What is Sea Glass?

Sea glass is a popular material in jewelry making and you see it, and its cousin beach glass, available for sale in craft stores. But what is sea glass? How is that different from beach glass? And is it really possible to make your own?

The seas are one of the most powerful forces on our fair planet. The endless, ceaseless, always moving water surges back and forth, tearing and tossing and moving anything in its path. Most of us, when standing on the shore, feel a sense of awe or peace and an appreciation for the sea’s immense power. To many people, it’s an almost mystical force. And so when treasures are found along the shore that have been shaped and formed by the power of the sea, we feel that a bit of that power has been imbued in those treasures as well.

Sea glass is nothing more than glass, lost or discarded along the shore, that has been worn smooth by the tumbling action of the waves against the shore. Each surge of a wave drags that piece of glass across the sand and pebbles, wearing it, smoothing it, and shaping it with the random and rhythmical power of the sea, creating a frosted and worn surface.

Although there are no hard and fast rules about the terms, sea glass generally refers to glass weathered by salt water in a sea or ocean, and beach glass refers to weathered glass found along the shore of freshwater lakes and the banks of rivers. Beach glass is also a term sometimes used to indicate imitation, or artificially weathered glass that you might find at a craft store.

How does it get there?

Glass gets into the sea because throughout history humans have discarded their trash and refuse into the sea. Unlike food garbage, wood, and metal, glass is not easily degraded by seawater so it sticks around. And as the tides go in and out, the storms pass through and the ocean’s bottom is pushed around and onto the shore, the bits of glass make their way to the beach where people can find them. Sometimes the glass comes from discarded bottles left by partygoers, or even glass that has come from sunken ships or containers that have fallen from cargo ships. Some beaches, because of history and their particular geography, have become known for their large amounts of sea glass. Perhaps the most famous is Glass Beach at MacKarricher State Park near Fort Bragg, California.

Most sea glass comes from beer, wine, and beverage bottles, so the most common colors to be found are clear, amber, and green. These colors can be found with varying degrees of frequency depending on the location. In areas where the most dominant brand of beer consumed is Heineken, for instance, the most common sea glass is green. Where the most common brand is Budweiser, the dominant sea glass is amber. (Yes, I am hoping for a beach where they mainly drink Bud Light Platinum, Tŷ Nant, and Riesling. They’re blue bottles.)

Source Unknown, chart of colors of sea glass and their rarity.
I could not find the source for this image, but it’s an excellent chart to explain the various colors of sea glass and their relative rarity.

Sometimes, if you’re very lucky, you’ll find glass that has come from automobile lights (red and amber), art glass (various colors), or medicine bottles (cobalt, teal, sea-green). Here’s a neat page that discusses some of the colors of sea glass and what products they came from. Sometimes you’ll find bits of ceramic tile, porcelain, and stoneware. It’s always fun to have a look when you’re at a beach. You just never know what you’ll find. Here’s a picture of what my daughter and I found this summer on beaches in the UK.

Authentic sea glass, bits of pottery, interesting rocks, and even a tiny copper spoon found on beaches during our recent trip to the UK.
Authentic sea glass, bits of pottery, interesting rocks, and even a tiny copper spoon found on beaches during our recent trip to the UK.

Cultured Sea Glass

Now doesn’t that sound rather exotic? Cultured Sea Glass? But it’s really just a fancy term to describe glass that has been artificially weathered by treating with acid and/or tumbling to create a weathered and frosted look. Artificial sea glass can look very regular, very smooth and frosted, and often comes in colors that are seldom seen in real sea glass, such as bright turquoise blue and cobalt blue. Especially in the world of crafts and jewelry, much of what’s labelled as sea glass is actually frosted glass chunks and shards that have been created artificially. Sometimes frosted glass beads in “sea glass” colors are sold as sea glass!

Because of this, collectors and connoisseurs of true sea glass work very hard to educate the public about the difference between the good stuff and the fake stuff. Real sea glass can command a hefty price when the quality is high enough. Unfortunately, it’s all too common for unscrupulous people to sell their artificial or cultured sea glass as the real thing.

