A crystal chandelier is often considered the height of luxury. It stands at the center of a grand room, exuding a brilliant shimmer that sends light across the entire space.
However, if you’re looking to buy a grand chandelier like this, you might be surprised by the complexity of the topic!
Let’s explore some of the intricacies and types of chandelier of crystals, who makes it, and how it’s used to create these beautiful light fittings!
Chandelier Crystal Basics
Chandeliers have been a popular form of lighting since medieval times, where they were used to light huge religious spaces.
Now, they’ve evolved into a complex, multi-faceted industry.
Crystal chandeliers are the most expensive form of chandelier available in almost every case. They are luxurious, wonderfully shiny, and uniquely refractive.
But what is crystal?
“True crystal” is mined from underground. Originally, it’s created by major geological events from millions of years ago.
However, due to its rarity and extremely high cost, almost no manufacturers of chandeliers use this material.
Instead, the crystal used in chandeliers is made through treating glass. Normally, this is with lead oxide, which gives the crystal its distinct shimmer and refractive properties.
Don’t be scared by the word “lead”! In the crystals used on light fittings, lead oxide is not dangerous to people.
When it comes to lead oxide crystals, there are three levels of quality. These are based on the percentage of lead oxide that makes up the crystal.
If they’re crystalline, it means they have 6 to 10% lead oxide, while half lead crystals have 24 to 30%.
Finally, full lead crystals have 30% lead oxide or more. These are considered “true crystals” by the standards of the crystal manufacturing industry.
The more lead oxide added to a crystal, the more beautifully it will shimmer and refract light.
Unfortunately, higher lead oxide content also makes crystals more fragile and difficult to create!
Crystal Cutting Methods
There are three methods of creating these crystals.
Machine cut crystals have sharp facets, fine details, high purity and precise polishing.
In comparison, hand cut crystals are created through traditional methods, often dating back centuries. These are normally intricate and of high quality, though with less laser-precision in their carving.
Finally, hand-blown crystals are created through glass blowing. They are often detailed works of art, made to look like flowers or other forms. They tend to have smooth edges and high clarity.
Types of Crystal Chandelier Brands
Though there are a huge number of crystal manufacturers in the modern age, there are five main companies known for their very high quality crystals. Each has different techniques, effects and price points.
Keep in mind these are the name-brand versions which produce the very best crystal chandeliers! They are of very, very high quality, but are also extremely expensive.
The crystals created by Swarovski are considered the finest in the world.
Based in the Austrian Alps, Swarovski crystals are made using a highly secretive, generations-old process passed down for centuries.
The family is very protective of their methods. No one knows exactly what is used to create Swarovski crystals, just that they are of exquisite quality.
Their crystals are machine cut and polished, meaning they have perfect clarity with razor-sharp facets. This makes for uniquely brilliant crystals that shimmer like no other.
Their products are all “true crystals”, with a lead oxide content over 30%. All genuine Swarovski crystal chandeliers have a microscopic etching of their logo as well.
The company offers a great range of colors, shapes and sizes allowing their crystals to fit many different styles. They’re used in jewelry, fashion, home accessories– and of course, lighting!
Although originally a separate company, Schonbek became a branch of the Swarovski group in 2007.
Where Swarovski is considered the top of the line in machine-cut crystals, Schobek is the same for hand crafted crystals. Based in New York, their products are highly refractive and precisely cut by craftspeople.
The same as Swarovski, Schonbek crystals are all “true crystals”, with a lead oxide content of over 30%. They focus on heritage, traditional styles of the highest quality.
3. Asfour Crystal
This company is the world’s largest producer of full lead crystals, boasting a very large presence in the market.
They use their crystals in everything from lighting, accessories, fashion, figurines and other special projects. Notably, their products are a popular choice for traditional style crystal chandeliers.
All of their crystals are engraved with the ASFOUR emblem.
Asfour crystals are famous for their dazzling refraction that creates beautiful rainbows under direct light. Their crystals are precisely cut, and have very strong facets and sharp edges.
Though not as high-end as a Swarovski crystal, they are still a luxury, very high-quality make. They also tend to be more affordable in comparison (which still means very, very expensive in the crystal world).
This French company has held its place as one of the biggest names in luxury crystal manufacturing since 1764.
