~ A History of Crystals ~


Antique Crystal Chandelier in Versailles, France

CRYSTALS  ~  LIVING ANTIQUES
Today's Decorative Window Crystals Enjoy a Rich History!

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Indoor light in the mid 1600’s came from wax and tallow candles. The candles were held in wall sconces or chandeliers. Mirrors, shining brass plates, and light-breaking rock crystals (quartz) from the earth were used in these candle holders to spread and reflect the light. Rock crystal was rare, brittle, hard to work with, and very expensive. Pressed glass pieces entered into use, but these were dull because they lacked qualities of refraction. The glass was also brittle and could not be cut and shaped like rock crystal. A substitute was sought.

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In 1676 an English glassmaker, George Ravenscroft, developed “a new sort of crystalline glass resembling rock crystal”. Lead oxide was added to the glass during its manufacture, and this made the material soft and highly refractive. This new material was easier to cut and was even more refractive than rock crystal. The newly created Lead Glass had what was called “FIRE”. When used in chandeliers with candles, it was absolutely brilliant! Though this was a new idea at the time in Europe, the use of lead oxide to enhance the brilliance of glass was known in Mesopotamia in ancient times.

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“Cutting” glass into desirable shapes and creating facets involves pressing the completed glass object against a swiftly rotating iron or stone wheel. This cuts grooves with sharply angled sides into the glass. The effect of the grooves and other cuts, or facets, is to greatly increase the sparkle of the glass by adding more light-reflecting surfaces. The new lead crystal was used to make chandeliers in the 17th to 19th centuries.

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The advent of more effective light sources such as paraffin and electric incandescent lamps reduced the functionality of the crystal chandelier. It was propelled to a new standing as a decoration unto itself, even when unlit. Demand grew for chandeliers as luxury objects and gave rise to the complex designs seen today in mansions and palaces.

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In the late 1800’s Daniel SWAROVSKI of Austria began a career in stone cutting and crystal manufacture. Inspired by our own Thomas Edison after a trip to a World's Fair, Swarovski patented a machine to cut jewelry stones to perfection. He expanded the use of this technology to include cutting crystal chandelier pieces. He perfected the purity of leaded glass crystal to a state of flawless brilliance.

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The Swarovski company is still thriving today, and is the world's leader in optically pure, exquisitely cut crystal prisms. The Swarovski company keeps the tradition of beautiful crystal alive and proudly continues to produce gems and crystal for the world to enjoy. In 1976 the first Swarovski Silver Crystal figurine, a mouse, was created, leading to a line of crystal figures well loved by crystal collectors around the world. The "Silver" crystal was so named because of the lovely brilliant silvery sheen the crystal has. Crystal chandelier pieces, known to us as beautiful rainbow-making window ornaments, are made of the same “silver” crystal as the fine figurines. They are now available as single items, instead of in chandeliers, so that everyone can enjoy the beautiful brilliance of crystal and the refraction of sunlight into the colors of the rainbow. If you don’t have a mansion with room for a crystal chandelier, you can still enjoy the romantic, silvery brilliance of fine cut lead crystal and the “FIRE” in the crystal that breaks and disperses light and makes Rainbows!

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Antique Crystal Chandelier in Versailles, France