Have you ever walked into a store and admired beautiful crystal light fixtures? If so, you’ve probably noticed that even though they look similar, each one has its own unique style. But what makes them different?
There are actually grades of crystal quality. Even expensive chandeliers from recognizable brands have relatively cheap crystals on them – and the cheaper the crystal, the less value it has as a decorative piece.
So why is this important? Because when you’re shopping for new crystal light fixtures, it’s important to know what kind of crystals you’re getting. If you’re looking for something that’s going to stand out in your home or business and be admired by everyone who sees it, then this article may help you.
What are Crystals Made of?
Most of the crystals are made of high-lead glass. Its main component is silicon dioxide, and some lead oxide is added to it, so it is similar to natural crystals. But their main difference lies in the hardness and gloss. Among them, the Mohs hardness of an artificial crystal can reach about 5.5-6.0, while the hardness of a natural crystal is about 6.5-7.0. Lead oxide is added to the alkaline glass mixture for its optical refraction effect. Traditionally, lead content has been the defining characteristic of crystals, usually containing 5-20% lead, generally low lead content, because increasing lead content also increases brittleness and the fragility of the glass.
These days, the term “crystal” is used broadly for all chandelier glass decorations, regardless of lead content. The optimum lead content for crystals is between 20% and 30% to allow maximum refraction of light. It should also be noted that lead oxide is no longer the only additive that can produce refraction. Due to restrictions on lead content in parts of the United States and the European Union for nearly two decades, some crystal manufacturers have introduced “lead-free” crystals, which contain different additives such as barium, zinc, or potassium oxide,
While higher lead content tends to make the crystal more brittle, once the chandelier crystal is in place, brittleness shouldn’t be much of an issue since it’s rarely touched once it’s hung. But the lead content is only one of the factors that indicate the quality of the crystal. Considerations in the crystal manufacturing process may be more important than raw materials in determining quality.
Note the crystals on your light fixture
Crystal chandeliers are a beautiful way to add elegance and sparkle to your home. However, if you are looking for a crystal chandelier that will last for many years, you need to make sure that you are getting a quality product. If in your search you come across crystal chandeliers that are well below the market price, they are almost certainly acrylic.
Without a doubt, acrylic is the cheapest solution. It’s also easy to access and install, which means it’s a popular choice for sales. However, that doesn’t mean it’s the best choice!
Acrylic is really light, has a dull finish, poor clarity, facets that aren’t sharp, and poor polish, and you can often see air bubbles in it. If you’re reading this, I’m sure you care enough about quality to avoid this option.
Make Sure It’s Crystals, Not Acrylic Or Glass
Crystal is a type of glass that is basically made the same way – by heating the ingredients to a molten form. The molten mixture is then poured into molds to give the chandelier crystals their shape. A great deal of thought was put into figuring out the facets of each crystal, as well-thought-out design results in greater refraction of light.
During processing, the leaded crystal cools gradually: the outside cools quickly, while the core takes longer to dissipate heat. This temperature difference means that the inside of the crystal cools later than the outside, which leaves very thin streaks in the crystal. At first glance, you might not notice them—you might even mistake them for fingerprints. But those tiny streaks distort the light passing through the crystal. Once you notice them, they are hard to ignore. Cheaper crystals are made without any control over the cooling process and thus exhibit these subtle distortions.
Another thing to watch out for is air bubbles. Cheap crystals usually have a small air bubble or two inside. Once you see a bubble, you can’t help seeing it. Crystals are rarely branded, and there is usually no information on the crystal’s origin on the chandelier you’re about to buy. If you’re shopping for a particular chandelier, you’re likely to buy it because you like the design, and you have to buy it as is, regardless of the quality of the crystal. Still, quality crystals are worth knowing about.
K5 Or K9 Crystals
This is the most common type of “crystal” that you’ll see out there. If the fixture itself was made in China, it is overwhelmingly likely that the crystal will be of this type. Borosilicate glass is not, strictly speaking, crystal, as its lead content is below 10% (the original terms “K5″ and K9” refer to the percentage of lead oxide content — 5% and 9% respectively). The K9 glass should be considered to be of a higher quality than the K5 glass.
K9 glass is popular for a number of reasons: It is relatively cheap to make compared to real crystal; it has a relatively high refractive index and pretty good clarity properties. This type of glass can be polished as highly as crystal can be. Additionally, because most mass-produced lighting worldwide is made in bulk in China, it makes sense that those crystal light fixtures would ship with K9 glass — a reasonable option that is manufactured locally.