They make crystals for jewelry, tableware, decor and lighting. They are especially famous for their gorgeous, traditional style chandeliers, which hang in some of the grandest buildings in the world.
These full lead crystals are hand blown by craftspeople using early 19th century techniques. This results in highly intricate, soft designs that diffuse and refract light in subtle but beautiful ways.
In the mid-19th century, Baccarat founded a new method for producing even clearer, more brilliant crystals through the use of nickel oxide. This brought them great renown, and was soon used by many other producers.
5. Waterford Crystal
The Waterford Company, based in Ireland, produces mostly glassware. However, they do have a small line of high-end, superb quality crystal chandeliers.
They use very old, hand-made techniques involving wood molds. This results in unique, super refractive crystals with a great level of detail. Each crystal requires an extremely high level of skill and attention to detail to create.
Their chandeliers are often adventurous, breaking the rules while still evoking that classic chandelier grandiosity and brilliance.
Waterford do not sell their crystals to any other company. If you want a Waterford chandelier, you have to buy it directly from them! This makes their work rare and highly sought after.
Types of Crystals Used in Crystal Chandeliers
Now that we’ve explored some of the major players in the crystal manufacturing industry, let’s talk about the different forms crystal can take.
Here we’ll cover both lead-based and lead-free crystals, as well as a few other types.
1. Lead Crystal
As we’ve already talked about, this is the traditional form that crystal takes. It involves adding lead oxide to glass at extreme heats to merge them.
This creates a material that is extremely refractive, giving that crystal shimmer we know from traditional crystal chandeliers. Sharper, more defined facets accentuate this shimmer even more!
Lead crystal is also heavier. This increases the higher the lead oxide content is, since it’s denser than glass.
Additionally, the lead oxide makes the material softer, allowing it to be molded and cut in different ways to normal molten glass.
However, this softness also means it’s very hard to engrave detailed designs onto the surface of the crystal.
2. Lead-Free Crystal
Although lead oxide in crystal is not dangerous to consumers once finished and installed in the home, it is a dangerous material to work with during the manufacturing process.
Additionally, many countries are cutting down on lead content in all products, including crystal.
For these reasons, many companies are exploring new ways to achieve the shimmer and refraction of crystals without the use of lead.
At the moment, the primary methods for doing this involve the use of zinc, barium and potassium oxide. These result in a product that is almost as sparkly as lead crystal, as well as being lighter and less fragile.
Lead-free crystal can be processed in most of the same ways that true crystal can, including hand crafting and machine cutting.
3. Rock Crystal
This refers to the very first form of crystal used for chandeliers, before any manufacturing methods were discovered.
Rock crystal is a mineral found deep underground. All natural crystals were created through geological processes spanning millions of years, making them extremely rare and precious. They are then mined, cut and polished by gem cutters.
Rock crystals have about the same level of shimmer and refraction as very high quality manufactured crystals.
Due to their rarity and the ease of making our own crystals, most of these are only seen in palaces and museums nowadays.
However, if you have an awful lot of money, it’s still possible to get natural crystal chandeliers today!
4. Pressed Glass & Chinese Crystal
Also known as K9 crystals, these are the most affordable form of crystals beside plain, untreated glass. They are also the crystals you will most often see on modern crystal lights.
Made in China, they are mass-produced using factory machinery. Most often, they are cut and polished to emulate more expensive grades of crystal. Their creation involves combining soda, salt and lime in an extremely hot furnace.
Chinese Crystal is made using 9% lead oxide, hence their name of K9 crystals. The high-precision, mechanized nature of their manufacture means they tend to be highly consistent, with very few scratches and bubbles.
However, their facets are not often very sharp or defined. Courtesy of their low lead oxide content, these crystals are much more durable than their higher grade competitors.
This is excellent if you worry about your crystals breaking; a danger most present when it comes to crystal chandelier cleaning and maintenance.
Though they have a higher refractive index than plain glass, K9 crystals aren’t as refractive or shimmery as higher grades. Instead, they are extremely clear– which makes them great for dispersing light as far as possible across a large space.
5. Strass Crystal
Strass crystals are created with the extremely secret formula of the Swarovski Company.
