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What is Cut Glass?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Cut glass is glass that has been patterned and faceted with the use of abrasive wheels and various other cutting tools. Many beautiful antique examples can be found in museums, antique shops, and private collections, and several major glass companies continue to produce it today. Cut glass is often used as part of a formal tableware collection, and it is also a common choice for wedding or christening gifts.

Humans have been making glass for thousands of years, but it was the Romans who first started to produce cut glass with the use of stone wheels in the first century CE. The techniques used to make it are closely related to the those used to facet and polish gemstones. When glass is cut well, it sparkles and catches the light just like a gem, bouncing the light through a series of facets to create a rich rainbow effect. Cut glass became immensely popular in Europe and North America during the 18th century.

To make cut glass, a piece of glassware is blown into a desired shape, such as a goblet or bowl. Typically, the glass is very thick, to allow plenty of room for cutting deep facets. It may be clear or colored, depending on the personal aesthetic of the artisan. Once the glassware has been created, a pattern is roughly marked out, and then the artisan uses various grades of grinding wheels and cutting tools to cut the pattern out. In addition to being faceted, it can also be marked with decorative cut edges or holes.

As the glass is cut, progressively finer wheels are used so that the surface is polished. When the piece is finished, all of the edges will be smooth, and the corners may be rounded off to prevent cuts. The decorated glass may be patterned with a variety of shapes and facets. Basic geometric themes are common, but it can also be ornamented with flowers or animals. Typically, a piece feels very heavy for its size, because of the thick glass used.

Many department stores have a section of cut glass for people who want to purchase new pieces or sets. Antique stores also often sell an assortment of items, and people can also purchase this style of glassware directly from the manufacturer. It is also possible to order custom made pieces, although it can get expensive.

About Mechanics is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a About Mechanics researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Mor — On Jun 17, 2011

It always amazes me how long ago people were able to do quite complicated tasks.

We take for granted things like cut glass now, although it is still quite expensive.

But, back in the day, it would have been laboriously made with simple tools. Every piece of it made by hand.

Of course, with the modern processes we also lose the ability to get something truly unique and made with love and imagination.

I think it is wonderful that some people are trying to start making things like cut glass from scratch again. Good luck to them.

By indigomoth — On Jun 16, 2011

I really like buying cut glass ornaments for windows.

You know, the "crystals" that are cut into different shapes, although usually a little globe with various numbers of facets.

You hang them in a sunny window and if you get it right they will pour rainbows into the room when the sun strikes them. Usually it only happens when the light is at the right angle, and only for a few minutes each day.

I hang a whole bunch of them in my windows in order to get maximum rainbows.

I also figured out when the morning sun would strike my children's windows and tried to hang them crystals so they could have something to look forward to in the morning.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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