I have a guest blogger today. I met Robin at http://CreationsByRobin.etsy.
Sea glass, also known as beach glass or mermaid's tears, in it's most simplest terms is glass that has been discarded in the ocean. The glass often spends several decades in the water and during this time the combination of salt water and constant tumbling in the sand transforms an unwanted bottle into a smooth, frosted, gem.
Most sea glass is garbage that was dumped in the ocean many years ago. Smaller percentages are glass from bottle, jugs, etc, that have been freed over time from ship wrecks and houses that the sea has claimed during catastrophic storms. Over the years, ocean dumping has been discontinued and pretty much all dumping ceased in the 70s. Ironically, it was around the same period of time that glass was largely replaced by plastics.
The best way to find beach glass is to take a long stroll on the beach, especially during and just after low tide. While walking, check in the shell beds that the tide left behind. Chances are, if you look long enough, you'll find a piece or two.
Beware of sharp edges! Some pieces may have only spent a short time in the ocean...not nearly enough time to smooth all the sharp edges. If your "find" looks like a piece of wet glass that washed up, that's probably what it is.
Sea glass that has been smooth by years of tumbling in the sand and surf will often take on a frosted patina when dry. This is caused by the salt water leeching chemicals out of the glass as it tumbles along the ocean's bottom.
I don't believe I've ever heard of a timeframe to create a piece of sea glass, but I would suspect it takes decades to create. Some of the pieces of glass that I've found have been placed as far back as the mid-late 1800s (of course that doesn't mean the glass has been in the ocean that whole time, but glass experts are able to place the type of glass to during specific times)
Sea glass can be found just about anywhere. Besides the ocean, many of the Great Lakes (Lake Erie in particular) have been turning up large amounts of sea glass in recent years. Looking in the vicinity of where a ship sank may prove to yield some well-rounded pieces. Strong off-sea storms have been know to stir up the bottom of the seas and reward beachcombers with brilliant gems.
Looking for sea glass is as much luck as it is a science. Everyone probably remembers studing the moon in school. The same information we learned in school about the moon controlling the tides, has much to do with increasing your chances of find a few of the oceans beautiful gems. Full moons cause the tides to increase in strength. Usually you hear about how damaging a high tide can be and while the high tide stirs everything up on the ocean's floor, it's the low tide that is the key to finding sea glass.
You may find pieces washed up and mixed among stranded shell beds, but many brilliant pieces can also be found sitting at the surf's edge during low tide (and you thought you'd never need that info on the moon while your were in school) Jewelry quality pieces of any color are indeed rare to find, but even those that aren't perfectly rounded and smooth make beautiful decorations, especially when the sun light gets to them.
The most common colors are the basic colors... white, green and brown (the colors of the bottles of many beer/wine manufactorers and the largest majority of glass made today) Some shades of greens are considered to be uncommon, along with soft blues and many softer shades of green, such as lime & forest. Rare colors of sea glass are pinks, aquas, cornflower and cobalt blues, purples and citron. Extremely rare colors are reds, oranges, teal, gray, yellow and turquoise. Locating a jewelry quality piece in the rare and extremely rare categories is indeed a rare find!
It isn't uncommon to see both teenagers and adults looking for pieces that happen to wash up in the surf and sea glass has now become a much sought-after collectible. Unfortunately, supplies continue to dwindle and in the not to distant future, just finding any piece of sea glass will be a rarity.
So next time, you're enjoying a relaxing stroll along the surf at your favorite beach and a bright flicker of color catches your eye, take a second look... it may just be a piece of garbage, that has transformed into a beautiful, highly-sought after gem!