Rhinestones have a glittering past. Originally rhinestones where referred to Czechoslovakian or Bohemian glass dating as far back as 13th century in Bohemia and Czech Republic. Both have a history steeped in beautiful hand blown glass as well as molded and cut glass. By 1918 glass was no longer limited to functional items. Czechoslovakian glass began to make its appearance in dazzling and brilliant jewelry. This Czech glass became known as rhinestones.
Rhinestones were manmade gems from highly refined glass. By using various metals glass was colored to desired shade. It was then pressed into molds. Each stone was then ground and polished by machine, resulting in a brilliant glass stone. Often stones were foiled on back which increased their brilliance.
Today, same refining process is still used. You will often here rhinestones referred to as paste. Originally paste was referred to a glass stone that made of ground glass which was molded and then melted, producing an opaque dense glass frosted stone. Paste had many air bubbles and swirl marks. The high lead content glass was then polished and faceted, and set on either copper or silver resulting in a brilliant stone. Today term paste usually refers to rhinestones. In Europe rhinestones are often referred to as paste, strass, and diamante. Austria is another area with a history in rhinestone production. In 1891 Daniel Swarovski created a new glass cutting machine which quite literally revolutionized jewelry business.
This machine could cut faceted glass, producing finely finished product in a very short time. Prior to this invention it would take a very long time for each stone to be hand cut and finished. Swarovski’s background in glass making, combined with his glass cutting machine soon found him producing rhinestones with a lead content of over 30%. The brilliance of these rhinestones was superior to anything seen on market. Swarovski wasn’t content with his invention and best rhinestones ever seen. His next invention was once again transforming to jewelry industry. He created a vacuum plating for backs of stones with silver and gold, reducing need for hand labor. Still today Swarovski rhinestones are recognized as highest quality in industry. Over 80% of rhinestone jewelry manufactured in America use Swarovski rhinestones.
Rhinestones have played an important role in costume jewelry for hundreds of years. It is used to enhance and accent, and sometimes rhinestones will provide entire design. During Victorian period common motifs for jewelry included snakes, flowers, and hands most often adorned with rhinestones.
The 1890s were a time for extravagant jewelry heavily adorned with rhinestones. As time moved forward designs became simpler with figural shapes once again making their fashion statement. However this time they were small and more elegant with small rhinestone accents.
During Edwardian period extravagance had made a comeback with diamonds and pearls being focal point. Once again rhinestones were in heavy use, often used to imitate real thing.