Milk glass was first invented in Venice in the 1700s and, despite its name’s suggestion, came in a variety of colors like blue, pink, brown and black. It is referred to as milk glass due to its opaque material, molded and pressed into unique shapes. Originally used to create bowls and other household items, the technique was perfect and customized to make jewelry and it remains an important part of vintage costume jewelry today.
Milk glass gets its opaque and refractive quality through different materials that create the look like bone ash, tin dioxide and arsenic and other ceramic glazes. This really allows it to be affordable and, depending on the material and design, a useful addition to costume jewelry because of its ease of access and variety of design.
Milk glass also had a surge of popularity in the late 1800s as well as American manufacturers started reusing the technique. Its function seemed boundless because of the innate ability to customize it and blow it into any unique shape. Designers could add pictorial representations and other designs to attract wearers. Earrings, with their more stable and translucent look complement casual clothing like t-shirts just as well as dresses and other wear.
It can be difficult to tell if milk glass is genuine because of all the reproductions created in the past half century. Unlike kitchenware – cups and plates and bowls – jewelry doesn’t have the obvious markings and signature patterns that are as known to the laymen. The best way, of course, is to take the jewelry to an appraiser. Still, milk glass produced after the 1950s were generally more mass produced because of popularity so may feature nicer designs, but a cheaper product. In general, the more whiteness that shows, the deeper the color, the better quality and more authentic the piece of jewelry.Many vintage costume milk glass jewelry items can be found in stores still. They feature sweet and small beads of white milk glass often interlaced with other materials. So although milk glass is better known for its use in household items, it still carries a place in jewelry lore.