Crystal glass (also called lead crystal, cut glass crystal or fine crystal) is the elegant, usually beautifully etched glass that is used to create goblets, bowls, vases, chandeliers, candleholders and a host of other decorative home items. This is the use we know most commonly, though lead crystal is also used by industry.
Lead crystal receives its name from the lead oxide added to it, which creates a high sparkle to the glass and also enables it to be cut by hand or machine. The facets further showcase the brilliance.
Glass must include a minimum of 24 percent lead oxide to be legally called full lead crystal and ensure the sparkle; it can range up to 35 percent lead oxide, which increases the brilliance.
George Ravenscroft has been named as the person who discovered lead crystal in 1676. Over the years people have refined it, and in 1932 the Corning Glassworks created lead glass with a higher optical clarity which was used for the company's Steuben Glass. Other famed manufacturers include Baccarat, Mikasa, Swarovski, Royal Leerdam and Waterford Crystal.
Crystal glass is delicate and scratches easily, so care should be taken in using, cleaning and storage. Do not subject the crystal to sudden changes in temperature, for example, by pouring hot liquids into a cold goblet or vice versa. Wash by hand in warm, not hot, water with a gentle, non-abrasive cleaning product; do not use a dishwasher. Dry carefully with a soft cloth. Store in a protected environment such as display cabinet behind glass.
Is It True Crystal?
Plain glass can be molded or formed and sometimes looks like crystal. To test it, tap the object gently with a fingernail, for example at the rim of a glass. Real crystal will produce a distinct, reverberating ringing tone.
What we call "crystal" glass in the form of decorative items is not actually crystalline and shouldn't be confused with the crystal gemstones as found in nature such as diamonds, amethyst, rubies or other such gems. The word for the crystal glass originated from the Italian word "cristallo" because the glass imitated crystal rock in its clarity.
Crystal contains lead, so be careful, especially of crystal with the maximum amounts of lead. In particular, acidic foods or liquids can draw the lead into themselves, so do not store them in the crystal used for dining; instead transfer them immediately before using. High levels of lead can be dangerous; children and pregnant women in particular should avoid eating or drinking from crystal. Ironically, some firms make crystal baby bottles. These should be avoided except for decorative use.
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