Mysterious Tools from the Past, Storm Glasses Enhance Home Decor

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Storm glasses made with beautiful glass bottles and colored liquids look fantastic when lit up.

Fluffy white crystals settle in a liquid medium, changing shapes from day to day. Storm glasses, or weather glasses, look so beautiful that they are becoming popular curios for home decor.

Storm glasses were considered weather forecasting tools in Europe in the 19th century. It is said that seamen in those days predicted weather from the shape of crystals in a storm glass aboard their ships during voyages.

The liquid inside a storm glass is a solution of various chemicals, including camphor, potassium nitrate and ammonium chloride. Depending on temperature changes and other factors, the substances in the solution crystalize and take on various evocative shapes, such as leaf veins and snowflakes. But the relationships between the shapes and weather are not clearly known, such as what kind of shape appears under what kind of conditions.

Yuri Yamada holds storm glass workshops in Tokyo.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The white crystals in a storm glass change shape according to the weather.

“One of the charms of storm glasses is that they are very mysterious. You can experience the wonder of science at home,” Yamada said.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Yuri Yamada

Yamada, a Tokyo native, has enjoyed making things since childhood. She started making storm glasses after she had more free time because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. She now holds workshops for making storm glasses and air fresheners, using the artist name, Santayuri_su, which combines her name, Yuri, with Santa Claus. (Her birthday is Dec. 25.)

Although storm glasses have lots of mysteries, making one is surprisingly simple. Yamada taught me how.

First, dissolve camphor in absolute ethanol, and then mix it with a solution of potassium chloride and ammonium nitrate. White crystals will form within the liquid mixture. Place the container in a bowl of hot water and stir the mixture. Pour the liquid into an empty bottle or other container and seal it, and you have a storm glass.

Caution is required because some of the chemicals can be dangerous depending on their treatment. Children and beginners are advised to participate in a workshop for amateurs rather than mixing chemicals on their own.

“If you change the amount of chemicals, the crystals form differently. It’s fun to engage in trial and error,” Yamada said.

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Storm glasses made with a single-flower vase, right, and small perfume bottles

You can also color the solution by mixing in alcohol ink before putting it in a bottle. If you light up the solution, the crystals look even more fantastic.

To add color, mix in alcohol ink before putting the solution in a bottle.

Yamada recommends your home’s entrance hall and toilet as ideal spots to display a storm glass because more beautiful crystals appear in a place where there are big temperature changes within a day. It is also fun to observe the changes in the crystals by putting a storm glass in a place in plain view.

“Even on an extremely cold winter morning, it blows away the gloom. It’s interesting to [try to] predict weather from the shape of the crystals,” Yamada said.

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Mixing two solutions for a storm glass produces white crystals.

Bottle shapes matter

A storm glass can be made with any glass container, even an empty jam jar. But be choosy about the shape of the container if you want to enjoy it as an interior decoration.

Yamada’s recommendations are perfume bottles from Egypt, which look gorgeous with golden rims and delicate patterns painted on the bodies. They come in various shapes, such as lamps, elephants, camels and so on. It is fun just to look for them. They can be purchased through online shopping sites, according to Yamada.

Storm glasses can be made with home decoration items as well. Pour the solution into a wall-hanging, single-flower vase and seal the vase by gluing a glass marble on top. Voila — you can have an unusual storm glass to hang by a window.

“How about making your own favorite storm glass?” Yamada said.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Storm glasses made with Egyptian perfume bottles