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Add Glamor To Your Jewelry With Sparkling Crystal

Crystal beads

Crystal, no doubt about it, brings sparkle and glamor to your jewelry. Some so glittering that they can be mistaken for diamonds. They give a hint of class, of fashion and luxury. But although they sparkle like diamonds, they are luckily no where close in price. This makes it possible for you to use crystals freely, to create beautiful, glittering creations, getting some of the glamorous feeling that real diamonds would bring on.

But what is this marvellous stuff? And what makes it so sparkling and glittering?

For thousands of years, all the way back to the great ancient Egypt, glass have been used to make beads. But glass has a flaw, it scratches and breaks easily. It is shiny when bright new, but will be worn out with frequent use. Still it was not until 1673, that someone decided to try to increase the luster and clarity of glass.

The process was brought on due to the high price and low accessibility of natural crystals. Whether it was deliberate or by accident, Georg Ravenscroft found that if he added lead to glass during the melting process, the glass became more sparkling and it also made it harder, heavier and thicker than regular glass. He called the invention leaded-glass and patented it.

It turned out that led-glass also was ideal for cutting and faceting. Lead made the glass less brittle, allowing more complicated cuts than regular glass. Lead also changed the refraction index of the glass, which made it clearer and brighter.

Why lead?:
We all know that lead is not good for our health. But does that mean that you should avoid wearing leaded glass beads? Searching the internet, I have found no warnings about it, but Preciosa – the main producer of crystals in the Czech republic, writes that there are no danger regarding the lead or the other chemicals used in the process of making leaded glass.

There are however regulations as to how much lead glass MUST contain to be called leaded glass. The British standard is the one the world use to classify leaded glass. It states the following:

- Fine crystals must contain between 6-10% lead.
- Lead crystals must contain between 10 -24% lead.
- Full lead crystals must contain 24% or more.

So the standard is about how much lead glass must contain to be called leaded glass, and not an upper limit to how much lead you can use before it becomes a health issue. So, I think we can relax about that, and take it that there are no health issues involved.

But why do they use lead? According to history, several things were added to glass to imitate natural crystal, and lead just happened to be the one that gave the best result. Lead gives the glass a brilliant, silvery appearance that makes it sparkle when faceted or cut. It increases the amount of light reflected in the glass itself and have light bounce off the leaded glass, making it sparkle. The more lead added, the more it sparkles. When cut or faceted, the outside also makes the light refract more times, so true a leaded glass surface appears flashing when moved even a little.

Cheaper beads, like the ones made in China, Taiwan, Japan and India contains less lead than the more expensive Austrian and Czech ones.

Since the discovery of leaded glass, there have been several manufacturers producing it. When Georg Ravenscrofts patent expired, most glass producers started producing lead-glass. Today there are still several producers, but only one stand out as the producer of the finest leaded glass in the world today – Swarovski.

The fairytale of Swarovski started with Daniel Swarovski. He was born in Bohemia in 1862, and was well acquainted with the producing process of leaded glass, working for his father and as an apprentice for Preciosa. An idea started to take shape after he had been to an exhibition and watched Siemen's and Edison's new electrical techniques. He developed a precision glass-cutting machine and patented it. In 1895 he founded the Swarovski company in partnership with his brother in law Franz Weis and Armand Kosman.

Bohemia, at that time part of the Austrian-Hungarian empire, could not provide the energy he needed in order to use his cutting machine, so he moved his business to Wattenberg in Austria's Tyrol. Using as much as up to 35% lead in the glass, Swarovski soon became regarded as producer of the highest quality leaded glass in the world, and still is today.

Swarovski created the now famous Aurora Borealis effect (AB), after he was inspired by the northern light with the same name. This beautiful effect was created in collaboration with Christian Dior. Swarovski has remained in the high fashion starlight, or shall we say crystal-light, and in 1993 the Swarovski company invented a mesh or fabric, where there are more than one million leaded glass beads pr square meter. It became immensely popular within high fashion.

Today Swarovski's leaded glass are sold throughout the world. They are considered to be the finest quality full leaded glass ever produced. Swarovsky have a wide range of beads in lots of shapes, colors and finishes. Each cut with a patented facet pattern. Today computer technology makes it possible to program the cutting-machines, allowing hundreds of cuts, pretty much the same way diamonds are cut, allowing light to reflect brilliantly.

