Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Lure of Shiny Objects

Some psychologists believe that our attraction to shiny objects is an innate part of our nature. Anthropologists speculate that this fascination dates from the time of early human development, when we would look in wonder and amazement at the stars. I like this theory. Perhaps the shiny objects we love so much to this day are like little pieces of stars that we can hold here on earth.

The most popular shiny object in the jewelry kingdom is, of course, the diamond. While diamonds are the best and brightest in the gem world, they are out of reach for many of us financially. Enter the simulated diamonds! Here we will be discussing rhinestones, although the most popular and diamond-like simulant is Cubic Zirconia, or CZ. CZ stones are synthetic, but have many characteristics that are similar to diamonds. CZ is less hard than diamonds, but not by a lot. On the Mohs hardness scale, CZ rates about 8.5 to 9, whereas diamonds are 10. The two are also close in light refraction and dispersion, although diamonds rate higher in light refraction, and CZs rate higher in dispersion (“fire”). But our discussion today will focus on the fabulous Rhinestone!

“Rhinestone” is a catch-all term, covering all diamond simulants made of acrylic, glass, or lead crystal. They were named Rhinestones after some rock crystals found in the Rhine River (proving once again that sometimes the correct answer is the simplest one). One of the most important distinctions in rhinestones is between glass and plastic. In most cases the difference is fairly easy to distinguish, as plastic is much lighter in weight than glass, and will sound duller when lightly tapped against your teeth (or another rhinestone). If in doubt, it is always best to bring a piece to a jeweler for clarification.


Not all rhinestones are crystals. Some rhinestones are made from glass. When lead has been added to the glass for additional sparkle, it is called crystal. Crystals are typically much more reflective of light than are plastic and glass stones. Crystals are normally cut, not molded. In glassware terms, this would be comparable to the difference between cut glass and pressed glass. Cut crystals are sharper-looking, and refract light brilliantly. Crystals are normally cut with more facets than glass or plastic rhinestones. This also adds to their more intense sparkle. Most acrylic (or plastic – we use the terms interchangeably) are molded.


This is usually determined by the lead content in the glass. This standard differs from country to country:
· USA: a lead monoxide content of as low as 1% allows glass to be noted as crystal

· European Community: Lead monoxide content over 10% is called crystal

· OTHER COUNTRIES: Other countries throughout the world can vary. Usually, the lead monoxide content must be between at least 3% to 15% before glass is referred to as crystal

· In all cases, glass with higher lead content will be referred to as “lead crystal”.


We are all familiar with glassware made of 24% lead crystal. It is generally considered extremely safe to use, as long as food and drink are not stored in it. Swarovski crystals, the “gold standard” (so to speak) of crystals, contain 32 to 33% lead for sparkle. This lead is safe - unless you eat your jewelry!

Always keep your lead crystals away from children - remember that human beings are attracted to shiny objects, and babies love to put everything in their mouths.

The brooch pictured below has “Aurora Borealis” rhinestones. These are rhinestones that have been treated with a special metallic coating (much as Carnival Glass is treated in glassware). The coating causes the stones to shine with lots of colors in a rainbow effect.

This process was developed in the early 1950’s by Manfred Swarovski. It was introduced to the public in 1955. So, if someone advertises a piece of jewelry with AB stones as being from the 1930’s, the advertiser is mistaken. Any piece of jewelry with AB stones (in which the stones haven’t been replaced) must date from 1955 onward!

Thanks for stopping by - Shine on!

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