Rhinestones are carefully and precisely cut crystal or glass containing a foiled backing with lead content, which highlights its brilliance and sparkle. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors and types, including glass and Swarovski, and are often used to imitate diamonds. By understanding the differences you can determine which rhinestone is best for you.
The name rhinestone comes from the discovery of crystals that were gathered from the Rhine River. Popularity of rhinestones was limited initially because the crystals were only available at this location. An Alsatian jeweler, George Friedrich Strass, discovered a process for imitating diamonds by using metal powder to coat the lower side of glass in 1775. The new process increased the complexity, brilliance and reflective qualities of the glass. The popularity of the gem continuously increased, and eventually the popularity spread throughout Europe. Europeans often refer to rhinestones as strass.
Rhinestones come in four major colors (crystal-clear, transparent, AB and effect) and are known by several names, including paste and diamante. They ere created from glass, acrylic or rock crystals. They come in two shapes (faceted and cabochon) and are intended to imitate diamonds. Their backing, which is metal or foil, reflects light and makes the stone produce additional glitter. Rhinestones are recognized worldwide and are often used for costume design or jewelry-making.
Swarovski rhinestones are made specifically by the Swarovski company and are considered top of the line because of their high quality. The jewelry business was revolutionized in 1891 by Austrian Daniel Swarovski and his glass-cutting machine invention that cut faceted glass with brilliance and sparkle surpassing any hand-cut crystal. This development allowed for a beautiful finished stone and faster mass production. Known as "Swarovski rhinestones," this process continues to be used worldwide.
A glass rhinestone is an imitation gem that is lighter and contains less than 1 percent lead. Three minerals are required to make glass: limestone, soda ash and sand. These materials are melted together at 1,600 degrees Celsius. Light is unable to diffract through ordinary glass.