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Made by man, finished by nature: Now's the time to hunt for sea glass

By Erin Chan Ding

Detroit Free Press


But after decades of being tumbled by water, after years of having its edges softened and rounded, it sits on the beach, a colored shard of tan or turquoise refracting the sunlight.

Once part of a whole object, it has become its own entity: sea glass.

These pieces created by humans for function have been reclaimed by water, tossed by the lakes and seas and given back to us as fragments of beauty. And now as the weather warms, beachside residents are blessed with the possibility of days spent by the beach hunting sea glass.

But what do you look for? How do you get started? What colors should you seek? How do you turn it into decor or jewelry?

To help out, we've put together this sea glass primer:

Pure sea glass consists of pieces that have broken apart from lanterns, headlights, bottles and other glass items that were dumped or thrown into lakes and oceans. Over 15 to 60 years, and sometimes for more than a century, the forces of waves, sand and stone have rounded the sharp edges of these glass shards to create smooth, translucent shapes.

Pinks, reds and yellows follow as the next rarest. After that comes kiwi and lime green, lavender, sky blue and turquoise. Next come cobalt blues. The most common colors are kelly green, rich brown and white — not just because of beer bottles but also because of old medicine and bleach containers.

Comparing artificial to pure sea glass "... is like comparing cubic zirconia to a diamond," Kuhn says. "It's very distressing to see people pay a lot of money for a fake piece of sea glass." The best way to establish that what you have is pure is to pick it out of a lake or ocean on your own. Other than that, Kuhn says to look for pure sea glass to have rounded edges and frosting, as well as small, naturally formed C-shaped pits that are difficult to duplicate.

Expert sea glass jewelers like Mickevicius and Kuhn can also integrate sea glass into bracelets, earrings and rings. Other than jewelry, people have used sea glass in mosaics, suncatchers, candleholders and ornaments. Others use jars to compile their handfuls of sea glass, each vessel serving as decor with a story.



Historically active waterfront sites, known to have shipping traffic.

Areas where shipping channels come close to shore or where small boat traffic is active.

Locations along the shore where locals discarded household items years ago.

Shorelines with an abrasive surface at water's edge that often experience strong onshore winds. (Moving water and rough terrain create ideal conditions.)