A small piece of colored glass washes up on a beach, standing out from the rocks and pebbles and a memorialized passerby picks it up. Is it a natural gem from the ocean? Is it, as was mythologized, the tears of a mermaid who cried when a sailor drowned at sea?
As tempting as it is to think of these tiny treasures as products of the unknown ocean depths, they are bits of garbage. Before city-regulated trash and recycling programs were in place, it was very common for towns near the water to dispose of their garbage on the beaches because it would be washed away in the waves. As littering into the ocean is now looked down upon in most communities and most containers are made of plastic, the production of sea glass is slowing down and sea glass jewelry is becoming more unique.
When you find a piece of sea glass, know that it originally started its life as a glass bottle, jar, or other object before being thrown into the ocean as refuse. The color of a piece of sea glass is a large factor in determining its value. The most common colors are green, white, and brown because those were standard colors for bottles used for water, beer, or wine and still are today. Hues of blue, green, and aqua are fairly common for sea glass wedding jewelry as they are found in every 50 to 100 pieces. The more unusual it was for a jar or bottle to be a certain color, the more valuable sea glass rings, bracelets, or earrings are now. Found once in about every 10,000 pieces is orange sea glass, making it the least common type of sea glass.
Once a glass object is tossed into the water, it breaks apart and starts the natural process of wearing down. Sea glass typically comes in triangles because the original glass bottles would break only in straight angles. Large pieces of sea glass are very rare as the glass tends to break during its travels.
After riding the waves, the next phase of life for a piece of sea glass is on shore. If you find a piece of sea glass in a triangle it means that it has spent a short amount of time out of the water. Pieces that are smooth ovals have been sitting on the shore, likely wedged between rocks, for a longer period of time. They have faced the wear caused by the wind and sand, softening its edges. These pieces, especially if they are free of chips or flaws, are more valuable as sea glass jewelry.
The final stage is when a piece is picked up and transformed into the centerpiece for sea glass jewelry. These small, beautiful treasures have been around as long as humans have been making glass — a practice that began in Mesopotamia before 2000 B.C — and have been re-purposed to accessorize buyers for just as long.