Art meets fashion with the help of nature

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Jenna Perfetti makes jewelry from sea glass she finds on the beach.  title= src=   Sea glass jewelry maker was a collector first

When Jenna Perfetti hits the beach, she doesn’t go just to work on her tan. She combs the sand for a hint of sparkle, a touch of cobalt blue, or a spark of deep red.

Perfetti started collecting sea glass with her husband, Adam, who had scavenged local beaches for glass throughout his life as a surfer growing up in Margate. Now, searching for sea glass has become a family affair, as they do it with their two sons.

Around their home, Perfetti has displayed the best of their collection. Glass vases filled to the brim with seafoam, turquoise and lavender glass sit on windowsills and bookshelves, and serve as centerpieces on her dining room table.

In a few white boxes and clear storage containers, she has put aside pieces that evoke special memories.

“In my special collection, I can tell you when and what beach I found each of those pieces,” said the collector, who has parlayed her hobby into a jewelry-making business.

According to Perfetti, two things are needed to transform a piece of glass into sea glass. The first is water with a slightly acidic pH level, which gives the glass its frosted finish, and the second is years of ocean tumbling, which smoothes the edges.

“It takes about 40 years for glass to become jewelry-quality sea glass,” she said.

Naturally occurring sea glass has small pits and etchings on it that are absent from glass that has been put through a mechanical tumbler, she said.

Perfetti said she has collected thousands of pieces of sea glass, and certain pieces have become more difficult to find.

“The first reason for that is recycling,” Perfetti said. With so many regulations on recycling, less glass finds its way into the ocean.

“It used to be that if something was broken, it was thrown off a ship,” Perfetti said.

A second reason is beach replenishment, which has occurred on many area beaches.

Replenishment projects physically change the land, which affects how the currents drop glass, shells and other items onto the beach.

“It really tends to affect things,” she said. “We all have our favorite spots. Some of mine have drifted three or four blocks away.”
Perfetti keeps a keen eye out for jewelry-quality pieces of glass, particularly rare colors and shapes, to make into earrings, bracelets and necklaces.
“Green – what I call Heineken or Rolling Rock green – is one of the most common colors,” Perfetti said.

Clear and brown glass are also common. Seafoam green and cobalt blue are rarer, while reds and oranges are the luckiest finds, she said.
“To make red glass, a chemical composition of gold dust was used,” Perfetti said. Obviously, that’s not very cost-effective.”

Hence, red glass was produced less frequently, for specialty items such as perfume bottles, oil lamps and nautical lights, she said.

Among the thousands of pieces of glass around her home, she has just a small handful of red glass and will not use her own red glass when making jewelry to sell.
“If you ever find a piece of red sea glass, you should do the happy dance,” she said.

Lavender glass is from tonic or bitters bottles, while grey is most likely from decorative pieces, like vases.

Some sea glass, such as glass that came from shards of Depression or Vaseline glass from the 1930s, was made with a uranium derivative, so it glows under a black light.   

Most seafoam colored glass likely came from Coke bottles, she said is because of Coke bottling plants in the area near Cape May County beaches.

Perfetti said that winter is the best time to look for sea glass because the beaches are raked daily in the summer to keep them clean for sunbathers. Also, the tides are lower in the winter, which gives those looking for beach glass more area to search.

“In the winter, I’m out there with a thermos of hot water and an ice pick,” Perfetti said.

She suggested looking around jetties because currents will frequently drop there. A pile of rock or shell on the beach is also a good place to look, because that is an indicator that the current is dropping in that area.

Back bay areas are also a good place to look, she added.

After collecting glass for so many years, creating jewelry with it was a natural progression, said Perfetti, who studied fine arts and oil painting at Richard Stockton College, then switched her major and graduated with a degree in business.

“Mostly, the business grew out of gifts I had made,” she said.

Perfitti’s pieces are made with sterling silver, semiprecious stones, silk and leather, and she said she never treats her sea glass before setting it in a piece of jewelry.

“How it’s going in is exactly how I found it,” she said.

Her pieces are sold exclusively at Moonstruck Boutique’s two locations, 271 21st St. in Avalon and 503 Lafayette St. in Cape May. She does custom orders for jewelry through her website, 

Jenna Perfetti finds thousands of pieces of sea glass on local beaches. Jenna Perfetti finds thousands of pieces of sea glass on local beaches. Sea glass, freshwater pearl and bead necklace. Sea glass, freshwater pearl and bead necklace.

Glass needs to be tumbled for years in salt water with a slightly acidic pH to obtain the smooth surface of sea glass. Glass needs to be tumbled for years in salt water with a slightly acidic pH to obtain the smooth surface of sea glass.



Photos by Christie Rotondo

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