The name rhinestone originated from pieces of crystal or glass found in Austria's Rhine River. Rhinestones, however, have been around for centuries and were originally cut and finished by hand. In the 1700’s, a French jeweler developed a technique for applying lead to the back of glass. This process greatly enhanced the brilliance and sparkle of the glass. In the 1800’s, Swarovski created a glass cutting machine which cut faceted glass that had dazzle and brilliance far superior to hand cut crystal. This became known as "Swarovski Rhinestones". Swarovski's invention allowed for a speedy mass production while still producing a magnificent finished stone.
Today this process is still being used world wide by companies other than Swarovski. While there may be some quality differences, many companies have successfully mimicked the Swarovski technique. All rhinestones are carefully and meticulously cut glass or crystal with a foiled backing with lead content which enhances the sparkle and brilliance.
However, not all rhinestones are Swarovski nor are they all Austrian Crystal. However, as all rhinestones are cut glass or crystal with a foiled back, this sometimes becomes confusing. Rhinestones may also be Czech, Korean, Acrylic or Plastic.
The top of the line rhinestones are Swarovski Rhinestones. This distinction in name can only apply to rhinestones that are made specifically by the Swarovski company. If something is labeled as “Genuine Swarovski” it must come from the Swarovski company. Swarovski rhinestones are made of lead crystal with an 8 facet cut although some of the newer stones have a 14 facet cut.
Czech Machine Cut This is a very fine lead crystal rhinestone, has 8 facets with a relatively large table. At distances, these stones flash brighter than do Swarovski, and because of great presence and cost, are costumer's favorites. The crystal is not quite as bright due to slightly lower lead content, however, it is difficult to tell the difference at distances greater than 5 feet. In fact, the Czech stone will often outshine its Swarovski counterpart at distance. Czech rhinestones are known to have a quality quite comparable to Swarovski and are often preferred because they are less expensive without a noticeable quality difference. Czech Extra Grade Made by Preciosa, this stone is double cut (top and bottom only) and facets are molded. The facets are not as sharp as the Machine cut, and there is considerable variance in quality of this stone. This is NOT lead crystal, but is glass. Therefore, this stone does not have the brilliance that either Swarovski or Czech Machine cut exhibit.
Acrylic or Plastic Rhinestones:
Acrylic rhinestones are not stones at all but are merely pieces of plastic shaped to look like rhinestones. Acrylic or plastic rhinestones do not sparkle like real rhinestones because acrylic does not transmit light as does glass or lead crystal. But, their cost is attractive for children's wear and single-use costumes. Not all acrylic rhinestones are created equally. Acrylic rhinestones are made by molding. Occasionally, molding tabs are present that have to be broken off the rhinestone before using...not many, but a few do have these tabs. Also, the nature of plastic causes these "stones" to fall out of settings very easily. They may be useful in costumes, but should never be considered as jewelry. There is one advantage of acrylics over crystal rhinestones...the mirror backing is an integral part of the stone, whereas glass and crystal rhinestones have the mirror applied as a coating and the coating can sometimes peel away from the glass
Korean rhinestones are not up to the same grade as anything produced in Europe at this time. These stones are single cut (back must be cut) and are cast stones with poor light reflection qualities. These stones are used in low-end heat transfer work by some companies.
Cubic Zirconia Gemstones (CZ's) are a cubic form of zirconium oxide developed in a lab as a substitute for diamonds. They have many of the characteristics of diamonds. These gems are hand cut and often set in genuine gold, silver, or platinum. CZ's are meant to be a substitute for diamonds, and are priced accordingly. Rhinestone Cuts and Sizes Rhinestones come in a multitude of different shapes, sizes and colors. Before buying rhinestones, make sure you educate yourself on what your application needs are for your design. The cut of the rhinestone greatly influences its brilliance! Purchase the rhinestone with cut in mind. · Rhinestones with more facets will glimmer more than those cut with fewer facets. · Rhinestones cut with fewer facets will flash more than those cut with a higher number of facets. According to Rhinestone Guy, the perfect compromise is 8 facets around the table (the table is the flat top of the rhinestone). When more facets are added to the rhinestone, the reflected light is broken into more pieces, therefore each piece of reflected light is smaller. Understand that up close, the more facets a rhinestone has, the better it will look to your eye, but the real test of a rhinestone is at a distance of intended viewing. Costumers design outfits that are showing at distances of greater than 4 feet. Here, in all cases, the 8 facet rhinestone will be superior in effect to rhinestones of higher cut facets.
Rhinestones are generally sized as follows: SS: "Stone Size" This designation is used for flat back and larger pointed back stones. Stone Sizes are usually: 8SS = 2.3 mm, 10 SS = 2.8 mm, 12 SS = 3.1 mm, 16 SS = 3.9 mm, 20 SS = 4.7 mm, 30 SS = 6.4 mm, 34 SS = 7.1 mm, 40 SS = 8.9 mm, 42 SS = 9.1 mm, 49 SS = 11.1 mm PP: "Pearl Plate" This designation is used for pointed back stones up to about pp35. Roughly, 1/2 pp = SS, but not exactly. The name comes from pearl sizing techniques where a plate has holes of a certain size drilled in it so pearls of that size or smaller will fall through.
Rhinestone Colors Rhinestones come in a rainbow of colors. The colors offered increase every year but can be broken down into basic categories: Crystal: This is the traditional diamond look-a-like. These rhinestones are clear and should have no color. This is the most commonly seen rhinestone. Transparent Colors: These are semi-precious gem-like colors. These rhinestone colors are often named after the gem they imitate such as: Emerald (green), Peridot (lime or apple green), Sapphire (royal blue), Amethyst (purple), etc. If the name has 'Light' before it, it is a paler version of the color. Colors AB: AB rhinestones are produced by adding an Aurora Borealis coating to the stone. The coating will cause a prismatic effect in light refraction, casting all colors of the rainbow, with the base color showing through. Crystal AB results when a 'Crystal' color has an AB coating applied. This stone will cast mild colors in all ranges. Swarovski AB coatings reflect in the red, blue, green, and gold areas, whereas Czech reflects more Gold/Yellow than do the Swarovski. Effect Colors: These are rhinestones in special colors which are produced by polarization of the glass, usually producing two or more different colors, depending upon how light is hitting the stone.