For a long time now, crystal has been the go-to material when it comes to chandeliers. From a few teardrops to chandeliers made more of crystal than anything, crystal chandeliers are so ubiquitous that the “crystal” is practically implied just in the word “chandelier.” And there’s every reason for it – the beautiful optic quality of crystals makes them perfect for ornamentation, and brings out the best qualities of electric and natural light. But even the simplest machine made crystals – to say nothing of ones that are entirely made by hand – can be extremely expensive. Glass chandeliers offer a more modern alternative that’s much, much more affordable, without sacrificing much of this sophisticated traditional style.
The Difference Between Glass And Crystal
In truth, the crystals on a crystal chandelier are actually made of glass – but it’s glass that’s fortified with lead oxide or other compounds. The elements mixed into the glass have a whole lot of scientific effects, but in essence they make the glass sparklier and easier to shape, so it can be cut into the familiar reflective prisms. Regular glass chandeliers are typically made of loops or globes of glass rather than crystals, but while they do reflect light, they don’t refract it as well – meaning, essentially, they aren’t quite as sparkly.
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The Cost Of “Hand Made”
It isn’t only the additional material that goes into leaded glass that makes it more expensive – it’s also an issue of labor. Most heirloom quality crystal chandeliers are made with individually hand cut crystals produced by master artisans at a handful of companies from around the world. It’s part of their signature stamp of elegance and value, especially in an era of machine-made products. But even glass chandeliers with each piece made by hand, like this gorgeous Solexa chandelier, are much, much less expensive than their crystal equivalents because they don’t require a proprietary “recipe” for the glass mixture or chemical coatings commonly applied to lead crystals.
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More Shimmer Per Square Inch
With the exception of very large chandeliers, most heirloom quality crystal chandeliers are decorated with a few teardrop crystals hung from a metal frame rather than primarily with crystals. This is because the sheer complexity and material cost of building a tall chandelier with many large, long crystals make them prohibitively expensive. Of course they exist, but the difference between crystal and glass can be thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars. Glass chandeliers offer a more transparent design at a much lower cost, without all the cast brass ornamentation of very traditional chandeliers.
Live For The Loop
Another advantage of glass chandeliers is that while leaded crystals have a strict prism structure, pure glass can be formed in a variety of shapes without diminishing its appearance. One of the most common shapes used is a simple loop, linking or even knotting drop-shaped strands of glass to one another. Again, this allows for a chandelier that showcases the glass pieces rather than ornamental brass arms. This also creates a seamless sheath of glass around the bulbs, meaning that each piece catches more light than a traditional crystal, making up somewhat for the difference in clarity, refraction, and dispersion that characterize lead crystals.
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Not all glass chandeliers are made to resemble their crystal brethren – and in fact this is part of their appeal. Draped crystals are lovely, but they are somewhat limited in terms of shape. Beyond limiting how they can be hung, this even limits the possibilities of the overall style of the lighting fixture. Modern glass chandeliers and pendants can have wildly unique designs, from a thin, feathery fringe of tiny wisps of glass to a cascade of glass baubles or even a totally unique molded glass shape designed specifically to catch the light.
More Modern Appeal
Finally, while crystal chandeliers can definitely work in a modern decor, it’s a very bold choice that has to be pulled off with a skillful hand, and creates a look that’s much more chic and upscale than the average homeowner might want. Some glass chandeliers offer a playful twist on the classing design, toning it down, streamlining it, and making it new to better match a contemporary home. Others shirk tradition entirely, creating a new, sophisticated artistic design with both feet in a modern style.
If you’re looking for a new twist on a classic design, or just a way to save while building a sophisticated look, glass chandeliers offer a stiff competition to more traditional crystal. What do you think of glass chandeliers? Are you looking for a very modern chandelier, or a way to incorporate a classic style into a contemporary space?