Faux Sea Glass

Although the term faux sea glass can also refer to cultured and artificial sea glass. I like to use the term Faux Sea Glass to refer to imitation sea glass made by using polymer clay. Yes, you can make quite interesting and intriguing faux sea glass with polymer clay! The advantage is…well…it’s fun. And you can do it yourself with the materials you already have on hand. You can make faux sea glass in the colors, sizes, and shapes that you want to make. Plus, you can make holes in it easily, unlike cultured sea glass.

Faux Sea Glass made with polymer clay by Ginger Davis Allman with her Faux Glass Tutorial.
Faux Sea Glass made from polymer clay with my Faux Glass Effects Tutorial.
Faux Sea Glass made from polymer clay with the Faux Glass Effects tutorial by The Blue Bottle Tree.
Faux Sea Glass made from polymer clay with my Faux Glass Effects Tutorial.

There are several ways to make faux sea glass from polymer clay. It is included as one of five types of glass project in my Faux Glass Effects Tutorial. Of course, I would love it if you’d give my tutorial a try. But there are other faux sea glass tutorials out there as well. The esteemed Cynthia Tinapple of Polymer Clay Daily fame has a video tutorial on making both faux sea glass and beach pebbles. Tina Holden of Beadcomber has had a faux sea glass tutorial for several years. And Eugena Topina has a tutorial where she teaches how to make tiny orchid flowers on a piece of faux sea glass. And Randee M. Ketzel sells a tutorial for faux fossils that includes a recipe for faux sea glass. The great thing about polymer clay is that there’s always more than one way to do something and each tutorial teaches a different method. Try them all!

Faux sea glass from polymer clay can be quite translucent. Learn the tricks to make it with the Faux Glass Effects Tutorial.

Is it Convincing?

The true mark of a good faux anything is how convincing it is. Of course polymer can’t completely imitate glass. Being a plastic, you know right away when you pick it up that it’s not real glass. But that is actually a great feature because you can create beach themed jewelry without the weight of real sea glass. In this picture, I have scattered real sea glass from my UK trip among faux sea glass made from polymer clay. Can you tell which pieces are real glass? Go ahead and make your guess from the picture below. Then scroll down to see if you’re correct.

Polymer clay faux sea glass is mixed with real sea glass in this picture, can you tell the difference?
Some of these pieces are real sea glass, and some are faux sea glass created with polymer clay. Can you tell which is which?
Faux sea glass made from polymer clay is labelled in this comparison.
So, were you right? Did you guess which pieces were the faux sea glass?

Sounds like Fun?

Does this sound like fun to make faux sea glass? Have a look at my Faux Glass Effects Tutorial and all that you can make with it. The tutorial includes how to make faux Roman Glass, some quite fun ways to make faux Czech glass beads and a convincing faux Carnival Glass. You can read more about the tutorial here, or you can click this button to visit the shop and buy the tutorial. It’s a great way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon!

Buy the Tutorial

6 thoughts on “What is Sea Glass?”

  1. Thanks for sharing our page on Sea Glass. Your polymer is AMAZING and has many applications that real sea glass may not! Polymer clay has come a LONG way in the last decade. Keep up the good work. Amazing Blog!

    1. Yes, polymer clay has really taken off and has become more recognized as a true art medium beyond the old-fashioned fimo and macrame bracelets. Thank you for the kind words, and for allowing me to share your site. Thanks for stopping in!

  2. In my research for the adjunct tutorial on sea glass that is a bonus for my purchasers, I ran across a very interesting comment…real sea glass is an increasingly endangered species, as people are now conscious of how uncool it it to bring glass containers to the beach. Score one for ecology, and zero for collectors. Thank goodness polymer artists can help us create the green alternative!

    1. That makes perfect sense. Though, judging by the amount of plastic I found on the beach where I was hunting (outnumbering the glass 100 to 1 at least), we’re somehow missing the lesson on ecology. But I think ultimately people are starting to be more aware of such things and the amount of sea glass might decrease over time. Time will tell. I didn’t realize you had a sea glass tutorial too. I’ll add it to the article. Thanks!

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