All these settings are made by hand, and can be added to rings, necklaces, bangles, earrings, brooches, and more.’

Try Our Jewellery Making Workshops In Falmouth

We regularly hold workshops here at Inspire Makers, in our dedicated creative space. Porth Jewellery is a regular here, with Laura holding multiple workshops monthly, varying from sea glass jewellery to sterling silver stacking rings, to beginners’ jewellery courses. 

In the Sea Glass Jewellery workshop, you’ll create your own sea glass ring, necklace, or bangle, using your own special piece of sea glass. You’ll be expertly taught how to make a ring, necklace or bangle to the perfect size, solder settings, construct bezel settings, add texture to silver and set sea glass in the bezel setting. You’ll walk away at the end of your workshop with a professional-looking, completely unique item of jewellery, made by you! 

Laura can provide a piece of sea glass from her own collection if preferred, and she’ll advise before the session whether your sea glass will be suitable for making jewellery.

welding a silver ring
2 girls making in sea glass jewellery workshop

Porth Jewellery Is A Cornish Sea Glass Jewellery Designer And Maker

We are so proud to stock the brilliant Porth Jewellery at Inspire Makers. Laura’s sea glass jewellery is a favourite with our customers and this love for sea glass shows no sign of slowing down. Laura collects her sea glass from beaches, harbours and estuaries in Cornwall, sometimes further afield. 

Each piece is recorded, and she notes the location the sea glass was found on her packaging – so you know exactly where it’s come from. Laura works from her home studio and still loves exploring beautiful Cornish beaches for sea glass.

Is Sea Glass Easy To Find?

Sea glass is more common where historically, glass was discarded, such as harbours or beaches by towns and old manufacturing sites. Often jewellery designers prefer sea glass that has been well shaped by the sea, so it’s best to head to beaches with the open sea washing up on their shores. Sea glass is relatively easy to find, but sea glass hunting became popular in lockdown, and it’s harder to find the rarer colours now. Finding sea glass tends to mean looking down at the sand, not out to the sea view!

girl searching for seaglass on a Cornish beach
Laura searching for sea glass in Falmouth. Photography credit Emily Silkstone

What Is The Rarest Colour Of Beach Glass?

Pinks, purples, bright turquoise and red can be very elusive. These glass colours weren’t mass-produced, so most sea glass would originate from decorative homewares and are rare to find. Red glass originates from some bottles, and objects such as ship lanterns, railroad warning lights and car taillights. The blue sea glass used to be in plentiful supply due to medicine bottles being made from it, but even this is getting harder and harder to find. 

How Do I Know If My Sea Glass Is Real? 

If you find your sea glass on a beach or along the coast, your sea glass is most likely real! But be careful not to mistake plastic for sea glass. Glass and plastic will make a different sound when tapped, so this is a good indicator of what material your find is made from. The excitement of a rare red sea glass find can often be quashed on closer inspection, hello plastic. 

Sea glass will also have tell-tale ‘c’ marks on it, formed by pebbles which have worn down the glass. But the surface will be much finer and smoother on sandy beaches, where intense erosion occurs. 

If you’re buying sea glass online, be cautious. It has often not seen the sea and is made from smashed glass or glass beads which are then tumbled. If they offer lots of similar sized pieces, in rare colours, then it most likely isn’t real sea glass. 

Can Sea Glass Be Shaped?

It is not advisable to cut or shape sea glass yourself, as it requires specialist tools and may shatter. Jeweller Laura occasionally shapes sea glass very carefully by hand if pieces are too angular when found. Sea glass is often not a perfect uniform shape, but neither are pebbles! Alongside their colour and story, this irregularity in shape is where their charm lies. 

How Do You Find Sea Glass? 

Get exploring! Searching for sea glass is a perfect way to spend some time at the beach, tuning out all the noise in your head and focusing on one thing. It’s a mindful and calming practice which enables you to get outdoors with a purpose. 

Blue sea glass pendant on sterling silver bangle
Porth Jewellery

What Is The Difference Between Sea Glass Jewellery And Recycled Plastic Jewellery?

Recycled plastic jewellery is different to sea glass jewellery. It makes use of plastics which have been littered or washed up on the coast. We stock recycled plastic jewellery by the brilliant Washed And Found, which is bold and beautiful. Viki collects sea plastic and curates colours and textures which she then sets in bio-resin. Different to sea glass – but just as beautiful. 

So, there you go! All you need to know about Cornish sea glass jewellery and how it’s made. To see our selection of sea glass jewellery just pop into Inspire Makers at the top of Falmouth’s Old High Street. 

If you’re tempted to try your hand at making your own sea glass jewellery, join one of our regular workshops by Porth Jewellery. We can’t recommend Laura’s teaching and creative skill any more highly, many participants return again and again to make their new sea glass finds into beautiful jewellery. You can book onto a workshop here

Want To Hear More? We Would Love To Hear From You. 

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