History of the rhinestone
Rhinestones which are also known as diamantes or paste date back as far as the thirteenth century where they were first made from Czechoslovakian or Bohemian hand blown glass. The term rhinestone came along later, when rock crystals were discovered in and around the shores of the river Rhine in Austria. These rock crystals could be cut and moulded to produce beautiful imitation diamonds and are what today’s rhinestone shape and look are based on. Unlike today’s rhinestones, rock crystals do not require any kind of backing to produce the sparkle they are so desired for. The crystals themselves have tiny imperfections within which bounce around the light to create their dazzling effect. Because of the popularity of these natural crystals resources soon became scarce so jewellers sought techniques to create artificial gemstones that duplicate the look of rhinestones.
In the later half of the 18th century French Jeweller Georg Friedrich Strass discovered that by coating the back of glass crystals with metal they would produce an effect much like rock crystals or diamonds. The first crystals had a metal foil glued to the backs of them, which was later substituted with a metal coating which gave a mirror like effect. The mirror backing forced a reflection back through the crystal and gave a dazzling sparkle like a diamond when in contact with light. These imitation gemstones became extremely popular which is why even today many people throughout Europe still refer to rhinestones as Strass.
The next step in the evolution of rhinestones came in the 19th century when Daniel Swarovski developed and patented a technique for precision glass cutting and polishing. With this new technology Swarovski were able to mass produce extremely high quality crystal glass rhinestones that have a much higher lead content than other rhinestones. This addition of lead increases the crystals refraction index which in turn enhances the crystals sparkle much more than conventional glass rhinestones. Swarovski also patented their Xilion Rose 2028 Cut in 2004 which comprises of a 14 facet design that was later revised in the beginning of 2011. Swarovski modified the 2028 in favour of the new 2058 which has a smaller table and higher profile which once again improved the sparkle of their product. Today Swarovski rhinestones are regarded as the finest in the world and as such are used by many of the world’s top fashion designers for accessorising their clothing lines.
Types of rhinestone
Swarovski produce three types of rhinestone:
1. Flat back rhinestones: These are available as foiled or un-foiled, the un-foiled are often used for setting into jewellery pieces where it’s desirable for the light to be able to pass through the crystal. The foil backed crystals are the most popular kind and can be applied to just about anything with a little adhesive and some imagination.
2. Hotfix rhinestones: Are just like the foil backed rhinestones with a ready applied adhesive backing, they can be applied with heat either from a hotfix applicator or an iron with the steam turned off.
3. Sew on rhinestones: These look much the same as flat back rhinestones but with a hole each side of the crystal. They can be stitched into footwear or clothing and are easier to remove than rhinestones which have been glued into place.
How are rhinestones measured?
Rhinestones are measured and sold by their ss size, below is a guide of the most popular sizes in both ss size and mm.
Click here for: Printable PDF to show exact rhinestone sizes
The two most popular rhinestones colours are the clear crystal and crystal AB which Swarovski, Preciosa and other rhinestone manufacturers offer along with a wide range of colours and special effects. The crystal AB or Aurora Borealis coating gives the rhinestone a rainbow effect which is available in both clear crystal and a selection of colours. Where the AB colour is applied to a colour crystal the results can differ greatly, to achieve this effect a special metallic chemical coating is applied to the exterior of the crystals. AB crystals are often seen on dance costumes or costumes worn by professional skaters in competitions and can also work perfectly alongside clear crystal rhinestones on wedding dresses.
Sample of colours from Swarovski rhinestone colour chart
How to apply rhinestones
1. Flat back rhinestones: Depending on the surface there are a number of adhesives that can be used; for paper, fabrics, leather or vinyl Gemtac glue is perfect, its non toxic and dries very quickly to form a flexible surface that’s washable once dry. For something a little stronger you can try e6000 which is an industrial strength glue that’s perfect for flip flops, shoes, mobile phones and many other surfaces. It sticks to just about anything and also dries to form a flexible clear surface, but you have to be careful when using it as the fumes are toxic, so use in a well ventilated area and be careful not to inhale any.
Once you have decided on your adhesive it’s a good idea to prep the surface of any shiny material before adding the glue. You can do this by giving the surface a light rub down with emery paper which will lightly scratch the surface to provide a better bond for the glue. Give the surface a good clean with an alcohol wipe to remove any dust or grease and lay out the rhinestones faceted side up so that they are easy to pick up. Apply the adhesive to a small area and with a jewel setter or tweezers pick up the rhinestones and apply them into position. Useful step by step guide to applying crystals
2. Hotfix rhinestones: Need heat to melt the glue on the back of the crystals, so in the case of a t-shirt which is laid out flat they can all be placed into position with a jewel setter and then melt the glue by using an iron (turn off the steam, place a cloth/tea-towel or something similar over the crystals and press the iron on the crystals for approximately 10-15 seconds, test the crystals to see if the glue has melted, if not keep repeating the process). The alternative is to use a hotfix applicator wand which looks much like a soldering iron that has interchangeable tips to accommodate the varying rhinestone shapes and sizes. To use this method again you need to lay out the rhinestones faceted side up, put the correct size tip on the applicator and then turn on. The hotfix gun will take a minute or two to warm up then the rhinestones can be picked up with the tip and simply pressed onto the desired surface, repeating the process until the design is complete. Guide to using a hotfix applicator
3. Sew on rhinestones: As the name suggests sew on rhinestones are just stitched into the design or in the case of jewellery making they can be linked together with jump rings or wire.
What size crystal do I need?
Although many people will use different sizes below is a general guide to the most popular size crystals used.
1. Finger nail art – ss5 Clear Crystal
2. Toenail art – ss7 Clear Crystal
3. Mobile phones – ss9 Clear Crystal
4. Havaiana flip flops – ss20 Clear Crystal
5. Converse – ss16 (ss12 and ss20 are also used)
6. Dance costumes – ss12 – ss48 (most popular ss16 & ss20)
7. T-shirts – ss16
Where to buy Swarovski rhinestones
At Crystal and Glass beads we have a range of Swarovski crystal rhinestones, beads and pearls that can be purchased by visiting our main site: Buy Swarovski crystals
Author: Crystal and Glass Beads