From The Bead Scoop Vol. I Issue 3, Dec 2007
Q. What exactly is a “crystal”?
A. When customers ask, “Do you have crystals?” we have to narrow down the question more specifically because they could be asking for a number of different things. They could be looking for Quartz Crystal gemstones or they could be looking for Swarovski crystal beads. They might want sun-catcher crystals for their window or maybe just faceted beads that look and sparkle like crystal. Obviously, the term “crystal” is used for a lot of things.
The American Heritage Dictionary has six definitions for the word, with references to molecular structure, visual clarity, and semiconductor qualities. Let’s keep it simple and talk just about the crystals you might find in the bead world!
First let’s distinguish between rock crystal and glass. Rock crystal, or Clear Quartz, often grows in a shape commonly called a “crystal point.” This is the crystal that you might see used for “crystal healing” or in the hands of stone enthusiasts. Quartz is often carved into objects (like spheres), it is made into jewelry and is certainly cut into beads as well. A faceted piece of quartz crystal will not throw prisms of light.
Glass crystal, such as Swarovski crystal, is actually a leaded glass, not a true crystal. Technically, the term “crystal” should not be applied to any glass products because they don’t have a crystalline structure. However, after hundreds of years of using the term commercially, it is now a common part of our vocabulary. The addition of lead to glass increases its density and its refractive index. The result is a harder, clearer, and more light-refractive glass. When faceted, this leaded glass is the type that will throw prisms of light like a sun-catcher.
The Austrian manufacturing company Swarovski is not the only group making leaded crystal, although they are the most famous. Crystal components are made in the Czech Republic, in China, in Italy and elsewhere. What sets Swarovski apart is the amount of lead added to their glass and the quality of their cutting. Less expensive products contain less lead and result in a less prismatic display, softer edges on the facets, and are more prone to scratching and dulling on those edges. Swarovski components are also incredibly diverse and extensive and offer the largest and brightest line in the crystal bead business.