Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Crystal in Handmade Jewelry - Part Three: Crystal Versus Glass - Composition

All Swarovski crystal (in
other words, lead glass)
and sterling silver suncatcher
Having taken a look at Crystal Versus Glass - Structure in my most recent post in the series, let's talk here about chemical composition.

First things first - how is it that a 'wine glass' can be 'crystal'?  Didn't I say previously that crystal had an ordered structure and glass did not?  Yes.  Crystal wine glasses aren't crystal.  They are made of glass.  They are made of a specific kind of glass that has had lead added to it to make it more reflective and prismatic.  The use of 'crystal' to describe this substance is historic, coming from Murano glass manufacturing in Venice.  In those days the manufacturers were trying to imitate some of the properties of natural quartz crystal.  This idiom, or convention, has remained.  'Lead glass' is the same as 'lead crystal' is the same as 'the stuff my crystal wine glass is made of.'

This confusion of terms has translated to the bead market, where both glass, lead glass, and synthetic and natural crystal are all used side by side.

So what is it about high quality, expensive 'crystal', like say Waterford, that makes it so desirable?  Regular water glasses, even if nicely etched and cut, do not have the flash and brilliance of, say, Waterford crystal faceted wine glasses.  As I said before, lead has been added to regular 'glass' to make it 'lead crystal'.  Lead increases the index of refraction of regular glass, which means that light going through the material is reflected around more, and also split like a prism.  'Fine cut lead crystal' is a phrase that means a sparkling, fiery wine glass that will look impressive on the dinner table.

Gorgeous trio of designer glass
earrings.  Even the Swarovski crystal
accents are of course glass.
The same is true for beads.  Beads made of standard glass will not have the same flash and brilliance as lead crystal, even if they are the exact same color and cut in the same way.  This does not mean that 'glass' is bad.  Not at all.  Remember, these kinds of 'crystal' beads are in fact glass.  This is simply glass with lead added to it make it sparkly.  Glass is a fantastic substance that makes highly desirable and sought after jewelry.  I adore glass, and am a huge fan of Murano beads, designer lampwork, and glittering dichroic creations.  The point is to know what you are using in your work as a designer, and what you are buying as a consumer.

I'll talk more about why I choose to use various glass and crystal materials in a later post!

Images:  Suncatcher and earrings are our designs, and available in our Etsy store.  Stop by to see these and similar items!

1 comment:

  1. This is all so informative! I'm glad you stand up for regular glass, since I'm a big fan of it. There's nothing like beautiful sparkly lead glass crystal, though. Especially for imbibing. :-)


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