Sunday, November 1, 1998
MAN has always coveted anything that glitters and attracts attention, from precious stones, gold, to glass. Crystal is one of the most attractively fashioned glass styles. Also known as lead crystal or flint glass, this is heavy glass with highly refractive qualities and sought for its brilliance, clarity and good looks.
Glass has been part of ancient homes since many years. Glass-making skill was perfected by the Syrians and the Egyptians. The Romans picked up this skill and passed it on to the Venetians who made crystal making their forte. What is it that makes ordinary glass different enough to be called crystal? Basically any glass which contains a minimum of 24 per cent lead oxide qualifies to be called by the term crystal.
The earlier Venetian glass that was made used silica, which they got from the pebbles of river beds, soda from the ash residue of marine plants, and lime from sea shells. This was then made into glass that was very delicate and fragile even on appearance.
Crystal as we see it today, was developed in 1675 by George Ravenscroft of England and initially was also called flint glass. This was due to the addition of flint that was used as a base, as it was not very sturdy and was found to decay with time. This was substituted by lead oxide instead to produce lead crystal.
Ravenscrofts crystal was better in some ways than the Venetian crystal and not so good in others. It was far heavier than the Venetian glass and, therefore, not as delicate to look at, but due to its heavy quality it was also slow to cool when blown, and this meant that it gave more time to the workers to craft each piece. Due to the addition of lead oxide the glass also had a far greater brilliance and refractive qualities then its Venetian counterpart.
For some years all the crystal that was to be seen was heavily decorated, a fashion that continued until some years later when simple lines and minimal decoration became more popular. With the simpler lines it was easier to see and admire the quality and brilliance of the lead crystal glass than with the over-ornate ones.
The names that became synonymous with changing fashions in glass and crystal are as varied as the styles they brought with them. Bristol glass refers to glass with enamelling on it. In this process opaque white glass is embellished with varied designs. Waterford crystal has deeply cut surfaces on the glass to catch and reflect light better. Designs that were popular were diamonds, hexagons, flutes etc.
The Favrile glass that was invented by Louis Comfort Tiffany is known for its lustre and flowing shapes. It was first shown to the public in 1893. Rene Lalique, a leading French glassmaker, brought decoration in relief into vogue by blowing into moulds or pressing. The Steuban Glass Company became synonymous with crystal sculptures with either engraved or incised designs.
Today, crystal is found in almost every home in some shape or form or the other. From mere glasses to decoration pieces, crystal is everywhere. Flower vases, bowls, clocks, candlestands, lamps, ashtrays, wine glasses, goblets, flat bottomed tumblers the list is endless.
Buying and maintaining crystal is not really as difficult as it seems to some. Though a number of people are selling crystal at exorbitant prices on the claim that they are genuine pieces, we certainly need to be alert as to what we pay for what we buy.
While buying any crystal object dont get taken in by the claim that it is a genuine Lalique or Tiffany. It is extremely rare to find these pieces just anywhere. Buy the piece if you like for its looks rather than any hopes of it being an expensive piece at a bargain. Examine it for any flaws in it. Look at the glass for any bubbles in it, particularly at the base. These are air bubbles and indicate that the glass is not of very good quality.
If it is engraved see the balance of the engraving as well as the light reflective qualities of the piece. Ideally the engraving should be well balanced throughout and the cuts well placed to catch and reflect light easily.
Maintaining crystal is not difficult at all. The basic principle is to keep it clean so that it catches and reflects light easily. This can be done with a soft, damp cloth daily in the case of decorating items. Follow this up once in a while with a thorough wash in soapy water and a rinse off.
Your precious crystal can
be the focus of your home and the point of attention if
it is a good piece, well placed and well maintained.
Nothing can give your home more sparkle and life than a
well crafted piece of crystal as it catches and reflects
light in a myriad of ways.
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