Protecting their methods carefully, Swarovski are the only manufacturers of this specific type of crystal.
They are created in Austria, using a special coating that protects against dust and makes them easy to clean and maintain.
Strass crystals are of excellent quality, with perfectly defined edges and faces. Additionally, all Strass crystals have a tiny engraving of the Swarovski logo, to prove their authenticity.
They are also always extremely refractive. This is thanks to their precision cutting and very high quality material, with a full lead content of over 30%.
Though produced and primarily used by the Swarovski Company, these are sometimes sold to other companies as well. They are seen on luxury jewelry, clothing, accessories and home decor features all over the world.
6. Gem Cut Crystal
These are also known as Egyptian or Moroccan crystals depending on their origin.
Gem cut crystals were the very first form of high-quality, machine cut crystal. They have extremely high clarity and are almost always flawless.
Though not as high in regard as Strass products, they are definitely up there on the list of the best crystals available.
Gem cut crystals have very precise cuts, with strong edges and faces to refract light brilliantly.
They also have a fairly high lead oxide content, normally between 24 and 30%. This creates a very beautiful, refractive final result.
7. Turkish, Bohemian, Heirloom, Czech Crystal
You may also see these crystals under the names handcut, heritage, wood-polished or regal crystals.
Their main defining feature is their manufacturing process. It dates back centuries, originating in the medieval era and now passed down through generations.
This process involves fully hand-cut crystals that are then defined further in sandstone grinding wheels. Finally, each crystal is hand-polished on a wooden wheel using marble dust.
This highly skilled process often leaves faint wood-grain markings on the surface of the crystals. Often, this is considered a mark of authenticity for proper heritage crystals.
Due to the handmade nature of these crystals, they are fairly smooth and diffused.
They refract light in a more subtle, soft way than the hard-cut machine crystals of the modern era. In addition, their wood grain texture creates interesting patterns in the light!
8. Italian Crystal
These are also known as Murano crystals, named after an island near Venice where they are traditionally made.
Venice has long been a famous glass making region, including crystals. Italian crystals have a very unique look and feel, being molded and fire-polished rather than cut by machine or hand.
This unique method results in crystals that are soft and smooth. These tend to be less brilliant, with less defined refraction patterns from their crystals. This also makes them less expensive than other techniques in most cases.
Italian crystal is a good option if you want something of high quality, but more affordable than a Strass or Heritage crystal.
9. Aurora Borealis Crystal
Named after the brilliant colors of the natural phenomena, these crystals are colored so that they produce beautiful patterns on surfaces.
Most other chandeliers need direct light for their refraction to produce colors like the ones produced by aurora borealis crystals!
Aurora Borealis crystals use colored crystals to create this effect even in non-direct lighting, meaning they produce this gorgeous effect all day.
10. Crystal Beads
Used in chandeliers, clothes and jewelry, these are often seen as a more luxurious alternative to glass beads.
They have a very intense shine and refraction, especially in direct lighting. They are also more heavy and durable than glass beads, so long as they don’t have a very high lead oxide content. This can make them a great choice for jewelry.
Crystal beads are available in a wide variety of colors, shapes, sizes, designs and styles.
Types of Materials Used in Crystal Chandeliers
Now that we’ve fully explored the world of chandelier crystals, let’s talk a bit about the rest of the chandelier.
This section will discuss the different base materials that can be used in the fixture of a chandelier. This refers to the arms and base of the light fitting, which holds up the crystals and lights themselves.
It’s important to consider your material carefully, since it will have a large impact on durability, cost and required care for your light.
The star of the show! A crystal chandelier just isn’t complete without it (unless, of course, it’s using glass or acrylic to emulate crystal).
We’ve talked plenty about the intricacies of crystal as a material, so we won’t rehash it here.
This material is known for its longevity, surviving for a long time even with little upkeep. It’s also able to be recycled in an environmentally friendly way.
Brass is easy to clean, and has no particularly special instructions when it comes to upkeep.
Being an alloy of copper and zinc, brass comes in a goldish yellow color. It’s been a favorite in crystal chandelier lighting and hardware for decades, meaning it’s widely available in a great number of styles.
It’s most common in contemporary and traditional styles, meaning it works great for crystal chandeliers.
