The history of crystal glass is closely tied to the development of the room chandelier. Chandeliers were originally candle holders and were hung from the ceiling to illuminate a room - and reduce the risk of fire.
In the late 17th century a process of casting glass prisms was invented. This glass was easy to produce, relatively cheap, and much easier to work with than real rock crystal that had to be mined and processed. Brand new models of chandeliers were soon being produced that used this glass, which was hand-cut and polished into different shapes and angles to increase candle power light.
Modern chandeliers and ceiling fixtures use crystal glass in much the same way. A crystal chandelier helps create a visual focal point that draws the eye and suggests a romantic, magical intimacy that other types of lighting simply cannot reproduce.
Today, Schonbek chandeliers, James R. Moder chandeliers, Vienna Full Spectrum chandeliers, and others create dazzling new designs in crystal. And crystal is for more than just chandeliers. A new trend in the use of crystal is in table and floor lamps, and in the application of decorative crystal directly to the frame or body of lamps and other fixtures.
Not all crystal is alike, however. There are many different types of crystal glass available today in a wide range of styles, cuts and price points. Here's a quick run-down:
The finest crystal in the world, Strass is manufactured by Swarovski AG in the Austrian Alps using a generations old secret process. It is generally machine cut and then machine polished to achieve perfect optic clarity, razor sharp faceting and unique purity and brilliance. An invisible optical coating is applied to Strass crystal glass, making it easier to clean and maintain. And to protect buyers against imitations, the Strass logo is laser etched in miniature inside each crystal piece.
Swarovski crystal glass is manufactured by Swarovski AG exactly like Strass crystal, but without an optical coating. Generally less expensive than other Swarovski crystal, Spectra crystal is offered only in limited sizes and shapes compared with Strass crystal.
Gemcut crystal is first quality, machine cut crystal glass of a clarity and flawlessness far beyond industry standards. Though not as good as Strass or Swarovski crystal, gemcut is characterized by a prismatic brilliance, visual purity, sharp faceting and precise polishing all its own.
The methods of producing this type of crystal date back centuries. In a labor intensive process, crystal is first cut by hand in two stages on iron and then sandstone grinding wheels. Then each crystal is polished on a wood wheel with marble dust. You may notice faint traces of the wood wheel in finished pieces, a mark of authenticity.
This crystal comes from the historic glass-making region around Venice and has a look and feel all its own. Venetian crystal is molded and fire-polished rather than hand or machine cut, resulting in a beautifully subtle luminosity. It is modestly priced, compared with cut crystal.
Mass produced, this entry level crystal is modestly priced. It is cut and polished like more expensive grades, but lacks the high optic quality and precision facets. A good bet for consumers looking for high value and more for less.
Not real crystal glass at all, rock crystal is just that - crystal rock that is mined, not manufactured. It cannot be mass produced. Each rock crystal is completely unique, created by geological events and pressures taking place over millions of years. Authentic rock crystal bears a unique mark from this process, and can be identified both by visual appearance and by touch - it remains mysteriously cool to the touch no matter what the surrounding temperature.
Raw quartz is mined in only a few remote locations. Rocks are hand selected, then ground, cut and polished entirely by hand - a laborious process. Polishing one piece can take a week or more because of the natural complexity of the rock material, and the rejection rate for imperfect pieces can be 12 to 1 or more. Used extensively until crystal glass manufacturing methods were invented, rock crystal is generally seen today in specialty lighting fixtures and custom designs.
Contact us or visit a LAMPS PLUS store near you for help with crystal glass. Our American Lighting Association trained experts will be happy to help!