As a mosaic artist, Italian Smalti is the crème de la crème of traditional mosaic materials. It is an Italian glass still made in Italy (Venice) today and used by the most famous of mosaic artists and in many of the most spectacular mosaics around the world. Smalti is also produced in Mexico and in China but the end products in those countries are not quite as fabulous as their Italian counterparts (in my opinion) – though probably a more cost effective alternative.
In order to produce smalti -sand, soda, stabilizing compounds and coloring agents, are added to the furnace at temperatures of up to 1450º F and then poured out into a press creating round “pizzas” about 15″ in diameter and 3/8″ thick.
Thousands of different colors can be obtained from just a few dozen oxides. A long, heavy spoon is beaten rhythmically on the work surface and the glowing ball of glass is squeezed and flattened into slabs which are slowly annealed (cooled). The molten glass is then poured onto a slab for cooling, and then cut by hand or machine into rectangular pieces. Originally there were some 200-2010 colors but today there are some 15,000 colors.
Smalti is not brittle like stained glass, which breaks easily into small hazardous shards. You can grab handfuls of smalti with your bare hands and not get cut. However the small glass shards are very sharp and can produce deadly projectiles during the process. I have a couple of tiny pieces of blue smalti embedded in my finger which have been there for years.
Always wear protective glasses when cutting smalti. The other potential hazard is dust. Fine airborne dust can be problematic if you intend cutting large quantities of smalti – it is advisable to wear a mask and eye protection, particularly when grinding smalti. The dust created by nippers or hammer and hardie consists of larger particles so the risk is smaller but it is still advisable to wear goggles to protect your eyes from flying pieces.
So what is the difference between Italian and Mexican Smalti. Here’s a video on the difference between the two. Mexican smalti is young by comparison with Italian smalti which goes back as early as 1668. Mexican mosaics have been around since the 1950’s. The production of Mexican smalti came through collaboration between a couple Italian Mosaic masters and a Mexican businessman. There was a huge demand to fabricate murals and other mosaic decoration in Mexico during this time.
Where to source smalti
Di Mosaico is the exclusive distributor of smalti made by Mosaici Donà Murano (MDM). MDM is owned and operated by Stefano Donà, a third-generation glass artisan in Murano, Italy. 291 standard colors.
I buy my smalti from another factory in Venice – Orsoni, Corte dei Vedei, 1045, 30121 Venezia VE, Italy. This is the link to their colour chart: http://trend-group.com/wp-content/uploads/ORSONI-campionario-cmpleto.pdf
Other sites for smalti supplies:
Mexican mosaics: http://mosaicosvenecianosdemexico.com/ (website in Spanish)
http://www.thecraftkit.com/smalti/perdomo-mexican-smalti.html (based in the Netherlands stocks a huge supply of mosaic material and a smaller supply of smalti)
Chinese mosaics: Beijing Bilanxuan Tech.&Trade Co.Ltd.
ADD: Xi Hong Men, Da Xing District Beijing China
Tel: 0086 10 60242439, Website: http://www.stonecontact.com/products-115947/dynasty-smalti-glass-mosaic (CH)
Feel free to send me other sites and I’ll add them to this list.
Happy – Arting!