You’ll need to invest more when buying a brass chandelier when compared to something like bronze, but the lack of upkeep and maintenance costs will probably make up for this over the years.
This metal is another alloy made with copper and zinc. Much like brass, it has a gold hue, though it leans more toward brown than yellow.
If you buy a bronze fitting, you should look for one with a PVD coating. This helps to avoid corrosion and damage over time, which are dangers when using this material.
Bronze is most popular for its long lifespan, though it’s less durable than brass. The main danger in a fixture with many thin pieces, like a chandelier, is that the metal is slightly pliable, and can be bent with too much pressure.
Many “bronze” chandeliers are actually bronze plating over steel or chrome. These tend to be cheaper, but have less of the benefits of a bronze chandelier.
This material is sometimes used as a replacement or alternative for true crystal. This is often seen in cheaper brands that are trying to avoid the high cost of crystal, or even K9.
Although better than plastic, glass really doesn’t do much when it comes to refracting light in the classic crystal way.
Due to their very low price point, glass chandeliers are also poorly made in general. They tend to have more imperfections like scratches and bubbles in the crystals.
This classic, simple material has been used in chandeliers for centuries. The very first chandeliers ever made were two planks of wood in a cross form, with candles at each end.
In the present day, wood chandeliers are normally much more complex and intricate than this. This is especially true when crystal is involved.
Though wooden crystal chandeliers are uncommon, they aren’t unheard of. It really depends on your personal taste and the style of the room, but crystal chandeliers will normally work best with a light, yellow-toned wood.
6. Rustic Iron
This is another highly historical material for chandeliers. It will be most often seen in a wrought iron form, which refers to iron that is heated and hammered– or sometimes molded– into shape.
This method of creating fixtures has existed for a long, long time. It results in chandeliers that feel historical, rustic and medieval. If this is the style you want, then a wrought iron chandelier could be a great choice!
The main downside of this material is its tendency to rust. It needs regular treatment to avoid this.
Types of Finishes for Crystal Chandeliers
Finally, let’s talk about some of the finishes available for crystal chandeliers. These are the “outer shell” of your light fixture, and will dictate the final look of your light.
For this reason, they should be considered carefully. The most important things to think about are the existing fixtures in the space, like taps or other light fittings, as well as the general style of your home.
This is one of the most popular finishes for lighting in contemporary, modern spaces.
It’s scratch resistant, versatile and low-maintenance. On top of all this, it’s very low cost, making it an attractive option for otherwise expensive chandeliers.
Pure chrome fittings don’t really exist. Chrome is instead plated over a base material like copper, steel or brass. This base material is what will largely affect the durability and care requirements of the final product.
This cool-toned, silvery material is best in modern, contemporary and minimalist spaces.
This material is very similar to chrome. It has a shiny surface in a silvery color, though with a warmer tone than chrome.
This helps to make it feel less cold and mechanical, meaning it works better in a more naturalistic or cozy space. This is especially true if paired with a diffused, brushed finish.
This finish looks like it’s been passed over with a paintbrush, leaving subtle grooves all over the surface.
This texture is stronger than most other finishes. It creates a more rustic, traditional feel, especially compared to the cold, hard feeling of chrome.
As a bonus, brushed surfaces do a great job of hiding fingerprints and scratches!
Polished surfaces are extremely shiny and lustrous.
Unfortunately, this does mean it needs regular buffing or polishing to keep this effect. It also tends to show marks and scratches easily.
However, this is unlikely to be an issue for a light fitting that hangs from the ceiling! If you want a traditional, luxurious feeling light, this is a great option.
This finish is similar to a brushed style, though without the subtle texture. It has a diffused, blurred feeling to it. This makes it work great in more rustic, warm environments like a cottage or traditional style home.
Satin finishes are often rich and warm, helping to make the space feel cozy.
Final Thoughts on the Types of Chandelier Crystals
And with that, we conclude our adventure into the many intricacies of chandelier crystals!
When making such an expensive purchase, it’s important to understand all of the decisions involved and what they mean for the final products. There are a lot of trade-offs between quality and price in chandeliers.
We hope this article has cleared up the mystery of that difficult decision a bit, and helps you to choose the perfect chandelier for your needs (and wants!).