One of the definitions of a gem is, “..something prized especially for great beauty or perfection.” In my mind, sea glass definitely qualifies as a gem, although it may not be what initially comes to mind when picturing one. When I tell people I’m passionate about collecting sea glass, they likely picture me strolling along the beach, stopping here and there to pick up a piece. Well let me tell you, this is more what it looks like.
Welcome to the world of extreme sea glassing. For this sport, you need gear: a wetsuit, booties, an array of shovels and scoopers, somewhere to quickly and securely stash your finds, and the ability to run really quickly when a huge wave is about to get you. Trust me, you don’t want to be slammed against the merciless cliffs. Davenport, CA, located about 9 miles north of Santa Cruz, is one of the best-known “multi” beaches in the world (the other being in Seaham, England). “Multis” are pieces of sea glass which have more than one color in it. Here’s one of the gems we found last week. Can you see the subtle striations in the white portion? I think it’s simply mesmerizing.
You may wonder why this glass exists in Davenport in the first place. It’s all because of the fabulous Lundberg Studios, located just a half mile up the hill from the beach. This studio produces some of the most beautiful art glass in the world. During the process of creating their art, there are glass shards and trimmings which are discarded. In the 1970’s there was a flood at the studio when the San Vicente Creek overflowed, and all these discarded pieces found their way into the ocean. These are the prizes that we are now searching for, some 40 years later.
Finding sea glass at Davenport is definitely challenging. For one thing, it’s very seasonal — the winter storms are needed to churn up and take out the sand to reveal areas of gravel. This is your only chance of finding anything. If the gravel is in the surf, then you have to keep running in and out of the waves, scooping up gravel to sift through, hoping to find “it” at the bottom of your scoop or shovel before you’re toppled by the wave. If the gravel is up on the sand, then you spend hours digging big holes in the beach, hoping to uncover what you’re looking for. The rest of the year, the beach is just covered in sand…no glass to be found.
With years of drought in California, glassing season has left something to be desired. That is until this year, when El Nino has finally brought in some storms to help us out. BUT…this also means huge, dangerous surf to contend with. I’ve been a few times the past couple weeks, and while I’ve been there, I’ve witnessed someone get a concussion, a likely broken leg, a smashed ankle, and sadly last Saturday someone even lost their life. (Thankfully, his body was found yesterday.) This is definitely not for the faint of heart. Here’s a few photos recently shot by the glass guru, James Hailey. James is one of the master sea glassers, and he has helped me learn so much about the craft. (Follow his FB page if you want to see his jaw-dropping finds!)
Every time I step out of the car up at the parking area, and gaze down at the lovely beach…
My stomach does a little flip-flop, both out of fear and excitement, as I know this is what’s waiting for me…
One of the “holy grails” of this beach is a mushroom. Typically they are found in a green and white pattern, though my friend Tracy from Wisconsin even found a yellow one last Saturday! (Score!) Here’s a couple from my collection, found just in the past month.
We’ve been lucky to find a bunch of partial mushrooms lately as well, which are sometimes also referred to as “onions.”
I love the clear swirl in this one.
Red is one of the rarest colors of sea glass to find. This one, with its various shades of red, is quite spectacular in my opinion.
An “eyeball” is another highly sought-after piece. This one is extra special, as it has a UV rim around its cobalt core. UV glass, also called vaseline glass, has a bit of Uranium in it. If you shine a black light on it, it glows like mad! But don’t worry, there’s not enough radiation being emitted to cause any harm. Here’s photos of my eyeball, both in natural light and under the black light (front and back views.)
When I pulled this out of the sand, I first thought it was a rock. But as I inspected it more closely, I could see that each little crevice was filled with glass — the sun gleaming on the deep teals, blues and aquas deep within. I call it the “asteroid.” No one on the beach had ever seen anything like it. I’m so tempted to break it open to reveal what it’s like inside.
Canes are another very unique find at Davenport. These slim rods of glass are grouped together, then sliced to form millefiori-type patterns in paperweights, vases, etc.
If you look down the centers, you can see the patterns. I’m longing to find one with a star inside. Many of my friends have found them, but I haven’t…yet.
Here are some finished pieces from Lundberg Studios, where you can see the canes used.
On Thursday, we found a smaller egg that is one of my favorites or all time. Doesn’t it almost look like labradorite?! Truly a gem from the sea.
Of course, once you get home, shower, and make a cocktail, it’s great fun to sort out all the glass, deciding which to keep and which to repurpose. I have different jars around my apartment. I’ve got a UV jar, a cane jar, a super special bowl, etc.
In addition to building up my collection, I’m also delighted by all the wonderful glassers I’ve met the past few years. Most I originally met online at Seaglasslovers, which is the largest community of sea glassers from around the globe that I’m aware of (over 10,700 members!). Now some of us have gatherings, and people travel in from all over the country to glass together. This photo, taken by Tami Ewing, is from last Saturday, where we had friends from Wisconsin, North Carolina, Washington, and more come to glass together. One gal who lives in southern California got up at 2 am to drive and meet the group!
Many of my friends and family call me crazy, but that’s OK. It’s a unique passion and it brings me great joy. I may not take as many risks as I did a few years ago, especially with the current wave conditions, but I have a wonderful time enjoying the California coast and finding my own type of gems. Hoping there’s still a few more bountiful hunting days left this season! And if you’d like to see some more amazing pieces, definitely check out the Davenport Sea Glass Facebook page and Rare Sea Glass — it makes my jaw drop!
I know that when most people hear the word “gem,” they think of diamonds, emeralds and rubies. But for me, I also think of sea glass. This is glass that has been pummeled in the ocean for years, resulting in a smooth, frosty appearance. Searching for these mermaid’s tears (as they are sometimes referred to) is one of my passions. Sometimes this involves just strolling along the beach, seeing what the ocean offers up. At other times I’m descending 200 foot cliffs with ropes (or without!) and gearing up in my wetsuit to brave the waves with my mesh scooper in search of the ultimate treasure.
This past Sunday, a group of us were out in force during the king tide at a beach near Santa Cruz, California. The recent storms had taken out massive amounts of sand, and for the first time in 2 (long) years, there was the possibility of finding sea glass. Digging huge holes near the edge of the tide was our strategy that day, and unbelievably, the find of a lifetime was made! Here’s the top and bottom views of my new baby (Thanks, Jeff!) photographed by Bev Jacquemet, friend and author of The Sea Glass Rush. (This is a fabulous book if you’re interested in sea glass, and it features finds from northern California.)
Not only does this piece have an amazing amalgamation of colors, but it’s huge in the realm of sea glass. To give you an idea of how large it is, here’s a couple photos of it in my hand. (which I snapped myself)
There are very few places in the world where you can find “multis,” which are pieces of sea glass with more than one color in it. You find them near glass factories or glass artists’ studios, where they used to throw their scraps in the sea. One of the most famous places, which is on my bucket list to visit, is Seaham, England. Their multis are called “end of day” glass, as that’s the trash they dumped into the ocean after their long work day.
Even the smallest multi is a gem in its own way, with its striations and depth. Bev shot this one with some of the smaller pieces Jeff and I dug up.
I could go on and on about sea glass, gems from the ocean, but I’ll leave it at that for today. Many thanks to Bev for her images in this article. If you’re intrigued by her work and want to find out more, then I highly suggest following her on Facebook — it’s a visual delight! You can even e-mail her at [email protected] to order a signed copy of her book.