Glass is vitally important for countless applications across dozens of industries. A more fanciful use for glass is to shape it into a Christmas ornament. While plastic ornaments are praised for their shatterproof qualities, many people think Christmas trees look best with the glitter and glow of authentic glass ornaments. If you’ve ever wondered how glass Christmas ornaments are made, here’s your chance to find out.
History of Glass Ornaments
Glass ornaments first made their commercial appearance in the 1840s. They were invented by a German glassmaker who needed to improvise because he couldn’t afford the typical Christmas tree decorations of the time: nuts and candy.
Of course, delicate ornaments are a staple on most Christmas trees today. The process has been modernized with the help of factories, powerful Bunsen burners and conveyer belts, but glass ornaments are still hand-blown, dipped and painted just like they were more than 150 years ago.
How Glass Bobble Ornaments are Made
For a basic bobble ornament, a glassmaker heats up the wide end of a glass cylinder until it softens. Then he blows into the pipe end of the glass cylinder, spinning it around and blowing air inside to stretch the hot, supple glass until it resemble a bubble.
After cooling, the ornament receives its shine, which is done from the inside. Silvering solution is poured into the ornament through the stem. A dip in warm water activates the silvering chemicals, and swirling the solution around completely coats the inside.
Coloring the ornament comes next. This involves dipping the ornament in lacquer of the desired color. The finish applied to the inside shines through, giving the ornament a mirror-like luster.
After the lacquer dries, an artist makes an incision on the stem still remaining from the blowing process and snaps it off. He fits a cap on the ornament stub where the hook will go. The fragile ornament is packed carefully together with others in a partitioned box so they reach their destination safely.
How Glass Figurine Ornaments are Made
A designer makes a sketch of an ornament he wants to design, followed by a plaster model. He uses the model to make a reusable two-part metal mold.
Next, a glassmaker heats up a special type of glass cylinder, which is bulbous in the center instead of at one end. He blows it into a more elongated bubble until it’s ready to fit into the mold. Quickly, he transfers the elongated bubble into one half of the mold. The top half of the mold presses down as the glassmaker blows extra hard. The glass expands and fills in the crevices of the mold, making a beautifully shaped glass ornament.
The glassmaker then burns off one of the blow pipe ends and adds extra small details to the ornament, such as a carrot nose on a snowman or buttons on a gingerbread man’s suit. A less intense flame gradually cools the ornament so the glass doesn’t shatter.
Adding a shine to a figurine ornament is the same process as shining up a bobble ornament, but adding the color is more complicated. A figurine ornament may receive a white lacquer base, but then an artist airbrushes and paints details by hand. Glitter is common on figurine ornaments, which is achieved by painting glue in strategic places and dipping the ornament in a vat of glitter. The artist removes the stem and caps the ornament before it’s packed up and shipped off.
We hope this history of glass Christmas ornaments gives you a special appreciation for the hard work that goes into each one!