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Do you know your Crystal?

22 April, 2015 38 Comments

Who doesn’t love a large, fancy crystal chandelier? For hundreds of years, chandeliers have been a symbol of style, opulence and success. In the modern day, the crystal chandelier is seen by many as the ultimate expression of what a chandelier is and represents.

I love crystal chandeliers but I must admit that some years ago, when I first looked into buying one for myself, a range of questions arose in my mind. What are all these different types of crystal? How do I know that what I am buying is actually quality crystal? Should it really be so expensive? If I’m buying online, how can I be assured that I am getting the real deal?

Different types of crystal

All crystal is glass. The crystal used on a chandelier however is very different to the glass in your windows and drinking glasses. Crystal glass contains lead oxide and in some cases other oxides. This is what makes crystal heavier than normal glass and also what gives it its refractive qualities.

Lead crystal can come with a range of lead contents from 6% to over 30% lead oxide content. In the European Union crystal must have a minimum of 10% lead oxide content to be labeled as crystal while in the United States glass with any amount of lead oxide can be called crystal.

The lead oxide or other oxide content is what, alongside the cut, gives crystal its signature brilliance, sparkle and fire. Cheap glass imitations will not refract light or show any colour, they will look clear and more like the glass you drink out of.

Most people think of lead crystal when they think of crystal chandeliers but there is so much more to the world of crystal chandeliers.

Swarovski Strass

The finest crystal in the world, Swarovski Strass sits at the top in terms of desirability and most often cost. Manufactured in Austria, Swarovski Strass features more than 30% lead content. This crystal is crafted by machine and is best known for its flawless purity and brilliance. Some Swarovski crystals are coated with a substance that repels dust and reduces watermarks, so cleaning is a breeze.

Clear Swarovski crystals will often feature a small laser cut trapezoid shaped trademark that can assist in determining if the crystal is genuine. Swarovski crystals may also be coloured, coloured crystal does not feature this mark.

Bohemian Crystal

Often referred to as Bohemian Glass, this in not crystal in the sense that most people would define crystal. i.e. it does not contain any lead. This does not negatively reduce the quality of this crystal however, which is known to have a high optical clarity and good refraction of light. You would need to hold a piece of Bohemian next to a piece of Strass to notice the difference. In this case you would notice slightly less fire and colour in the Bohemian crystal.

Hailing from the Czech Republic, Bohemian crystal chandeliers are highly sought after and in no sense should you assume that this crystal is of a lower quality because it is not leaded. Bohemian crystal chandeliers can be found in grand places all over Europe and the world such as Versailles and the royal palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Egyptian Crystal – Asfour

Asfour Crystal currently claims to be the world’s largest producer of full lead crystal. Based in Egypt, Asfour crystal is generally between 24% - 30% lead oxide content and while not as expensive as Swarovski Strass, it is still crystal of a high quality. Asfour crystal is known for its precision cut, clarity and high level of refraction.

You can tell that you are looking at Asfour crystal as they etch their mark onto each piece of crystal they produce.

Chinese Crystal

Not true crystal, glass manufactured in China is often marketed as “crystal” or “faux crystal” or “imitation crystal”. Chinese crystal is often molded and pressed, this often results in visible seams in the glass and does not produce the same precision facets and edges that feature in more expensive European or Egyptian crystal.

Chinese crystal can be great if your budget does not stretch to some of the other types of crystal mention in this post. Just make sure that you aren’t paying more than you should and don’t expect to get that classic colour and fire that is associated with more expensive crystal.

Murano Glass

I’m stretching things a little here, but really I just can’t leave Murano out as chandeliers made with Murano glass are some of the most special, fantastical and beautiful. Murano glass is handmade on the island of Murano near Venice, Italy. It has been made there for centuries in much the same way as it is today.

Murano glass chandeliers are known and recognized for their flowing designs and use of colour which is provided through the addition of small amounts of various oxides. Murano glass chandeliers are not cheap and unfortunately much of todays market include knockoffs from Asia and Eastern Europe which can catch out the unwary buyer.

Watching the manufacture of Murano glass pieces is truly as sight to behold, if you haven’t seen it before checkout the video below.

 

Here’s a few tips for buying Murano glass chandeliers;

  • If it seems cheap it is probably fake
  • Don’t buy Murano glass on Ebay, there are just too many fakes there
  • Ask the seller which company on Murano made the piece then trace that company
  • Murano glass is not produced anywhere else but the island of Murano. Not elsewhere in Italy, not in Asia and not in the USA.

Is it real crystal or fake?

So maybe you already have a chandelier in your home that was already there or perhaps you are thinking of buying a second hand or vintage chandelier from a private buyer. Can you tell if it is a high quality crystal or a poor copy? The answer is yes, you will be able to find out one way or another but in some cases you will have to do more work. Here’s some pointers to get you started;

  1. Visually inspect the individual pieces of crystal, if there is a mark or logo etched in them then they are most likely real, quality crystal
  2. Do the individual pieces sparkle and show colour and “fire”? If the pieces look like ordinary glass then they may well be that or a low quality crystal
  3. Finally, take a piece of the crystal to a reputable chandelier retailer and ask their opinion. There are a number of these in Australia and most will be happy to assist you. If you don’t have access to a chandelier retailer in person take detailed photos and do it by email. I am happy to assist and you can reach me at contact@chicchandeliers.com.au.

How to buy real crystal chandeliers online

Buying crystal chandeliers online has the potential to be fraught for the unwary shopper. Here are some quick tips to help ensure you don’t get screwed;

  1. Call the seller and ask questions about the crystal. What type of crystal is it? Where is it from? What assurances do you have that it is real?
  2. If you aren’t happy with the pictures supplied on the website, ask for more. You want to see some good quality digital pictures that show some of the features inherent in quality crystal. If the product images are poor and you can’t get better ones, don’t buy.
  3. If the seller can’t answer your questions or won’t find out the answers, think twice about purchasing from them. If you can’t speak or communicate effectively with them then don’t buy from them
  4. Make sure that the seller offers a return policy that will enable you to easily get your money back should the product turn out to be something other than what was advertised.
  5. In addition to point 3, as far as possible try to refrain from purchasing crystal chandeliers directly from overseas unless the seller has a representative in Australia. This is not to say that all overseas sellers are untrustworthy but your ability to return a product could be severely restricted which increases the risk burden to you.

So now hopefully you know a bit more about what makes a crystal chandelier and some of the differences between the more popular varieties. Crystal chandeliers are stunning, there is really nothing quite like them so if you’re thinking about getting one, you won’t regret it.

If you’ve got questions or think we should add more to this post, leave a comment below. If you want advice on purchasing crystal whether from us or from someone else please contact us at contact@chicchandeliers.com.au, we’d love to help.




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