Gold has many artisanal uses, such as gilding and jewelry. These techniques are still widely used today, but others are more antique – such as gold glass.
Unlike cranberry glass, which uses gold oxides, gold glass combines glass and gold in such a way that the gold is kept intact. The first step is to create the base, which is made by cutting the flat bottom from a blown sphere of glass. Next, gold leaf is carefully glued to the glass base using gum arabic. Once it sets, the artisan creates a design by scraping away the gold leaf (which certainly creates lots of gold shavings). To finish the pieces and preserve the design, another piece of glass is placed on top and fused to the base.
Gold glass pieces were very popular in the late Roman Empire. The top piece of glass usually functioned as a cup or bowl, but these types of antiques are very rare. What typically happened was that gold glass would be received as a gift for a wedding or christening. When the receiver died, the cup was cut away and the base was used as a grave marker. Hundreds of tombs were sealed with unique works of gold glass in Roman catacombs.
Most of these gold glass grave markers are on display in museums, with the Vatican Museum maintaining the largest collection. The pieces are quite beautiful, so it’s a shame that this form of metal working seems to have died out… unless some of our friends in the Diamond District can contest otherwise. If you have some samples of gold glass, let us know on one of our social media channels.