If a potential customer comes to our website it means that he or she is in pursuit of fine crystalware. She/He either looks for a special gift or crystal glasses for themselves. We decided to put together a new post interviewing our founder, Joanna Maya to answer questions we sometimes are asked. Namely, what is fine crystalware? Which factors distinguish one brand from another and what is the difference between lead and not lead crystal.
Q: What is a crystal and how is it different from glass?
JM: Crystal is one of the most precious materials, just after diamonds, gold or precious stones. It is essentially a leaded glass. According to an European guidance you can call a crystal, only glass which contains at least 24% of lead. Many manufacturers or retailers call fine glass a crystal even though it has less than 24% lead. However, the truth is that any glass that contains over 10% lead but less than 24% should be called a crystal glass or fine glass. If you therefore, intend to buy crystal ware check on the packaging whether and how much lead it contains.
Q: Why is it important for a crystal to have 24% of lead or over?
If a customer is interested in buying lead crystal, and not lead-free glass, which is really a matter of personal preferences, the 24% of lead in crystal is the optimum percentage for weight, durability and clarity. There are still factories who do 30% lead crystal and this type of product is called full lead crystal. Lead content makes the crystal dense, providing a much higher index of light refraction than normal glass, and consequently much greater sparkle, exceptional colour and brilliance.
Q: What is a lead free crystal and does something like this exists?
Well, as I mentioned above the only glass that can be called crystal is if it contains 24% or over. If a crystal is called lead free it means that it simply should not be called so. It should be called crystal glass. This is governed by the EU directive which states which type of glass is and can be called crystal.
A so-called “lead free crystal” is essentially fine crystal glass without the lead content. On this occasion lead is substituted with another ingredient for instance, zinc, barium and potassium to allow the piece being heavy, transparent and possible to be hand cut or engraved.
Q: Is lead crystal more luxurious than lead free?
The lack of lead does not mean that the product is less luxurious – It is a matter of personal choice.
We need to remember that luxurious product is a make of craftsmanship. In one of my previous posts I was investigating what is a luxurious product and contemplating on the exhibition I had seen in V&A “ What is luxury”. I stated that during this exhibition one of examples of luxurious product was a set of six engraved crystal glasses. The value of each was justified by a number of dots engraved. This was a reference to the time, precision and craftsmanship devoted to engrave each one on a thin crystal glass. The maker of fine glassware commits himself to refining skills, inventing techniques, challenging conventions and creating the unbelievable. Therefore, whether the piece is machine blown or hand blown, hand cut or hand decorated, how many hours craftsmen spend on the production of one piece.
Q: Often on a label we see a crystal is blown, hand cut or pressed? What does this
terminology stand for?
There are different ways of glass blowing. Of course I don’t consider discussing machine blowing or, recently a 3d printing on glass, which is outside the scope of this discussion. On a high production scale a crystal can be machine made by pressing or blowing. This does not involve glass blowing by a craftsman.
Q: Why one crystal glass is more expensive than another?
There are many factors that can justify the price. As I mentioned above, it depends on the amount of craft put into production of each piece. How has the piece been finished, whether it’s been hand cut, hand engraves, whether the colour is in the glass, between two layers of it or hand painted. How well known is the brand. Whether the piece is a designer piece or not. However, it is important to mention that when one crystal piece is significantly cheaper than another usually it was machine made. Also, often the country of origin is the factor behind the price too.
I would recommend, to read about the brand, what are the brand’s values and check if the piece is handmade, hand cut or hand engraved before purchasing crystal.