If you collect vintage rhinestone jewelry, you are already aware of the brilliant and sparkling qualities of rhinestones but you might not be aware of their illustrious history.
Rhinestones were made of a leaded glass usually backed with a metallic foil of either gold or silver to bounce the light off the glass for added sparkle. The term rhinestone came from the Rhine River in Austria, back in the 1800s, when the river was filled with quartz pebbles in brilliant colors. Rhinestones were made to imitate the brilliant colors in the quartz pebbles. Although faux gemstones, or jewelry made with them, were initially looked down upon by the upper classes, this attitude changed when the higher quality standards in rhinestone production soon made beautiful jewelry an affordable investment for the masses and the rich gentry as well.
Since the 13th and 14th centuries, glass was manufactured from two major regions, Czechoslovakia and Bohemia. Initially glass was manufactured for functional objects like perfume bottles, vanity items, and other uses. By 1918, the Czechoslavakian industry improved manufacturing methods and began to design and incorporate rhinestones into jewelry designs.
But most notable of all was an invention in 1891 by Daniel Swarovski, who revolutionized the jewelry industry when he created a machine that could mechanically cut faceted glass. His invention replaced the industry’s practice of finishing the stones by hand. In addition, he increased the amount of lead content in the glass to 32% which produced rhinestones of exceptional brilliance. He also developed a process that would vacuum plate the rhinestones with silver or gold foil reducing the need for this work to be done by hand. Swarovski’s unrivaled improvements in the quality of his rhinestones and the streamlining of his company’s manufacturing processes skyrocketed the demand for Swarovski rhinestones. He soon became the major supplier for over 85% of the American jewelry companies.
Still in production today, many of the vintage rhinestone jewelry pieces currently sought after by collectors sparkle with the brilliance of Swarovski rhinestones.
Image credit: Flickr – Sherry’s Rose Cottage