Left to itself, leaded crystal will cool like a cake: the outer part cools quickly, and the inner core takes longer to dissipate heat. That differential in temperature means that the inner parts of the crystal cool off later than the outer parts, and that can leave very fine striations in the crystal. You probably wouldn't notice them on first glance - you might even mistake them for fingerprints. But those tiny striations can distort the light passing through the crystal. Once you notice them, they will be hard to ignore. Cheaper crystal is made without any control of the cooling process, and can therefore show these subtle distortions. The other thing to watch out for is bubbles. Cheaper crystal can often have a tiny bubble or two trapped inside. Once you see a bubble, you can't un-see it.
Crystal is very seldom branded, and often there's no information on the provenance of the crystal on the chandelier you are about to buy. And if you are buying a particular chandelier, you will probably buy it because you like its design, and will have to take the crystals, whatever they may be. Still, good quality crystal is worth knowing about, and here are some tips to keep in mind:
MAKE SURE IT'S CRYSTAL, NOT ACRYLIC OR GLASS
Most people should be able to spot acrylic right away: If you are looking at a "crystal" chandelier at Home Depot and it costs $50, those crystals are almost certainly plastic. Acrylic is really light and has a dull finish, poor clarity, and unsharp faceting. Glass is a step-up from clear acrylic, obviously, but has none of crystal's refractive qualities. It's just, well, glass.
Because this is a cheap solution, glass "crystals" are generally poorly made, with little sharpness to the faceting, poor polish, and you will often see bubbles inside. If you are reading this, you care enough about quality to avoid both of these options like the plague.
K5 OR K9 BOROSILICATE GLASS ("CHINESE CRYSTAL")
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). K9 glass should be considered to be a higher quality than 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 fixtures would ship with K9 glass -- an inexpensive option that is manufactured locally.
If you are buying a crystal chandelier or pendant for under, say, $1,500, the chances are that the crystals will be either K5 or K9 borosilicate glass (often referred to as "Chinese Crystal" for its place of manufacture. Consider K9 to be the Toyota Camry of chandelier glass: relatively cheap, reliable, ubiquitous -- it gets the job done. But, given that your chandelier is the jewelry of your home, you may want to consider spending a little more to get something considerably more exquisite. You may wish to opt for real jewelry instead of costume jewelry.
GEM CUT CRYSTAL
Gem cut crystal generally refers to high quality, "real" crystal, between 24% and 34% lead oxide. There are gradations of quality points within this category, such as optical purity, and polish. Optical purity has to do with minimizing the distortion of light passing through, and the best way to do that is to control the cooling process of the molten crystal.
Once molten crystal is poured, it cools much like a cake fresh from the oven: The outer parts cool down first, and the innermost center cools last. With crystal, those temperature variations can cause tiny striations -- kind of like fingerprints in the middle of the crystal. To prevent this, manufacturers have learned that they can apply heat to the cooling process so that the outer portions of the crystal cool at roughly the same rate as the core. Obviously, this can get a little tricky and adds to the manufacturing cost of the crystal.
Other variabilities in quality include the sharpness of the faceting and how highly polished the surface of the crystal is. Some manufacturers will include a semi-precious metal coating, which can protect the crystal's polish. At Michael McHale Designs, our standard crystal is optically-pure, sharply faceted, and highly-polished.
Ireland's contribution to the world of crystal is the venerable Waterford Company. They mostly make glass wear but do sell very traditional chandeliers made with their signature crystal. Waterford is known for their wood mold technique of making crystal, which requires a great deal of craftsman skill and attention to detail. Waterford does not currently sell their chandelier crystal as parts to third-party artisans, so the only place you really get Waterford chandelier crystal is on Waterford chandeliers.
Michael McHale Designs Coupon Codes
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Tribeca Chandelier Table Lamp For $685
Industrial Five Bulb Compact Bronze For $1,725
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