I love wearing white. If you like to accessorize with jewelry as much as I do, you probably would, too. Any color of jewelry you choose to wear always looks great with your outfit. And you can never go wrong with wearing white jewelry because it will complement any color of clothing.
Being a lover and collector of vintage costume jewelry, I am always drawn to jewelry made of milk glass. After owning several pieces including earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and rings, I feel a bit spoiled and presume I will never have a desire to buy any other kind of white jewelry. There is something very special about vintage milk glass that you cannot find in the jewelry that is mass-produced today.
Here is a little sample of my collection:
The Making of Milk Glass
If you are not familiar with milk glass, it is an opaque or translucent milky white or colored glass which has been either blown or pressed into a variety of different shapes. It is composed of 50% or more sand (silica) which is mixed and melted with alkaline solvents along with several other mineral and chemical compounds. After heating and melting it to its ideal temperature and consistency, the mixture forms a “frit” which is poured into a metal mold. It is then sealed and left to cool.
Milk glass has been around for a very long time. It was first made in the 16th century in Venice with colors that included white as well as milky pale blue, pink, yellow, brown, and even black. It was very different from the traditional Venetian glassware which was brightly colored and completely transparent.
During the 19th century, glass makers called the milky white opaque glass “opal glass.” Milk glass workers used arsenic in the glass mixture to create an opalescent hue. The color is the primary way you can determine if a milk glass item is from that earlier time period. Later versions of it in the 20th century have a much deeper pure white hue. It was then that it was given the name “milk glass.”
Uses for Milk Glass
Milk glass rapidly became popular in the late 1800s when it was used to make high-end dinnerware, lamps, vases, and costume jewelry for the wealthy.
American glassware manufacturing companies such as Anchor Hocking and Westmoreland had to adjust to the economy during the Great Depression (1929-1939). So they began mass-producing lower quality milk glass as a cheap substitute for expensive porcelain dinnerware. These dinnerware sets have now become extremely collectible!
In the mid-1900s, costume jewelry designers like Trifari and Miriam Haskell began to incorporate milk glass into their jewelry designs. Haskell often used unique shapes of milk glass rather than the traditional oval or round shape.
It is quite common to find milk glass jewelry with the mark GERMANY or JAPAN. However, not all milk glass vintage jewelry pieces were marked. Designers would often have pieces made for their high-end lines which included their signatures and then had other pieces for the lower price ranges with no markings at all.
Here are a couple of signed 1950s milk glass clip earrings I repurposed into adjustable rings: (top photo- Judy Lee; bottom photo- Weiss)
Milk glass collecting continues to be a popular hobby all over the world. There is actually a National Milk Glass Collectors Society which is a group dedicated to the education, preservation, and collection of both the old and new milk glass, domestic and foreign.
I am personally dedicated to collecting as much vintage milk glass jewelry as I can find. It will never go out of style and because it is white, it goes with everything!
*Four milk glass pieces – photo credit: Pete Unseth
Kimberly Moore is a vintage costume jewelry expert, blogger, speaker, and author of Beauty in a Life Repurposed. To learn more, visit her website at kingdomsparkle.com.
Read more articles in » blog