So, now you know that if you want high quality leaded glass beads, you have to buy Swarovskis. But who is producing the second best? Who else than the company where Swarovski worked as an apprentice when young - Preciosa.

Bohemia, now the Czech republic, has a long tradition with making glass beads, but the secret of making leaded glass was not brought to Bohemia before 1711, by the Fisêr brothers. They soon became renowned for high quality crystal and received orders from Royal courts throughout the world. The name Preciosa was registered in 1915, and is the luxury brand name of precision cut leaded glass in the Czech republic.

The Preciosa led-glass contains proximately 30% led, not far off the Swarovski's, but still far enough to see the difference when you put one Preciosa next to a Swarovski. The swarovski is clearer and more brilliant, no doubt about it.

The good thing is, that if you keep them in good distance from Swarovski, the Preciosa beads are amazingly beautiful and shiny, and will give you very high quality beads.

Preciosa coat some of their crystals with special metalic chemicals to achieve different surface effects, among these the Aurora Borealis effect. This makes the leaded glass refract in a rainbow spectrum of color. They also use a foiling process that reduces mistakes in the soldering technique and strengthen the perfect appearance of the bead. Highly resistant varnish is used to protect it during the technological process. Preciosa is one of the most resistant leaded glass beads in the world today.

Cheaper leaded glass beads:
When something is expensive there are always cheaper imitations made somewhere. Swarovski imitations are created in china. It may not be easy to see the difference at first glance, although I should think that if you put a cheap Chinese bead next to a Swarovski, the difference would be more apparent than between a Preciosa and a Swarovski.

But what if you don't have a Swarovski or a Preciosa to compare it with? How will you know if you have bought a fake or a genuine Swarovski? Luckily there are some tell tale signs you can look for.

A true Swarovski bead shall be flawless. There shall be no scratches anywhere and the cut surfaces around the holes shall be smooth. The thickness adjacent to the hole shall be even. In cheaper versions they may be irregular. On a Swarovski the thickness adjacent to the whole is different from one side of the bead to the other. One is thicker and one is thinner. If it has the same thickness around both holes, it is not a true Swarovski.

Another way to distinguish cheaper beads from the more expensive ones, are to weigh them. The more lead added, the heavier the bead. China have no guidelines for classifying led-glass, and they do not use the British standard. Therefor you can never be quite sure that Chinese beads contain as much lead as stated, in order to be a true crystal. That's why it may be wise to weigh the beads in order to compare them with beads of higher quality.

But, there are no reasons not to buy cheaper leaded glass beads from China, Taiwan and other countries, unless they are made by child labor. It depends on your budget. And sometimes it is better to practice on cheaper beads, and save the expensive ones for more experienced projects. Just know what your buy. There is a lot of fraud around, so try to find a decent dealer that you can trust. If you want to buy Chinese beads, they shall be sold as such.

Lead-glass or not lead-glass confusion:
There are some confusion around what is and what is not leaded glass. - Faceted glass is NOT crystal. It is simply faceted glass, and contains no lead.
- Fire Polished beads are faceted glass, not leaded glass. And Preciosa DO produce leaded glass as well as faceted glass beads, although rumors says that they don't.
- Crystal clear, simply describes a beads appearance or color, and does not mean that it is leaded glass. Just like silver colored or gold colored beads.
- Natural crystal is made by nature, while leaded glass is man made.

How to take care of your leaded glass beads:
Leaded glass is still glass, and may therefor break if handled roughly. The best way to clean the leaded glass is to rinse it carefully in lukewarm water without any soap or chemicals. Dishwasher, strong detergents and washing agents may damage the beads, so can very hot water (104F/40`C). Keep your crystals out of long exposure to sunlight as well, and keep them in a soft pouch or plastic bag, so that it will not be scratched by your other jewelry.

So, now you know what you can get. When it comes to prices, Swarovski doe's of course top the list. But do not despair, you can get 3 and 4 mm bicones for a fairly decent price. The bigger crystals are of course more expensive, but they ARE truly beautiful. If you cannot afford them, go for Preciosa, if you still want quality. They are a very good substitute for Swarovski, and more friendly in price.

When it comes to the Chinese, I don't know. I have not tried them, so I can't really say anything about how much lower in quality they actually are. Some say that they have a good sparkle and clarity, other say that they don't. What they ARE though are cheap, so if you like them, treat them like candy in a candy store: Just dig in!

Happy beading!

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