glassware crystal glassware

What’s the Difference Between Crystal and Glass?

Crystal is a subset of glass. There are three main criteria for crystal as established by the European Union in 1969:

  1. a lead content over 24%,
  2. a density of more than 2.90, and
  3. a reflective index of 1.545.

John Kennedy, head of technical services at Waterford (the world’s foremost purveyor of high-end crystal based in Ireland) sticks strictly to these guidelines for Waterford crystal.

Outside of the EU, however, this definition is usually disregarded. In the United States, any glass with more than 1% lead content is called crystal.

What makes a glass crystal?

crystal glasswareThe term “crystal” often refers to glassware that has a more elegant form than the everyday glassware you use at dinner. You bring out “the crystal” for special occasions. However, that is not an official difference between the two. There is actually no universally agreed-upon definition of crystal (beyond the EU definition), but a general rule is that crystal contains lead.

The lead or other minerals used in crystal strengthen the material, so you can have thin and elegant, yet somewhat durable glassware.

How are crystal and glass glassware made?

Crystals are pure elements with an orderly pattern of atoms, molecules, or ions. Crystals occur naturally, but can also be formed by man though a mechanism of crystal growth called crystallization or solidification.

Technically, the application of the term ‘crystal’ to glass is inaccurate, as glass is an amorphous solid. By definition it lacks a crystalline structure. Yet the term has stuck around and remains popular.

Glassware can be made from many materials, most often sand, soda ash and limestone, which are melted at high temperatures. It can also include potash, zinc or barium. The most recent ingredient used is titanium.

As stated above, only products that are 24% lead or more should be technically be called "lead crystal." Products with less lead oxide or other non-lead metal oxides, should officially go by the names " crystal glass” or “crystallin.” Still, they are all often known as the catch-all name, crystal.

Color, brilliance and strength

The color and brilliance of glass varies, depending on its contents. Glass made with iron tends to have a green tinge, while glass made with soda-lime has an aqua tint. Some people find these shades unattractive, but glasses with a greenish hue are usually stronger.

Crystals generally are light in color and mostly translucent. Some clear crystals reflect light into different colors. When held in the right position, the refraction and dispersion of light from crystal will create a rainbow.

Glass also tends to be stronger than crystal, which is why crystal glassware is often only reserved for special occasions (that, plus it should not be put in a dishwasher). The use of lead in the crystal makes the glass soft and malleable, allowing for the formation of detailed patterns and designs you don’t find in glass glassware.

The high lead content is why crystal “rings” when tapped, and is heavier than normal glassware.  Depending on the structure, patterns and rarity of the crystals, crystal can be much more expensive than glass.

Beyond the table

Companies like Waterford and Swarovski make crystal vases, bowls, picture frames, candlesticks, clocks, jewelry, chandeliers and more. You can almost always find exquisite crystal items at friendly prices at Legacies Upscale Resale.

Used for awards and recognitions because its heft conveys “momentous” and it can be engraved, crystal is often given as wedding, graduation, new baby and hostess gifts for the same reasons. Since crystal items are frequently used only for celebrations, they are often in like-new condition when donated or consigned to Legacies.

Swarovski earrings

Still Popular 129 Years Later: Swarovski Jewelry

Swarovski jewelry was born in 1892 when Daniel Swarovski, the son of an Austrian glasscutter, patented a machine that could cut glass into crystals that were virtually indistinguishable from diamonds.

To make a Swarovski crystal, quartz sand, potash, sodium carbonate and red lead are melted in a stew at high temperatures.

The potash makes it easy to shape the crystals. Then polishing and the Aurora Borealis coating (developed in the 1960s; the process creates rainbow refractions) give the crystals the brilliance of diamonds—without the hefty price tag. The crystals are not as hard as diamonds, however, so you have to be a bit more careful with them.

The company has a patent on the electric glass cutter designed by Daniel, so no other crystals look like Swarovski.

Red Lead and Safety

Some people worry about the red lead Swarovski uses. Lead is toxic, and is banned in many countries. But Swarovski uses lead on the glass, not the metal, so it cannot transfer into skin.

The metal on Swarovski pieces is usually gold- or rhodium-tone plated. Some pieces have a palladium tone, and are coated with a PVD base metal. Swarovski jewelry with a gold tone has a top layer of pale-yellow gold.

Because the materials used are not precious, Swarovski jewelry is not highly-valued per se. But the brand is so highly-regarded, Swarovski pieces are priced higher than those from competitors.

Swarovski uses higher-quality materials, and the process of creating a Swarovski crystal is complicated compared to other glass jewelry. The company’s precision cutting is unmatched in the industry to this day.

Making Sure Your Swarovski is Real

No matter where you buy the jewelry, confirm that the dealer works directly with Swarovski to make sure what you are buying is genuine. Check credentials on the vendor’s website. Authentic Swarovski comes with an official certificate, and the box has a patented Swarovski swan logo.

Absent a certificate and box, there are other ways to verify Swarovski:

  • There shouldn't be any bubbles in the crystals,
  • all facets should meet and point upwards,
  • each crystal should be identical in size and cut,
  • crystals in the same color family should look identical,
  • and there should be no scratches or oily sheens on the faces.

You can also check the seal code on the tag, if there is one. At Legacies, we clean and authenticate every piece of jewelry, ornament and decoration we label “Swarovski.”

Swarovski Cachet

The brand has had some amazing moments. Marlene Dietrich’s 1932 comeback film Blonde Venus brought Swarovski to the attention of the masses. After Dietrich’s costumes and jewelry glittered with crystals in that film, an endless parade of starlets showed up onscreen and on the red carpet wearing Swarovski head to toe.

In 1961, Audrey Hepburn wore Swarovski as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's. A year later, Marilyn Monroe sang “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy wearing a dress dripping with the crystals. (Watch her here).

Brands like Christian Dior, Victoria’s Secret, Christian Louboutin, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and the Royal Canadian Mint have partnered with Swarovski.

There’s always a giant Swarovski crystal on top of the Rockefeller Center’s Christmas tree. And at the 2018 Academy Awards, 45 million Swarovski crystals decorated the stage’s focal set piece.

Buying Secondhand

If well cared for, Swarovski jewelry can last a lifetime. That’s why you can find exquisite vintage Swarovski pieces in great condition at Legacies Resale Shop in Cincinnati’s Hyde Park Plaza.

We sell the following Swarovski items:

  • necklaces
  • pendants
  • bracelets
  • rings
  • earrings
  • watches
  • home accents
  • Christmas ornaments

Our inventory changes frequently, so stop in often to see what Swarovski treasures we have this week!