by Bina Shaji Kurup
Crystal is a term with dual meanings – one crystal refers to the naturally occurring colorless quartz (also called a semi-precious stone), which is termed as crystal quartz and the other is man-made crystal which is the subject of this article.
Crystal, sparkling with the effervescence of light dancing at its surface and a crystal bead captures this sparkle beautifully, flashing as light strikes its surface. Crystal is a term with dual meanings – one crystal refers to the naturally occurring colorless quartz (also called a semi-precious stone), which is termed as crystal quartz and the other is man-made crystal which is the subject of this article.
Crystal beads few facts
Crystal is mostly glass mixed with lead – the magic ingredient that gives crystal its sparkle. Lead makes the glass heavier and allows the glass to be cut and given facets, making it glint and twinkle – like a diamond. The sparkle of crystal is due to its higher refractory index which refers to the ability of a surface to bend light and the refraction index differs for each gemstone and other reflecting surfaces. Crystal beads reflect light from outside as well as from the inside of the crystal, making light refract more times so the crystal surface appears flash when it is moved even a little. Ordinary glass has a lower refractory index but when lead or lead oxide is added to it the refraction index of the glass increases and gives crystal its spark.
Crystal beads History
Crystal was made for the first time in the late 1600’s by George Ravenscroft and after much trial and error, he discovered the magic ingredient – lead which when added to glass made it stronger, harder, more malleable and of a much better quality than ordinary glass. Thus crystal came into being. It is used to manufacture not only jewellery but also plenty of home décor accessories and crystals decorate clothes too. Crystal beads (called Rhinestones) have been popular even before the Victorian times and were sometimes more expensive than real gemstones. The nobility wore crystal jewellery set in gold and good crystalware was a sign of good breeding. Even today, crystals are synonymous with class and elegance.
Of course, the price of crystal beads is considerably higher than ordinary glass beads but it is a small price to pay for the sparkle and luminescence of authentic crystal beads. Earlier, crystal beads were made manually but after Daniel Swarovski (of the famed Swarovski brand of crystals) created a machine to cut crystal, the company became the most well-known crystal manufacturer in the world. Although Crystal beads are manufactured by several companies throughout the world, the best crystal beads, the most popular and possibly the most expensive are made by Swarovski. And rightly so, since the crystal beads from Swarovski are the most perfect and accurately faceted beads – making every bead dance and shine like a diamond.
The revolutionary machine created by Daniel Swarovski ensures crystal beads are cut or faceted so that each facet is perfect. Each design has different facets, giving beads various shapes. The crystals can be cut, just like diamonds and each crystal bead is an exact duplicate of the other, this is a big advantage for designers who create jewellery and can be assured of uniformity throughout the piece. Computers are used to calculate statistics like the light reflection, slope, and other factors which give the beads their perfection and beauty. Other than Swarovski, Czech machine cut crystal beads and beads from Austria too are of a high quality but flaunting genuine Swarovski crystals makes a classy fashion statement.
How crystal beads are manufactured?
Each manufacturer has a recipe for making crystal and the amount of lead oxide added differs from as low as 10% (Fine Crystal) to more than 25% (Fully leaded crystal). Swarovski mixes almost 34% – making it the heaviest crystal bead. A couple of medium sized crystal beads of Swarovski can often weigh almost one gram. So, the easiest way to identify a genuine crystal bead would be to weigh it and the real crystal beads are sure to be heavier than the fakes.
Dyes or chemicals are added to glass to give crystal its colors and there are beautiful color palettes which make crystal beads look just like real gemstones – Purples to look like Amethysts, Green to match emeralds, yellows, pinks and plenty more. Swarovski especially has replicated actual gemstone colors in crystal beads which look like real gemstones from afar. Crystal beads have several finishes and the prices vary depending on the finish and color and manufacturer of the beads.
Crystals – Buying tips
Some rules to remember while buying crystal beads is to make sure there are no bubbles inside the bead, the bead should be heavy, the rim of the hole should be clean and preferably thin and the bicone area should be more transparent than the rim. Good quality beads should have a uniform color without scratches or patches on the surface and most important, when you turn the crystal beaded piece it should flash and glint as a sure sign of superior crystal beads.
If your crystal jewellery becomes dull, polish it with a soft cloth and avoid using strong detergents, chemicals or hot water to clean your crystal beaded jewellery. Store your crystal jewellery separately and remember it is after all glass and can break if dropped or treated harshly. Crystal beaded jewellery is for occasional use and extreme heat, body sprays, perfumes etc can damage the delicate crystal.
Crystal beads add a touch of panache to any piece of jewellery, so go out and buy yourself some shining, glinting pieces of glass which will flash like diamonds!