What is a crystal?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The word "crystal" is very confusing in English language. It is used for two very different materials, both of them are sought after in jewellery. It would be a lot less confusing if there were two different words for those two materials, like they are in some languages...

What do we call crystals? First of all, there are crystal stones. Not all stones are crystals. When we say that a stone is a crystal, we mean that it has a crystal structure. A crystal structure is a unique arrangement of atoms in a crystal. A crystal structure is composed of a unit cell, a set of atoms arranged in a particular way; which is periodically repeated in three dimensions on a lattice.

This crystal structure is actually visible in a rough crystal stone, such as diamond, quartz, amethyst or aquamarine (and others). Natural crystals look as if they were cut and polished. However, this is their natural form.

Natural crystal or rock crystal is quartz. This one is probably most confusing term that not everybody knows about...

Rough smokey quartz druzy in a sterling silver pendant (sold)

Rough aquamarine ring

The word crystal is also used for glass. However, not any glass can be called crystal. Most popular crystals are made by Swarovski company if speak of jewellery. Swarovski crystals do not have a crystal structure. Crystal glass is made by a special formula. Many companies make crystal glass. However, the formulas very. Swarovski company is very protective of their special formula.

Swarovski crystals (or any crystals made for jewellery) often look as if they have a crystal structure. This is just a cut though. They are faceted to maximize the sparkle. The shape has nothing to do with internal structure of the material.

Swarovski crystal earrings

What crystals do you prefer: natural or Swarovski? 


Katie Kennedy said...

Very interesting! I never knew this info about crystals. Thank you for teaching me!

Natalia Khon said...

Any time, Katie!
Thank you for the feedback!

2justByou said...

I often wondered why the Swarovski and other glass crystal is called "crystal." I had grown up with my mom making jewelry, so I knew the difference. It would be interesting to learn how the glass crystal got its name.
I love natural crystals and all their beauty in raw form. But I love glass crystal and how pretty it looks too. I also happen to like rainbows. So I can't really pick one or the other. =0)
What about you? Which one do you prefer?

aquariann said...

Interesting information! And your pendant is stunning.

Natalia Khon said...

The word crystal is from κρύος (kruos), "icy cold, frost". Both, rock crystal and crystal glass look like a piece of ice, don't they?
I would say, they wanted to come up with a word that would accent that the material is different from just glass. It is very clear and sparkly if faceted. More expensive too. From my personal experience... whenever they come up with a fancy name... the price goes up!

I certainly prefer natural rocks to glass... even if it is crystal glass :)

Natalia Khon said...

Thank you, Kristin!

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