Have you ever thought that some lighting fixtures seem like works of art? Many times, it is due to their one-of-the-kind look, with glass created using centuries-old artisan techniques passed down for generations.
The Early Beginnings of Glass Making
There’s some debate about when glass making originally began. Its history can be traced back to ancient Mesopotamians in Asia, around 3500 BC. However, newer archeological discoveries have shown that the complex craft of making glass may have originated around the same time in Egypt. The earliest known glass objects were beads, made by a process similar to glazing.
When the glass blow pipe was invented around 30 BC, it completely transformed the craft. With it, artisans could manipulate glass into various silhouettes and sizes, creating anything from vases and dishes to pitchers and bottles.
One of the most common types of glass used in lighting is mouth-blown–or free-blown–glass. Done by a glassblower, also known as a gaffer or glassmith, he or she begins the process by making a mix of raw materials, such as silica (a natural substance made from sand), lime and recycled clear glass. This mix is then placed in a melting furnace that has a temperature upwards of 2200° F. When the glass becomes a thick, red hot liquid, it’s gathered on the end of a steel blowpipe into a rounded mass called a “glob.”
Next, a team of gaffers work together in constant motion to create each unique, one-of-a-kind piece by using a multi-step process consisting of manipulating the glass with tools, adding color and design textures, and blowing short puffs of air with the blowpipe into the glass until it reaches the desired shape. While the gaffers are manipulating the glass, it’s repeatedly placed in a smaller furnace to keep the substance above 1000° F so it stays malleable. After this, the object is placed into a kiln for hours to slowly cool down, which helps prevent cracking.
Often used hand-in-hand with mouth-blowing, a mold is introduced into the procedure. After completing the same mixing, glob gathering and decorative techniques, the glassmaker will mouth-blow the hot liquid material into a hinged metal mold. The molds are made in such a way to impart decorative patterns. While this process is considered faster than just mouth-blowing, the artisan will often still go above and beyond and create various textures and designs in each glass object to make them unique.
A cousin to mouth-blowing, lampworking uses a gas torch to melt rods and tubes of clear and colored glass. Once in a molten state, the glass is formed by blowing and shaping with a variety of tools and hand movements. Also known as flameworking or torchworking, this method differs from glassblowing in that glassblowing utilizes a blowpipe to inflate the glob, while lampworking manipulates glass either by the use of tools, gravity, or by blowing directly into the end of a small glass tube.
Examples of Specific Design Techniques
Glass designs from hand-blowing, mouth-blowing and lampworking can be further enhanced by incorporating techniques such as these:
Bubble glass, also called “seeded” glass, is made by forcing compressed air into the molten glass. Single bubbles can also be made into the molten glass with a tool that has rows of spikes to create them in a uniform, even pattern. The Italian name for glass with this regular pattern of bubbles is “bullicante.”
Cased glass, also called “overlay” glass, is done by layering two or more different colors of glass together. The process for producing cased glass objects starts with the glass blower gathering a small amount of one color glass on the end of the blow-pipe, forming a bubble, and re-plunging that bubble into a different colored glass to develop layers. Sometimes, to enhance the design, the top layer is cut back so that the inner layer or layers show through.
Pressed glass is made by pouring thick, liquid glass directly into a steel mold and pressing it down with a manual plunger.
Artisan-Made Glass is Worth It
No matter what kind of glass a lighting fixture has, artisan-made glass is well worth it, as it stands the test of time, and it’s where art meets science to create conversation-worthy pieces. To see the process in action, check out this video showing the creation of the Palestra Pendant:
Founded in 1988, Tech Lighting is the premier choice for premium decorative and architectural lighting because to the discerning customer, it delivers sophisticated modern aesthetics, continual innovation, remarkable detail and unparalleled trust.