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What Are Rhinestones?

Image of various rhinestones

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.
Swarovski Xilion rose 2028 vs 2058 rhinestone flatback

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.
Comparison between popular rhinestone sizes and 5p piece.

Click here for: Printable PDF to show exact rhinestone sizes


Rhinestone effects

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

Sample of rhinestones from the 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 artss5 Clear Crystal
2. Toenail artss7 Clear Crystal
3. Mobile phonesss9 Clear Crystal
4. Havaiana flip flopsss20 Clear Crystal
5. Conversess16 (ss12 and ss20 are also used)
6. Dance costumesss12 – ss48 (most popular ss16 & ss20)
7. T-shirtsss16

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


  1. Swarovski Crystals are indeed very famous. Apart from the jewellery aspect they also make crystal figurines and my wife and I have a small collection of them merely because of their beauty.

    • Hi Sire
      They do have some really nice figurines especially the Disney ones, but they are very expensive to collect.

  2. I used to collect some of the limited editions which were only sold to members. I especially like the Fabulous Creatures series which consisted of a dragon, unicorn and Pegasus. You are right though, it is expensive and we haven’t bought any for several years.

  3. Wow, thats some beautiful colours in that colour chart above and BTW you’ve just introduced me to rhinestone – fantastic :0)

  4. I have some old dress clips that are “paste” as they were called. Thanks for the history, that was great. Love Swarovski crystals for beading, they are great for all the colors and shapes and sizes.

  5. I also enjoy admiring the Swarovski Crystals. We have a store in our mall with these and they are so beautiful to look at, especially since the store has made the lighting just right.

  6. I would like to thank you and command you on the information – very interesting!

  7. Thanks for the great history lesson about Swarovski crystals! We use them to make Swarovski crystal decorated flip flops. Nothing else has near the brilliance!

  8. whats the difference between normal swarovski rhinestones and AB? which one would you recommend to use on shoes?

    • Hi Jess
      The clear crystal is by far the most popular for converse, the main difference between the two is that the AB has a coating which gives it a multi colour effect when the crystals moves with lots of silver, purple and pink in the mix. The clear crystal although its sparkly looks more like little diamonds which is why its more popular, as regards which is better its completely down to personal preference but the clear would have my vote ; ) Hope that helps.

  9. When covering baby crib shoes what size rhinestone should I use also what kind ie. hot fix or glue on?

    • Hi Lyndsey
      ss12 are a nice size for smaller shoes and easy to work with as regards adhesive if you wish to add them with an adhesive Gemtac would be more suitable than E6000 as it’s non toxic, but you will need to make sure that the baby doesn’t put the shoes in their mouth and chew the toe, or it won’t matter what glue you use they will come loose and get swallowed. Hotfix can be used if the shoes are made of fabric and will provide a strong bond, but won’t be suitable for leather or rubber/plastic. Hope this helps.

  10. I am quoting to supply 100 Martini glasses with clear Swarovski crystals as part of the decoration.
    My question is can these crystals be adhered to the Martini glass using UV glue.
    Thank you,
    Robert Clegg

  11. What size Rhinestones are good for converse?
    Crib/Infant/Toddler(sneaker size 0-10)
    Preschool (sneaker size 10.5-3)
    Big Kids (Sneaker size 3.5-7)

    • Hi Kisha

      If you can measure the width and length (rubber part from laces to end of toe) of the toe for each of the sizes I will do a mockup for you as to the best crystal size

  12. Hello, can you tell me what the difference is between swarovski & preciosa? Also, which ones are safest to use crafting for novelty baby items?

    • Hi Jasmine
      The main difference is the cut of the crystals the MC Chaton Rose VIVA12 which is Preciosa’s flatback has 12 facets and the Xilion Rose Enhanced (Swarovski’s flatback) has 14 facets and a slightly higher table which makes the crystals sparklier. They are both a good quality crystal however and it would just come down to personal brand preference as to which one you prefer to use. Both would require the same precaution for the baby swallowing the crystals and one wouldnt be safer than the other. Hope this helps.

  13. Just checking that the gemtac glue is the most suitable one for sticking gems on candles, right? Which gems would be most suitable? I was looking for glass rhinestones and came across this page on google! Thanks

    • Hi Samaya
      Do you mean sticking the crystals directly onto the candle or onto the candle holder? I would guess that gemtac would bond to the candle but it’s wax so that a knock and the adhesive would come loose with a layer of wax stuck to the back. The gemtac is non toxic so it wont give off nasty fumes if there is some left on when the candle burns, but I would be more inclined to use rose pins, they are flatback crystals with a prong backing which you can just push into the candle wax, no worries of glue and if the candle is burned the crystals will fall off as the wax melts. Here is a link to our Swarovski flatback rose pins so you can see what I mean.

