A few tidbits about rhinestones and Swarovski crystals

Out shopping for prom dresses with my daughter today, I noticed there was a lot of rhinestone and Swarovski crystal jewelry for sale.  Faceted like gemstones, these faux gems sparkled from necklaces, tiaras, and other settings to tempt passers by.  It made me curious about the composition of these prolific pretties.

Swarovski crystal is a brand name of Swarovski AG, a company based in Austria.  Daniel Swarovski, one of the original founders, patented a machine to precision cut crystal stones in 1892[1].  “The characteristics of Swarovski crystals are unparalleled in both style and substance. Not only are their cuts distinct, but the assorted colors and shapes cover a broad spectrum. The brilliant sparkle of each crystal is actually resulted from a glass composition containing 32 percent lead.”[2]  The faceted glass Swarovski crystals are even sold in fine jewelry stores alongside diamonds, sapphires, and other gemstones.  These glass gems have a Mohs hardness of 6-7, which is harder than typical glass but still somewhat susceptible to chipping and scratches.

Rhinestones, used to simulate diamonds, can be made of paste, glass, or acrylic.  “Rhinestones were so named because they were first made along the Rhine River of a composition known as strass, which was a vitreous or glasslike paste invented by and named after Joseph Strasser, a German jeweler. The- original rhinestones consisted of a. silicate of potassium and lead, combined with borax, alumina and white arsenic.”[3]

Cleaning rhinestone or Swarovski crystals is best done with a soft, dry cloth (like a chamois cloth).  As some of the crystals may have a coating, you will want to rub gently so the coating is not damaged during the cleaning process.

[1]  http://www.crystalfanaticsclub.com/about_swarovski.php

[2] http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-a-swarovski-crystal.htm

[3] http://www.4information.com/trivia/what-are-rhinestones/

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