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Dichroic glass, also called fusion glass, is glass treated with various metal oxides to make it appear to have many colors. Developed for use in the American space program, dichroic glass is now popular as a jewelry and art material. The name comes from a Greek word meaning “two colors.”
In the 20th century, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) began experimenting with treated glass to make astronaut face-plates that would block harmful spectrums of light. The developed process created dichroic glass, which uses fine layers of metal oxides to fracture and separate lightwaves. The resulting substance is used on a variety of objects, such as satellite mirrors and scientific instruments. It is also found on commercial products such as mirrors and camcorder lenses.
To make dichroic glass, the glass must be sprayed with micro-layers of metals, usually including titanium, chromium, gold, zirconium, and aluminum. This is conducted in a vacuum chamber, which evaporates the metals and fuses them to the glass in extremely thin layers. The fusion process creates a crystalline structure on the glass, which causes light to fracture. Each piece of dichroic glass has at least three colors: the color that reflects from the glass, the color of the glass, and a second refracted color that can be seen at a 45 degree angle. The process requires special equipment, and can be quite expensive to produce.
Treating the glass in this manner is somewhat similar to the Italian process of making Murano glass. This process has been used in Italian styles of jewelry and ornamentation for hundreds of years, and also employs metal oxides to create color and alter translucency. With Murano glass, the metal elements are added to a super-heated silicate just before it hardens, interweaving the colors and refractions with the actual glass. Because of the mixing process, Murano glass often appears to be multiple shades of one color, rather than the iridescent or rainbow colors apparent in dichroic glass.
In jewelry, dichroic glass is often formed into beads. In order to do this, the dichroic layer of glass is fired in a kiln with other layers of glass that encase it. Depending on the effect desired, the glass can be fired many times at a variety of settings, adding more layers if necessary. Dichroic glass beads are colorful and can be made in a variety of different shades, depending on the type of metals used in the vacuum process.
You can find dichroic jewelry in any color of the rainbow, available at jewelry stores and online shops. Because the process is costly, a single pendant or large bead may seem comparatively expensive for glass. Individual beads are available for approximately $20 US Dollars (USD) and up, while bracelets and necklaces comprised of the beads begin at around $70 USD. Earrings, which are usually rectangular or triangular in shape, can be found for about $18 USD.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is dichroic glass and how is it made?
Dichroic glass is a multi-layered glass that reflects different colors through the use of thin metallic oxides like titanium, silicon, and magnesium. These oxides are vaporized with an electron beam in a vacuum chamber and then applied to the glass in layers that are only a few micrometers thick. This process, known as thin-film physics, creates a glass that can transmit one color while reflecting others, resulting in a distinctive appearance that changes depending on the angle of view.
What are the common uses of dichroic glass?
Dichroic glass is popular in various applications due to its unique optical properties. It is frequently used in jewelry making, where its iridescent effect adds a dynamic visual appeal. Additionally, it's utilized in the architectural field for decorative elements like tiles and windows, as well as in the production of certain optical devices. Artists and designers also incorporate dichroic glass into sculptures and glass art to exploit its vibrant color shifts.
Can dichroic glass fade or change color over time?
One of the remarkable features of dichroic glass is its durability in color and brilliance. The color in dichroic glass is not a surface coating but is embedded within the glass layers, making it highly resistant to fading. According to the Bullseye Glass Co., a leading manufacturer of art glass, the color should remain stable over time, ensuring that pieces made with dichroic glass maintain their vibrancy and appeal for many years.
Is dichroic glass safe to wear as jewelry?
Yes, dichroic glass is safe to wear as jewelry. The process of creating dichroic glass involves permanently bonding the metallic layers to the glass, so there is no risk of the coating peeling off or coming into contact with the skin. Moreover, the glass used is typically compatible with the human body, similar to other types of glass jewelry. However, as with any jewelry, it's important to ensure that the edges are properly finished to avoid sharpness.
How do you care for and clean dichroic glass?
Caring for dichroic glass is relatively simple. To clean it, you can use a soft, lint-free cloth with a small amount of glass cleaner or mild soap and water to gently wipe the surface. It's important to avoid abrasive cleaners or rough materials that could scratch the glass. When not in use, store your dichroic glass pieces in a soft pouch or a separate compartment to prevent them from rubbing against other jewelry and potentially getting scratched.