Glassblowing in Venice dates all the way back to the 8th century. The art of glassblowing was tightly connected to the Medieval alchemical tradition — the belief that through the science of chemistry, base materials could be turned into gold and into creating "The Philosopher's Stone", a material that would grant its user eternal life. Venetian glassblowers were moved out of the city proper to the island of Murano (a short boat ride off the coast of Venice) in the 13th century, because of the extreme fire hazard posed by the furnaces.
The secrets of Venetian glassblowing were zealously guarded, as state secrets, from falling into outside hands — once a person became apprenticed in the glassblowing trade, he was by law never again allowed to leave Murano. Those caught trying to leave were put to death. It wasn't until the late 16th century that comparable glassworks began to surface in Bavaria and Spain, and in England in the 17th century, under artisans who had defected from Murano.
The tradition of Venetian, or Murano, glass is still very much alive and tourists are able to visit the dozens of artisan workshops. Anything that can be made from glass can be found on the island. The most popular works of art are jewelry, stemware, and lamps. Prices on the most extraordinary creations soar to astronomical amounts. The first time I visited Murano, I was a college student, so you can just imagine how much glass I bought — very, very little.
Times have changed thanks to the Internet. You don't have to be Croesus and afford a plane ticket, nor do you have to pay exactly what you'd pay in a store as a tourist. Stores like Forzieri and Vivre negotiate with the glasshouses, buying in large lots, so that online shoppers will actually pay the equivalent or less than if they themselves were in Murano. Nothing beats the experience of standing by the lagoon in Murano, walking into the glass shops and breathing in the history that the island emanates. But in the absence of a jaunt to Italy, one can own still own an artigianale piece of Murano magic.
Forzieri has hundreds of unique Murano glass necklaces, pendants, bracelets, earrings, and watches:
Vivre carries these gorgeous Murano tumblers: