Pâte de Verre

by Jamie Smedley, Exclusively for Fire Mountain Gems and Beads®

Pâte de verre, meaning paste of glass, is once again emerging as a revived glass working technique from ancient times. This method of turning glass powder into paste and fusing in molds at high heat in a kiln was first discovered in Mesopotamia in the 16th century B.C., for use in jewelry inlays and sculpture, and then improved by ancient Egyptian royalty for intricate mosaics and vessels from 1500-1000 B.C. The Egyptians called it ''stone that flowers'' due to the gemlike quality and light reflection the fused glass displayed.

Later, the Persians took their turn at further refining the process during the fourth and fifth century to produce exquisite vessels up through the first century, A.C. Only after the inception of glass blowing, credited to the Romans, did pâte de verre all but disappear because glass blowing was faster and more economical to produce.

Around the end of the 19th century, the war-starved, art-hungry artisans of France revived this process. Naming it pâte de verre, meaning ''paste of glass'', it became an instant success in high demand during the post-war art deco movement.

Today, designers are enjoying a revival of this time and labor intensive technique to produce glories that would awe ancient royalty with its splendor. The process of cast molding in a kiln with glass paste has many laborious steps. The first step being to combine finely ground glass powders, called frit, with a binding agent and then applying this paste into a mold. It can take many hours to fill a mold if it is large or intricate.

Then the mold is fired in a kiln at melting temperatures, and as the binding agent burns away it leaves only the fused glass behind. After the mold is cool, the piece is removed and gently cleaned to reveal a translucent crystalline glass piece with exquisitely fine detailing and lustrous colors.

This technique is famous for the precision placement of color that pâte de verre allows, as other methods of filling a mold often result in some shifting of the color.

Kiln casting glass can be rewarding and interesting, but it is a complicated method. Modern artists have each developed their own approaches to this type of kiln casting, for there is, after all, no single "right way." This is part of what gives kiln casting its charm and excitement. So, if you are feeling particularly adventurous, try your hand at this ancient glass working method with molded glass in precise color and exacting detail.

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