Rhinestone quartz is also called the ‘poor man’s diamond’. It is less expensive, but the brilliance and appearance look like a diamond. Very rich people, that owe very expensive jewelry made of diamonds, leave those precious pieces in the safe and wear replica’s made of the rhinestone. The funny thing is that also rhinestone quartz has a replica: the Swarovski beads or the Czech glass beads. But what exactly is the difference?

Rhinestone? Strass? Crystal? Swarovski beads? What is what?

Rhinestone is pure quartz. It has no color, is transparent and has a glance like glass. This quartz is commonly found, but the best qualities you find in Madagascar, Brasil, and Arkansas (USA). And mankind knows this quartz already in the Mesolithic. In the Roman Times, people import this ‘stoned ice’ from the Alps (Switzerland) and in Greece. This material is called ‘Krystallos’, which also means ‘stoned ice’ because the Greeks at that time think the gods make the rhinestone with ice. Rhinestone stays cold (in temperature), also when it is sunny and warm.

In the Middle Ages, people make cups and jewelry of rhinestone. They believe that rhinestone detects poison and when the rhinestone touches that poison it breaks or changes color.

silver and white pearl necklace

silver and white pearl necklace

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Quality rhinestone quartz

You find a lot of rhinestone quartz in nature, but the quality is mostly not good enough to cut the quartz into gemstones. Good quality is found in Switzerland and Austria, in the Alps. Near the St Gotthard, they find rhinestone quartz of 135 kilo / 298 pounds and near the Grossglockner, you find of nearly 1000 kilo / 2205 pounds of quartz.

In the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, you see a faceted rhinestone of 7000 karats, that weighs 48,5 kilo / 107 pounds, and a diameter of 33 cm / 13 inches. This quartz is found in Myanmar and cut/polished in China. In the 80s of the last century the Casino owner of the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas (USA), Mr. Steve Wynn, buys the largest rhinestone in the world for $1 million. This faceted rhinestone weighs more than 27 kilos / 61 pounds and is called ‘the Hand of Faith’. It comes from Austria.

There is confusion about the definition of ‘rhinestone’.

There is a bit of confusion. What exactly is rhinestone? And is the meaning of the word ‘rhinestone’ everywhere in the world the same? Starting with my own language (Dutch): in the Netherlands, we call this gemstone ‘bergkristal’ (translated: ‘mountain quartz’) when the gem is made of pure quartz, transparent; a real gemstone.

The name ‘rhinestone’ comes from the rock crystals/quartz that you find in the river the Rijn (or The Rhine). This quartz comes from the Alps and the little stones are taken by the melting snow to the river.

white pearl rhinestone necklace

white pearl rhinestone necklace

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Rhinestone and rhinestone quartz

But nowadays with ‘rhinestone’ people talk about ‘leaded glass’ or ‘crystal glass’. That is not a gemstone, it is handmade. A jeweler Georg Friedrich Strass uses this crystal glass in the 18th century to imitate diamonds. He coats the lower side of the crystal or leaded glass with a metal powder for the brilliance. This material is called ‘strass’. With this invention, the glass becomes more brilliant and more reflective. The strass is very popular in Europe and often the Europeans refer to strass when they talk about rhinestone.

Czechoslovakian and Bohemian glass

At the beginning of the 13th century, people call the rhinestones Czechoslovakian and Bohemian glass rhinestones. Made by pulverizing glass and adding different metals to get the colors to get an opaque glass stone. Pure glass does not reflect light and you do not get the scintillating colors. Therefore they add lead to the glass so that it forms the crystal. Crystal is heavier than glass but has the brilliance, the reflection, and great colors. Now you have crystal rhinestone and glass rhinestone.

Tiffany and Swarovski

This is not the end of the confusion. There are craftsmen who make that metal layer as thin as possible, by using thin foil on the lower side of that leaded or crystal glass. The new material comes out of that process. In 1894 Tiffany discovers ‘favrile glass’ and in 1955 Swarovski comes up with ‘aurora borealis’ glass. The Swarovski beads have many many colors and come in four major qualities: crystal-clear, AB, transparent and effect). They are always faceted and they intend to look like diamonds.

1. Swarovski beads 2. Strass tiara (photo's Wikipedia)

1. Swarovski beads 2. Strass tiara (photo’s Wikipedia)

Cutting glass machine

The big step forward is the invention of the glass cutting machine by Daniel Swarovski. With this machine, he cuts faceted glass that has a very high quality. He even makes Swarovski beads in mass production, which makes it available for the people without a big wallet. The beads have more than 30% lead in them and the slopes of the facets are more than perfect with every bead. Swarovski gives Liberace in 1982 a nice present: a 115.000 karat rhinestone with a weight of 23 kilo / 51 pound

To put an end to the confusion I suggest that in this blog post we talk about rhinestone when the material of the item is transparent pure quartz. Strass is leaded or crystal glass with a metal layer under the lower side of the bead. Swarovski beads are made of high-quality leaded glass with a very thin foil under the lower side of the bead.

Eisenberg & Sons, the imitation king of the diamond.

This company is very famous for its high-quality costume jewelry in the 30s and 40s of the last century. Originally it is a clothing company and they make jewelry to decorate the clothing. That jewelry is so popular that it is kept getting stolen. Eisenberg copies 18th-century jewelry so well, that only a few people see the difference. He uses the same technique making jewelry as in the 18th century.

sold necklace made of rhinestone quartz, from the collection of FlorenceJewelshop

sold necklace made of rhinestone quartz, from the collection of FlorenceJewelshop

To summarize it for you:

  • Take rhinestone when you want a replica for your expensive pieces of jewelry made of diamonds (and leave the diamonds in the safe). Or when you want an exquisite piece of jewelry made of rhinestone, just because you love rhinestone. And then I mean the pure transparent quartz.
  • Choose for Swarovski beaded jewelry when you love the perfection of glass (led) beads in all kinds of colors. It is cheaper than the ‘real’ gemstone but can be beautiful as well.
  • I advise the Czech or Bohemian glass (leaded crystal) when your budget is not too high and you want a nice piece of jewelry.
  • Take strass to glue it on your clothing or when you want a ‘one season’ piece of jewelry.

FlorenceJewelshop only uses the pure transparent rhinestone quartz or the coated rhinestone quartz. In very few of my pieces of jewelry, you can find Swarovski beads.

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