01 May The World of Swarovski Crystal
Almost everyone has heard of Swarovski crystal. The stunning, glittery jewels that adorn anything from handbags to mobile phones and lighting installations to jewellery. How much do we know about the story behind the crystals? Let’s dig into the heritage of the Swarovski name and discover the history and methods of producing some of the world’s best loved bling.
The founder of the crystal-producing company was David Swarovski, an Austrian with incredible vision back in 1895. His father was a glass-cutter who owned a small glass factory in the what is now the Czech Republic. He designed a process for cutting crystal that aimed to bring the beauty of the glass beads to everyone, not just the rich and famous. He had a passion for innovative design that continues today, helping the company to remain one of the world’s leading producers of jewellery and accessories.
Four years before founding the company, David Swarovski had a vision of creating a ‘diamond for everyone’. He designed and made a machine using electricity that could cut more accurately than any other machine at the time and patented it in 1892. In 1895 the company set up a plant at Wattens in Austria, where there was great access to hydroelectric power needed for the intensive grinding processes required.
By the time the roaring 1920s came around, with its jazz halls and high fashion, Swarovski crystal adorned dresses, hats and accessories, marking a new dawn in the availability of such luxury.
With the advent of cinema, the crystals had an even wider audience when they appeared on screen in iconic movies such as ‘Diamonds are a girl’s best friend’ and ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’. Perhaps one of the most iconic historical moments involving the brand occurred on May 19th 1962, when Marilyn Monroe sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to U.S president John F. Kennedy, she was dressed in a gown covered with Swarovski crystals.
The company opened it’s first boutique in the 1980s, selling its world-renowned jewellery and crystal figurines. Collectors worldwide enjoyed the annual limited-edition ornaments that were released every Christmas. One of their signature pieces are the Swiss movement watches they have become renowned for.
The crystals are actually lead glass, produced in such a way as to achieve brilliant, glistening gems of light. There are many different uses of the crystal, not just for the production of glamourous jewellery pieces. The Swarovski Crystal Business is responsible for the creation and of manufacture of new and exciting accessory and jewellery designs, Swarovski Optik manufactures important optical devices such as binoculars and telescopes and the Tyrolit sector makes drilling, grinding and sawing tools and machinery.
Tyrolit was founded in 1919 to bring the use of crystal into a whole new business sector of grinding and polishing tools and equipment. Wilhelm Swarovski, David’s son made a customized pair of binoculars in 1935 and this is the creation that led to the opening of Swarovski Optik some 14 years later. All pieces created by the company originally bore the logo of an edelweiss flower. The current company logo was instituted in 1988 and remains today as the globally recognised Swan symbol.
The processes involved in making the crystal include melting a combination of minium, soda, potash and quartz sand at very high temperatures. To enable the crystal glass to give off a rainbow spectrum, some of the products are coated with metallic chemical mixtures. An example of this method can be seen in the Aurora Borealis range, made famous by Christian Dior in the 1950s. Other coatings are applied to some products or parts of products to produce different eye-catching effects.
For crystal enthusiasts, Swarovski also operate a themed museum at the original Wattens factory location. The impressive structure of Crystal Worlds is adorned with a head covered in grass and a fountain for the mouth. There is a wealth of information about the inspiration for their designs inside the museum, but they do not reveal their trade secrets of how the world-famous designs are made or finished.
A more recent use of the crystals includes ‘active-crystal’ technology. In 2007 Swarovski joined forces with the electronics firm Philips to use crystal technology in consumer items such as USB memory keys, Bluetooth wireless earpieces and headphones. Swarovski lighting is another popular use of crystal, supplying ornate chandeliers, designer wall lights and innovative crystal use for architectural designs.
For the last 13 years, Swarovski has provided the 9 foot, 250kg snowflake or star ornament that sits atop the Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Center in New York. The 2004 movie ‘Phantom of the Opera’ also featured a standing model chandelier composed entirely of Swarovski crystal. Later in the film, a Swarovski shop window display can be seen in the background.
Swarovski have certainly made crystal a glamourous and accessible jewel for everyone to enjoy, as was the founder’s vision. What is surprising is the many different uses that have since been discovered for this beautiful glass, far more than just pretty necklaces!