  14. Hi,
    i just want to thank you for such an informative website, you gave me the best information on Swarovski crystals. I found you as I was searching for information on beading for my wedding dress. After weeks of shopping, I found the perfect wedding gown, except that it has no beading and compared to other dresses, that seemed to be something that could be added to make my perfect dress. But now I’m nervous that if I choose the wrong beading I will cheapen the dress. I don’t want it to look like a costume. I love the Swarovski beading on other dresses I’ve tried, and I hoped I could go online and figure out what to buy, but the more I look, the more confused I get. I see the Swarovski Lochrosen beads, sew on crystals and beads in so many shapes and sizes, in addition to just regular sequins and seed beads. I know every gown is different and there probably isn’t 1 single answer, but if you can give me some general guidelines, I would be so grateful. I’m just not even sure what I’m looking for. The dress has some very light gray/silver embroidery that will look beautiful beaded. I know I want crystal beading, I don’t want to make it into a pageant dress, but I just want it to sparkle like crazy. I love the dresses that have lots of beading, but small and subtle, not in your face too much color. I hope this makes sense. I just want to give you all the info that you might need to help me. Thanks so much for you time and for your website.

    • Hi Kristie
      There are a number of different beads or crystals you can use to give your wedding dress a little more sparkle but from what you are saying I would recommend the 4mm bicone beads. They are tiny little diamond beads with a hole through the centre and are used a lot on the bodices of designer wedding dresses to give a subtle glimmering effect to the dress. A small amount of clear crystal and crystal AB (which has a rainbow effect and is a lot more sparkly than clear crystal (Don’t use AB x2 as it looks like the crystal is frosted just plain AB Clear) can be combined and randomly stitched into the dress using a clear thread so that you don’t see the stitching (Don’t sew the crystals into uniform lines as the effect you won’t get the same subtle effect). It’s a little more work to use bicone beads but the effect will be a lot more subtle but pleasing and depending on the design you can also use 4mm Crystal pearls along with the bicones. Hope that helps you can find the Crystal and Crystal AB 4mm bicones here. Hope that helps and if you need any further advice just let me know or give us a call. All the best for your wedding day.

  15. Thank you so much that is very helpful. I’m just curious what would be the next step up from the 4mm become if I want a little more bling. I think along the waist/belt of the wedding gown I want more bling. Any suggestions? Thanks.

    • Hi Kirstie it would be the 5mm but of you want a little more bling using a larger number of smaller crystals will create more sparkle than a lesser number of large crystals, although there isn’t much in the 4 and 5mm crystals.

  16. Hi, i have used size12 on childs 10, and size 16 on size 4 converse. I have been asked to decorate a size 3 converse do you think the in between size 14 would look better than a 16??

    • Hi Michelle
      ss14 would work well they are just a tiny bit smaller than the ss16 crystals, the more crystals the sparklier and they would be more economical than the ss12 because they are a little bigger.

  17. Please could you tell me if the hotfix crystals will stick on without heat from flat iron as I would be too nervous to use heat against the delicate fabric of my bridesmaids dresses. They already have some crystals which was on the dresses when I bought them but I would like to add more.

    • Hi Lynne
      Aside from using an iron you can use a hotfix applicator tool which you can see here for heating the adhesive up to bond them to the bridesmaid dresses. If you aren’t comfortable working with such a tool you can consider using non hotfix flatback crystals and a suitable adhesive like e6000 or gemtac all of which you can find here. view flatbacks crystals you just select the size you require and the adhesives tool for picking up the flatbacks and the crystals can be found on the same page. If you already have crystals and they are acrylic use gemtac don’t opt for the e6000 as it will melt the crystals backing which will be plastic and cloud the crystals.

  18. What is the difference between the Xirius crystal AB swarovski flatback and the crystal AB? Thanks for any help.

    • Hi Sandra
      Every few years Swarovski update the cut of the crystals to try and enhance the facets and increase their sparkle. The Xirius Rose is just the latest cut (for ss12 and above sizes) which is the 2088 model.

  19. Hi I’m looking to cover my walking stick which would be the best size t and which one for more sparkle hank you

    • Hi Dawn
      If you have a printer we have a printable pdf on this page just below the image of the flatbacks, if you are able to print it our it will show you a series of dots representing the crystal sizes which makes it a lot easier to judge. As regards the best size It would be down to personal preference of the look you are trying to achieve the same with colour. Generally clear crystal is the most popular colour the Crystal AB which has a rainbow effect in the crystals and is a lot more sparkly, but in my opinion doesn’t look as classy as the clear. ss16 would probably be a good size to consider which is 4mm diameter, if you want something a little bigger ss20 / 5mm or ss12 3.2mm if you want to go smaller.

  20. Colors are so pretty, Here I get to know about rhinestone and what they are exactly, It is really nice to know about them, No I am planning to use it for dresses, What you will recommend me?

    • Hi Jasmine Its kind of difficult to recommend something based on such little information apologies, I can only suggest to browse through the colours of whichever supplier you intend to use and find the closest match to the garment colours.

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