Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 19, 2002

Boutiques specializing in crystal opening in Hawai'i

By Paula Rath
Advertiser Staff Writer

Baccarat's red Hortensia necklace, left, on a gold chain with matching earrings. Red is the most precious color, crystal artisans say.

Swarovski pendants of lavender and aqua, right, reflect the company's style in cutting and faceting.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

Crystal jewelry classes

For those who love the look of crystal jewelry but can't afford the ready-made, bead shops often hold classes, enabling participants to go home with a completed Swarovski crystal piece.

Here are a few upcoming classes:

Bead It!

734-1182 or iBEADS.com

"Cute Crystal Rings": today, April 4, 18 and 25 at 10 a.m.

"Create-a-Cuff": March 28, 10 a.m.; April 9 and 16, 5:30 p.m.

DACS Beads

842-7714 or DACSBeads.com

"Crystal Wire Cuff": Saturday, 9:30 a.m.

Bead Gallery

589-2600 or thebeadgallery.com

"Crystal Flower Bracelet": Thursday, 5 p.m.

"Clarine's Crystal Weave: Saturday, 10:30 a.m.

"Crystal Woven Bracelet": March 25, 5 p.m.

There's a magical quality in crystal jewelry. When it catches the light, a prism dances as if a tiny Tinkerbell is trapped inside. Now, all of a sudden, crystal seems to be appearing around Honolulu like a swarm of fireflies.

Two boutiques specializing in crystal opened recently at Ala Moana Center. Both have European pedigrees: Baccarat (pronounced BAH-cah-rah) from France, and Swarovski (pronounced Swa-RAV-ski) from Austria.

Let's be clear on one thing: These are not the crystals popular with New Age folks who believe they contain properties that transmit peace and harmony to humans. Those are the naturally occurring mineral variety, formed in a long-ago geologic past, now found in rocks, caves and cliffs.

Baccarat and Swarovski crystals are manmade from a type of glass, with formulas that required hundreds of years to perfect. The companies' jewelry collections have distinctly different looks. Baccarat is transparent, smooth and sophisticated, polished to perfection, while Swarovski specializes in multiple cuts and facets, creating a prismatic effect.

European origins

Researchers disagree on the origin of crystal. Some believe it was introduced in Venice, Italy, around the 14th century. Others credit England in the 17th century.

Baccarat was founded in 1764, taking its name from the village at the foot of the Vosges mountain range where it was established. Swarovski, a family-run business, began in 1895.

For centuries, crystal was used strictly in objects for the home: stemware, barware and vases. It was introduced in jewelry during the early part of the 20th century when diamonds were all the rage, and fashion dictated the need for a less-expensive alternative.

Fashion designer Coco Chanel is often credited with the popularity of costume jewelry. It is said she made faux jewels and pearls not only respectable but desirable, paving the way for crystals in the world of fashion.

The passion for crystal grew in the 1920s, when beaded flapper dresses were the style. Designers Christian Dior and Elsa Schiaparelli worked with Swarovski to create innovative beading and trims for haute couture ensembles.

Swarovski will not reveal how its crystal is made. In fact, the company is so protective of its processes that its employees never witness the making of crystal from beginning to end.

On the other hand, Roland Saget, a technical expert with Baccarat in Paris, explained the process his company employs in an e-mail interview.

The base composition for Baccarat crystal includes:

  • Sand (silica), 55 percent: the whitest, finest, purest silica available, prepared in Belgium exclusively for Baccarat. All metallic traces are eliminated so they will not tint the crystal.
  • Potash (Potassium carbonate), 13 percent: a white mineral used instead of soda to give the crystal a more radiant shine.
  • Lead oxide, 32 percent: vermillion red in color, it gives crystal greater density and a higher refraction index. It also determines the radiance, shine and tone.

The raw materials are reduced to a powder and mixed together before being heated, Saget explained. The materials are then melted down and refined to eliminate bubbles, homogenized in tank furnaces at around 2700 degrees and cooled down until the crystal can be shaped.

Saget explained that each crystal manufacturer adds different (and usually secret) chemical products to the major components, making each composition unique.

Crystal is graded according to its lead-oxide content, with more than 30 percent in "superior" crystal. To be termed "crystal," the glass must contain more than 24 percent lead oxide.

Judging quality

When shopping for crystal, look for transparency, brilliance and whiteness (unless, of course, the piece is colored). There should be no bubbles or imperfections, and the surfaces should be smooth and gleaming. Stemware should make a silvery sound when tapped.

Color is achieved in crystal with the addition of metallic salts before melting. Saget explained that deep blue derives from cobalt, turquoise comes from copper, chromium creates green, gold and silver result in amethyst, and black is created by mixing chromium and manganese.

Red is the most precious because it comes from pure gold, rather than a gold mineral salt. Red, unlike the other colors, remains transparent after it cools down. It requires reheating to achieve its final color. The temperature and amount of time it is reheated determine the shade of red, from pale rose to blood red.

Baccarat also has iridescent pieces created with a special coating. These change color depending on clothing or skin color.

Of course, crystal is fragile. It will crack or shatter if struck against a hard surface. A pendant is safer than a bracelet or ring, but any crystal piece should be treated with care. A marble floor can be crystal's worst enemy.

It's wise to store crystal in a felt bag to prevent dust.

Kimi Fukuda, manager of Baccarat Ala Moana, recommends cleaning crystal by dipping it in a mild solution of Windex and water, then polishing with a soft cloth.

At the Swarovski store, they recommended cleaning with a lint-free cloth rather than using any solvents.

Crystals, island-style Janice Wright, a designer of exquisite evening bags, uses Swarovski crystals exclusively in her creations. Bead It!, the popular Kaimuki haven for bead lovers, has settled on Swarovski because the quality of faceting and colors are outstanding.

Hawai'i fashion designers often use Swarovski crystals for evening gowns for pageant participants.

At the trendy Hanalei Salon Boutique in Kaka'ako, a signature look is a single Swarovski crystal to top off a manicure or pedicure. Hanalei has even covered entire nails in crystals for special occasions.

Baccarat and Swarovski report that jewelry is the best seller in their Ala Moana stores. One of the reasons is that Hawai'i women travel a great deal and crystal jewelry is a safe alternative to traveling with fine jewelry.

Although crystal jewelry often is far less expensive than real gems or semi-precious stones, it can be quite pricey. Swarovski pieces range from $15 to $750. Baccarat jewelry runs from $100 to $12,350. (The higher-end pieces combine crystal with 18K gold, rubies, sapphires or diamonds.)

Correction: Janice Wright is a designer of evening bags embellished with Swarovski crystals. Her name was misspelled in a previous version of this story.