Originally, rhinestones were sparkling quartz stones (rock crystals) gathered from the Rhine river. The stones were then cut to resemble gemstones. Centuries ago, such pebbles were highly coveted and eventually depleted, inspiring jewelers to create an imitation, aptly named the “rhinestone”. Some great Etsy jewelry artisans who work with rhinestones are featured here –at top right and to the left, Necklace for the Shoulders by Efrat Davidsohn of MyLittleBride, and Crocodile rhinestone charm bracelet by Jayne Lossing of JabberGems.
Around 1775, jewelers Joseph Strasser of Vienna, Austria, and Georg Friedrich of the Alsace region of France both found that you could coat the back side of glass with a metal powder, which acted as a mirror to reflect incoming light. The resulting sparkle closely imitated diamonds. Rhinestones came to be individually handcrafted in this way, which made them available only to the wealthy.
Rhinestones can be used as imitations of diamonds, and some manufacturers even manage to partially reproduce the glistening effect real diamonds have in the sun. Throughout history, the highest quality rhinestones have been made from leaded crystal – in other words, glass to which other ingredients, such as lead, have been added. It has been thought that the higher the lead content, the more brilliant the rhinestone.
In 1892, Daniel Swarovski, son of a Bohemian gem cutter, designed an electric machine that enabled crystal to be cut much more precisely than was previously possible by hand. He then founded a company in Wattens, a small town in the Austrian Alps, setting up a factory where his patented invention could be powered by rivers nearby. Daniel had a vision of creating “a diamond for every woman.” By 1907, his first big hydropowerplant was built; in addition to providing electrical power to the cutting machines and light to the working areas, large areas of Wattens and the neighboring mountain communities received “Swarovski power”. There was also a lot of activity in 1915, when the Preciosa brand was registered in Bohemia, an area rich with centuries of crystal-making tradition. Several artisans had united following World War II, and Preciosa was officially established in 1948.
In 1956, Daniel Swaovski’s grandson, Manfred, introduced the Aurora Borealis, an iridescent coating applied to crystal rhinestones that created a rainbow effect. In collaboration with French fashion designer Christian Dior, the stone was launched into the fashion spotlight, cementing a new era in both industries. In 1995, the Swarovski company opened Kristallwelten (Crystal Worlds) musem, to celebrate 100 years in operation. The large-scale exhibits there have been created by designers from around the world. (See image to the right.)
In 2012, Swarovski introduced Advanced Crystal, a revolutionary crystal recipe that does not add lead, but still has the same brilliant effects.
Today the name 'rhinestone' is used to describe an imitation gemstone made from crystal, glass, or even plastic acrylic. In different parts of the world, it is also called paste, diamante, strass, and crystal. Today, rhinestones are manufactured in Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany and parts of Asia.
If you want to see a universe of rhinestones and crystals and learn more, here are some sites to check out:
If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy Swarovski Crystal Beads.
Until Next Time,