Watercolors Sea Glass

Many of our customers are interested in finding out how our Watercolors sea glass beads are actually made. There are some variations, but most of the beads, like our freeforms, tusks, pebbles and barrel nuggets, are made with the following process.  Remember I've only visited the factories that do the cutting, drilling and stringing and have not been to the actual glass smelting factories.  So we don't know the whole story behind our sea glass beads, but this is most of the story.

We all know the story of "natural" sea glass and why it's so magical: bottles and trash thrown out over the course of hundreds of years are broken down by the wind, waves and sand; becoming beautifully smooth pieces of real sea glass.

Unfortunately, every piece of sea glass is different and good luck trying to find a bunch of them to match colors!  After searching beaches in futility for our sea glass, we decided to take matters in our own hands and make the beads ourselves.  The next problem with color limitations - if we used real bottles, we were limited to only a few colors and that would not allow us to give a wide product variety.  

Thus begins the journey our sea glass beads take from being lumps of glass to the beads on your neck!

These are the blocks of aqua/blue glass at the materials factory.  Each block ranges from 10 kgs to over 80 kgs in size and could yield about 1000 beads.  

These are the strawberry quartz blocks.  Nice patterns but they may have lots of air bubbles, so the factory bosses have to pick the best pcs based on their experience.  Here Mr. Wang (red) is showing me (green backpack) how to find good blocks to minimize waste.  

Rose quartz by the ton!  Literally.  You don't have to worry about theft when the blocks are the size of small boulders.

Mr. Wang showing me how the glass thickness greatly affects the final color.  Those thick pieces have a much darker hue than the smaller ones, so you have to be careful when matching up samples.  Notice the lavender quartz glass int he back.  Some of the glass blocks have a "skin" of different coloration.  

Another variety of the glass is a small brick form.  These come in more colors and are easier to cut since they  aren't so huge.  But they vary greatly in color and between batches, so it causes problem when we re-order something.  These boxes are about 100 lbs each (45+ kgs) and you have to buy a box at a time, so smaller orders cannot be processed without wasting a lot of extra blocks. 

Here Mr. Wang is showing me the maximum thickness and depth a bead can be since the outside layers of the glass may not be used due to micro-fractures and surface imperfections.  Now we know why all these things are happening and why our orders have so many revisions!

Extra blocks of glass left over from previous orders.  If the order doesn't take an entire box, they just leave them for the next time!  Really starts to pile up after years of cutting different colors of sea glass.  

First the blocks are cut like tofu blocks into the approximate shape of the final sea glass bead, but blocky.  Here they are cutting what will transform into our freeform sea glass beads.  

Other, more symmetrical shapes use diamond roller to grind out the shape.  The shape of the groove determines the final shape.  So each tofu block is put into a machine and the grind plate shapes the bead.  Every sea glass bead ...  each bead... every last bead...  one at a time....

Here's the grinding machine in process.  The blue pipes of powerful vacuums to suck up the glass dust.  It was unbelievably loud in the factory and I could hardly think, much less talk with them.  

After they are shaped, they look like smoothed out blocky sea glass beads, not the smooth, pretty items we are used to.  They use baskets to wash out any additional dust and each shape/order is separated.

Each bead is then smoothed out with a grind stone by hand.  Here a worker is grinding down the edges of the blocks so that the sea glass beads have that distinctive freeform shape.  Some edges are ground heavier, others are left pretty much straight.  It's a skill to learn how much to do to make it look "natural" except they are doing this on thousands of them a day.  

Then comes the drilling.  These are ultrasonic drills that do not penetrate the skin.  I held my hand under it and it felt like an electric toothbrush.  But if you put a bead or something dense up against it, it punches a perfect 1.3mm hole (that's why she's not wearing any gloves)  There are two streams of water to lubricate and cool the drill bit and also to keep the dust down.  

For round beads, they are sifted through these plates incrementally until only the smallest ones are left.  

The last step is a tumbling machine.  It depends on how smooth the items need to be, but for our sea glass beads, it takes up to 7 days (and nights) of constant jaw shrieking tumbling for the beads to come out just right.  Each tumbler needs at least 20 kgs of material or else the beads don't roll over at the correct rate.  Here are some round beads, nuggets and other shapes all tumbling together.  There are also some bits and pcs of other stones and glass to act as abrasives.  That gives the tumbler a bit of polishing as well as just wearing the beads down.  

The beads are then washed and sorted by hand, strung into strands and tied into hanks.  Our purchasers in China then check these sea glass beads very carefully during the QC stages and ship them to us.  Overall, for every kilogram of raw glass material used to make our sea glass, more than half of it is either ground off or cut out.  Based on our best estimates, at least 30 people have to touch each bead before it gets to the final customer (you or your customer).  It's an incredible journey and makes you appreciate every bead that comes through our product lines.  

See all our gorgeous sea glass beads online here!


  1. Had NO idea so much was involved in making these beads. Very interesting!

  2. Wow! What a process! I've seen some large pieces of sea glass but not that large. That's so amazing & very interesting.