Gilding is said to be one of the oldest decorative arts developed by man. It involves working metal leaf, usually gold, on surfaces like wood, metal, ceramics, pottery and glass. Gold has always been one of the avowed symbols of richness, luxury and prosperity, and so people of the ancient times have taken to displaying their wealth by gilding their homes and their possessions.
Gilding takes a different turn when applied to glass art. One of the reasons that gold is highly valued as a metal is because of the luster it possesses. Working it upon the surface of crystal and glass gives it an added clarity and a dazzling shine. This is why gilding glass is sometimes said to be a cross between painting and creating jewelry. The malleability of gold allows it to be formed into any shape the craftsman desires, and the glass on which the gold is worked gives it the illumination of jewelry. Many owners of gilded glass vessels often display their gilded glass treasures with lights to fully emphasize the glass and the gold’s combined sparkle and elegance.
During the classical ages, the Romans gilded their glass vases and vessels by using what is called the sandwich method. In the sandwich method, two glass vessels are created in such a way that one fits perfectly inside the other. The gold is then worked on the inner side of the outer vessel. And afterwards, the vessel that is supposed to go inside the outer vessel is fitted within so that the gilding is layered between the two glass vessels.
Gilding glass vessels is now accomplished using various methods and processes. However, these methods manage to retain the basic principles that make traditional surface gilding work. Gilding glass methods often take on the techniques behind the water gilding process, which gives the gold a bright, mirror-like luminescence, as well as the oil gilding process, which lends the gold a matte look.
Gilding glass also involves working in reverse. The gold leaf is always worked on the inner side of the glass vessel being worked on, and the lettering and design is done in mirror image.