Thursday, February 17, 2011

Crystal in Handmade Jewelry - Part One: More Than One Definition

Quartz crystal point in back, propping
up a rhyolite gemstone flecked with
crystal inclusions
Hello Gemstone Fans:

'Crystal' is a common constituent of handmade jewelry, but the word is very often used in ways that are confusing.  Is the designer talking about the composition of the material, its shape, its clarity, or saying it is a single piece of rock, uncut?  When designers describe their jewelry, sometimes they do not provide enough information to let the buyer know exactly what they are getting.  Unscrupulous sellers may even allow misinterpretations to remain unaddressed, hoping the buyer will think they are getting something of higher quality than what is actually included in the piece.

So to start, I simply want to point out how problematic the word 'crystal' can be.  In the first image above, we see a nicely formed quartz crystal.  Some people would call it a crystal because of the regular geometric shape.  Others might think 'crystal' because it is made of solid quartz.   A geologist might call it a crystal because it is a uncut chunk of a mineral in its natural form, or because its atoms are in a nicely regular matrix, instead of scattered about amorphously.  A geologist would also use the word 'crystals' to describe the granules of different minerals found in the rhyolite.

Crystal martini glass displays a pair
of earrings, each with a crystal
bicone bead on top.

More examples of 'crystal' are in the second image.  For some, the only crystal they are familiar with on a daily basis are cut crystal glasses and bowls used for dining or serving.  For others, the word crystal always means bright, sparkly, glassy looking beads, like those found atop the shells in this pair of earrings.  It may be that the chemical content of the beads isn't at all what they are thinking of, simply their common shapes, colors, and flash.

So with all the different ideas for what a 'crystal' is, or what 'crystal' can mean, there is no surprise that confusion exists.  Stay tuned here for more information about how you can be more informed about what is in your jewelry, and how to make sure you are getting exactly what you want!



  1. That's a really interesting point, I can think of a few other examples from geology like sand or soil, which mean specific things depending if it's a scientific or informal context, and things like clay and spinel, which mean different things even when just speaking scientifically... I wonder if that kind of confusion is found in other fields I'm not as familiar with?

  2. Andy, thank you for reading and commenting! I have no doubt you are right - it is probably the nature of language that we move between shades of definition, and then to formal and informal uses. There are certainly many other terms in jewelry other than 'crystal' that can be ambiguous. Not a problem as long as we all still know what we are talking about!

  3. This is truly fascinating. I've wondered myself many times what "crystal" means in different kinds of jewelry. I think this is great info not only for buyers, but for craftspeople who work with natural stones. I wonder how many jewelry crafters know the many definitions of "crystal!"


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