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What is Austrian Crystal?

By Darrell Laurant
Updated May 16, 2024
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Austrian crystal is not a trademark in and of itself, but it might as well be. The generic term is indelibly linked with Swarovski crystals, produced in a factory in Wattens, Austria. The breakthrough that spawned them was more about mass production than individual beauty.

Daniel Swarovski was actually a Bohemian man who invented an automatic crystal cutting machine while living in Prague, Czech Republic. His machine was patented in 1892, and Swarovski quickly became concerned that spies from other jewelry firms would ferret out his secret. As a result, he moved his operation to Wattens in 1895, which offered the twin advantages of a semi-remote location and convenient water power.

Austrian crystal is man-made, essentially a creative cutting of hand-blown glass into every imaginable form of adornment. Swarovski's three sons have continued with the family business, branching out into everything from chandeliers to watches to computer parts to rhinestones and glass beads. What makes a Swarovski crystal unique is its composition. By adding 32% lead to the molten glass (a mix arrived at after considerable experimentation), Swarovski imbued his crystal with a high refraction rate. Later, he developed different chemical coatings to enhance color and sparkle.

The company entered the American jewelry market rather late, in 1977, but has emerged as an icon. Austrian crystal has a reputation for fine worksmanship but is also less expensive than jewelry made from precious stones. It also earned international attention during the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, when a mouse figurine crafted by Max Schreck from chandelier parts morphed into the mascot of those games, as well as launching a new product line of Swarvoski figurines. The company's own corporate symbol has evolved from an edelweiss flower to a swan.

The Swarovski empire has also proved a boon to tourism in Austria. Kristallwelten (Crystal World), a museum and showroom devoted to Austrian crystal, is the second most-visited attraction in the country. Perhaps its most bizarre presentation of is a Mini Cooper "Art Car" owned by an Ontario couple that features a million crystals.

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Discussion Comments
By anon932050 — On Feb 10, 2014

Crystal (Swarovski at least as well as several other types) when it comes to beads, are primarily composed of glass, however, they also have the added element of lead. I'm certain you have heard of the champagne glasses or flute glasses that 'sing' or are 'musical'. The reason for this is a two part answer: A) they are glass but with lead content which is translated (for the joe blow) as "man-made crystal".

The lead content in these glasses gives them the name 'crystal' and are thought of rather highly. The same can be said of Austrian and Swarovski crystals. They are man made crystal. Not comparable to quartz, but still very lustrous and well sought after.

By anon263354 — On Apr 24, 2012

Austrian crystals are human made!

By Sara007 — On May 28, 2011

Has anyone had any experience with collecting the Austrian crystal figurines?

I think that these creations are beautiful but wonder if they are a good investment. Are they easy to keep sparkling, or do they require a lot of maintenance?

Also, if you do start to collect them, can anyone recommend some good starter pieces? Or is it more of just finding something you like, rather than working on getting all of a specific series.

I have seen a few sea animal pieces and would love to have some home in my home. But right now they seem a bit pricey.

By manykitties2 — On May 28, 2011

Does anyone think that Austrian crystal is a good choice to replicate diamonds in costume jewelry?

I am interested in finding some pieces that have a luxurious look to the stones, but don't come with the huge price tag.

I have always thought that Austrian crystal reflects light beautifully and gives off a certain luster that you don't get with cubic zirconia.

Do you think that investing in some nice Austrian crystal pieces would be good for formal situations?

Also, does this crystal ever come in shades of colors, or is it mostly just clear? I don’t think I’ve ever seen it colored.

By anon136232 — On Dec 21, 2010

what is the difference in a rhinestone and Austrian Crystal--the lead content?

By anon127591 — On Nov 16, 2010

I came across a ring in the family box that may be a huge crystal or cut glass. Either way, I'll wear it!

By anon116293 — On Oct 06, 2010

Crystal is grown where glass is human made.

By anon81034 — On Apr 29, 2010

Yes, crystal is just pretty glass cut like a diamond or other precious gems, but it is still glass.

By mexicana — On Sep 14, 2009

is crystal just pretty glass?

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