alchemy in the hot shop: the making of precious cargo

Posted on Categories craft

one of the first alchemists in the world was a woman known as mary the jewess. she was an inventor known for saying “one becomes two, two becomes three, and out of the third comes the one as the fourth.”1 it’s uncanny that mary, who lived almost two thousand years ago, could so accurately describe the glassybaby precious cargo set. one, two, three colors form the set, coming together as a beautiful, singular thing. one, two, three layers of glass are fused together in a glassybaby, and then a special fourth ingredient must be added to create gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

glassblowing is often described as alchemy, for good reasons. the artistic process transforms molten glass into gorgeous colors and shapes — order from chaos. but if you’re talking about the original aim of alchemy, which is to transmute non-precious materials into gold, then the creation of the precious cargo set is as alchemical as glassblowing (or any human process, really) can get.

and like alchemy, the creation of precious cargo isn’t easy. even before they glimmer on your table, the shining glow of these three glassybaby colors is precious. fragile, perishable, handle with care. attaining this shine requires impeccable balance and timing.

 and so the shine-making magic is entrusted to the trimmer, the most experienced glassblower in the hot shop, who finishes each glassybaby into a work of art. the trimmer tugs and snips the lip of the glassybaby to perfect its shape, and then rolls it in a ground glass-and-metal-oxide mix called “frit,” like you’d roll an ice cream cone in sprinkles. next, the trimmer gives the whole thing a quick spin in the “glory hole” furnace, which must be specially tuned for the occasion, to soften the frit into the edge of the glass.

at this point, the metal-oxide in the frit is still metallic, until the moment of truth. it’s shine-or-die. what happens next involves deep focus from the trimmer, oxidative reduction, and a propane blowtorch. afterwards, the frit is more than metallic, it shines like gold.

we would love to describe this shine-or-die moment of truth in more detail, but that’s all we can tell you, here. the heart of alchemical processes are not just ineffable, they must also be mysterious in order to work. however, if you happen to watch our glassblowers at work in our hot shops at the right time, you may get to witness modern alchemy.

view precious cargo


mericos rhodes