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Monday, March 20, 2023

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China glass: fiction or fake?

Expecting cannabis users to be happy to spend $3,300 on a dab rig may seem like a fool’s errand.

But the “Fabergé Egg” rigs made by Washington-based glassblower Mothership have proved so popular that the rigs are nearly impossible to find – even with an unlimited bankroll and after a long road trip.

After the phenomenal success of Mothership’s ‘Fab’ designs, dozens of imitators have emerged. There is a wave of China-based clone manufacturers looking to solve the supply and demand problem.

But what do you sacrifice when you buy a clone?

Customer satisfaction

A friend recently celebrated a birthday and I wanted to score him a nice hookah at a local store. We went in together and immediately appreciated one of the offers for its simplicity and ease of cleaning. It functioned perfectly and was a great gift. Later I discovered that we had bought a clone made in China from an American glass designer.

Since then I have hit several clones at parties and festivals. To be confusingly blunt, the craftsmanship is both impressive and flawed.

For starters, you get what you pay for. Skewed cold-welded joints, glass bubbles and poor finishing details are just some of the flaws common to these mass-market clones, which nevertheless cost just $25 online — a fraction of what the smoke shops that sell them charge. You won’t get the flame polish and beautiful detail you see on a mothership – but you’ve paid 2 percent of the cost.

There is also a cultural divide. Cannabis is still highly illegal in China, meaning Chinese glassblowers are separate from cannabis culture. I doubt these glassblowers ever used their installations. So they do not understand important aspects such as limitation. This is painfully obvious when you receive a non-functioning piece.

Yet there is a function to be found. Your editor and I ordered two mini fab eggs from the same supplier, via DHGate.com. Same model, but they looked noticeably different. But they both worked, and given the price and design, I’d give the fantastic clone an 8 out of 10. It immediately made me want to test another well-reviewed item, such as the regular Fab or the mini-Torus!

subtract artist

However, it is important to point out that cheap comes with a price. Artists, inventors and factory workers all earn a living. Your local glass blower has a dangerous job that requires expensive equipment. Some of the markup on a mothership is justified. But with legalization in sight, Mothership’s work could continue to rise in price. Meanwhile, the public is proving that a clone without features is in high demand.

I’d like to see Mothership license their process, so as not to trap bong innovation in exclusive or illegal markets. Medical glass art should be there for everyone who needs it; they must not be Veblen goods or require more than a monthly salary.

There is a reliable middle ground. For $200 to $300 or so, you can get most NorCal glass. The rig will be well thought out and made by people who understand cannabis. This is not the case with China, but they are getting a lot of feedback and developing new ones quickly. Among the most popular designs are the Torus Incycler, The Fab Family, FC-710 and the D020.

There are a number of things to watch out for. I wouldn’t buy any ceramic or metal from a Chinese clone maker. Metal alloys can be very nasty. We know these factories will sell you a clone, do you trust them to use the highest quality materials? Stick to clear glass or quartz and pay a little more for American ceramic or metal. Peace of mind – and your health – is worth it.

Expert opinion

I’ve bought over 100 bongs in my life and MacGuyver has had my fair share of Gatorade bottle hacks. I have a fairly extensive knowledge of the subject, but definitely wanted to consult someone in the company.

So I reached out to a dozen artists and a dozen more stores for comment. All but two rejected me.

I won’t mention the name of the San Francisco store that currently appears to be selling a Chinese pipe, but they told me it was American glass with a $200 price tag.

Vapor Smoke Shop on Stockton Street was willing to talk, though, and the crew there were refreshingly honest with me.

The manager didn’t seem surprised that other companies in this area were inaccessible because of the stigma associated with China-made cloning glass: unhealthy materials, wrong weight, cut in every corner.

They had the same quality issues I had (like the inconsistent fab hole spacing) but quickly covered the criticism with a “only for $40?!?” commentary.

What I really wanted to know was if they would sell something like that.

They immediately had legal concerns, soon followed by reputation problems. However, they thought it would fly off the shelf for $100.

As for the “real deal,” the only way the Vapor crew would ever sell a $2,500-$3,000 pipe is if someone asked for it by name, they told me.

Let’s face it – it’s not common for the reefer smoking demographic to have an extra $2500 to blow on glass.

It’s much more common to hear something like, “That $100 bong is sweet, but I could have a quarter and a pack of papers for the same price.”

No problems with small China

You can’t replace the experience or instant gratification of your local headshop, but my experience with China glass was surprisingly wonderful.

These markets offer collectors the opportunity to try exotic designs without the investment or risk. The better sellers have many positive reviews and their work is heavily scrutinized.

Still, it’s important to find a reliable dealer. The quality of the vape/smoke varies greatly between designs and sellers, so start with the most rated merchants: stevenlmz79, kathy0577, cleanclearglass or sunshinestore are a few.

If you’re curious, head over to DHgate.com and see if your next bong will be Made in China.

Disclaimer: I’m not telling you to buy anything. Research your local laws before ordering crazy stuff on the internet.

Photo by mr. Vivid

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