From mirrored walls to the compact at the makeup counter, mirrors are actually a type of glass. Since the story of Narcissus, mirrors and vanity have gone together like bouffants and hairspray. However, mirrors aren’t just for admiring yourself—although they’re certainly great for that. They’re also a means of making a space seem bigger, reflecting light and are classic décor items that will never go out of style. The very first mirrors were pools of water, but soon enough humans discovered how to make these contraptions without the risk of drowning.
The earliest manufactured mirrors were in China, where a silver and mercury concoction was used in 500 AD. In the 16th century, Europeans found a way to coat glass with a tin-mercury cocktail, and Venice soon became the hotspot for glass making. It was the hub of mirror production, but it wasn’t for the masses—a mirror was a fine luxury. France’s Saint-Gobain factory also tapped into the luxury market, but German bohemian glass emerged as a cost effective option to balance the playing field.
Glass as we know it today, the silvered glass variety, was invented by Justus von Liebig, a German chemist in 1835. He achieved a relatively affordable result by depositing metallic silver onto glass via a silver nitrate chemical reduction. Soon, manufacturers figured out a way to do this for mass production and the era of affordable mirrors was born. Today, however, silver wet deposition is the go-to method.
Unsurprisingly, today’s mirrors come in many types and each boasts a different process for manufacturing. The end result? A slightly different type of reflection. There are aluminum and low aluminum mirrors. Low aluminum is great for reflecting natural colors and is preferred for art exhibitions. There’s also safety glass mirrors designed to minimize injuries in case of breakage—it’s what you’ll find on shelves, furniture, walls and doors.
Silkscreen printed glass mirrors are created via colored inks and can be customized into a number of patterns, shapes and colors. It’s very durable and lasts more than 20 years, but is reserved for decorative options such as tabletops and chopping boards. Those who really want a luxury item can explore silver glass mirrors, which feature a silver coating and waterproof paints. The reflection is clear, the product is durable and it’s popular in furniture, bathrooms and for décor.
However, keep in mind that most decorative mirrors are handmade so, regardless of the process, the labor of love can demand a higher price. For those who fall in love with a vintage piece or find a treasure while antiquing, glass repair might be an option, but be forewarned: If you refurbish a mirror, it will be the fairest of them all and steal the show.