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Daniel Swarovski and Austrian Crystal - Part III

The Swarovski Empire

The twenties were profitable, but the thirties saw production curtailed. In 1931 the company introduced the first of many fashion accessories in the form of presewn trimmings. World War II forced the company to accept military commissions again. By this time, Wilhelm has succeeded in establishing an optical unit, which along with abrasives and some technical products, kept Swarovski going.

After the war Swarovski emerged as the largest foreign currency earner in Austria, a bright spot in the otherwise depressing national economy. It expanded quickly, moving branches to new factories in nearby towns, establishing an independent sales office, and founding new subsidiaries.

The coming of Communism to Czechoslovakia caused an exodus of many skilled workers, including those in the bead business. They settled in several places, especially in (West) Germany and Austria. The largest group of these skilled craftsmen finally chose to establish themselves near the Bavarian town of Kaufbeuren in a suburb named Neu Gablonz (or New Jablonec). Daniel Swarovski was sympathetic to the plight of his countrymen, and helped them resettle. By 1960 the Swarovski Company opened its first foreign sales office in Kaufbeuren.

A technical development within the Swarovski laboratories produced a sophisticated method of coating their glass stones and beads. They were not the first to develop this, but their products were great successes, especially the “Aurora Borealis” effect, which was introduced in the early 1950’s.

They grand patriarch, Daniel Swarovski, died in 1956 at the age of 94, active to the end. By chance, his three sons all passed away within 15 months of each other from late 1960 to early 1962. Since then, third and fourth generation descendants have run the company.

Always keeping within the broad framework of jewelry introduction, Swarovski continued to expand. In 1957 they introduced a gem cutting division and soon were making synthetic stones as well. By 1965 they were producing artificial pearls. In the same year they began making pendants especially for chandeliers (their beads had been used for years) under the trade name of Straβ.

Gift souvenir items and the first crystal collector’s society item were introduced in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Costume jewelry, glass reflecting elements and ECG electrodes and electronic control systems are also part of the conglomerate. In 1897 they became a major force in the North American Jewelry business, buying the American Zale Corporation and People’s Jewelry Ltd. of Canada. With 1,250 stores, Zale is the largest jewelry retail change in the world.

By 1992 Swarovski had become a billion dollar company, employing 9,200 people, over 600 of them in research and development. They operate 19 manufacturing units in Austria (4), Liechtenstein, Germany, Spain, France, U.S.A. (3), the Bahamas, Brazil, Argentina (3), Uruguay, China and Thailand. 45 sales components and 12 service companies complete their corporate profile.

Swarovski Beads

The heart of the company has always been crystal ornaments. The bulk of production is probably geared toward rhinestones and related products, but beads are not neglected. Swarovski produced 60,000,000 pieces of crystal stones a day in sizes ranging from .9 to 50mm. Pieces are cut with from 17 to 130 facets and offered in a wide variety of colors and special effects.

The crystal stone line is designated by Numbers 1000, 2000, and 4000 are stones meant to be mounted in jewelry, either round, flat back or fancy in shape. The 3000 series are for stones to be sewn onto clothing. Beads are designed as the 5000 series, with 5800 used for artificial pearls and 6000 for pendants.

Coloring and Coating Beads and Crystal

Glass beads can be colored any number of ways. The glass itself may be colored by introducing metal oxides to the batch. Clear glass beads can be coated inside to give them a particular appearance. Blown beads are often coated with silver ammonia nitrate, which leaves a silver lining; depending upon the color of the glass the result will be silver, gold (with amber glass) and other metabolic effects. Small drawn “seed” beads are commonly lined with paint to color them, but this fades and wears out in time.

The external coating of beads became popular in the 1860’s with Bohemia the leading developer. These coating break up and scatter light to produce various iridescent effects. These a number of methods used terms for them differ from bead-maker to bead-maker and information on them is scant, but they fall into two broad categories. In one, a varnish is applied to the glass consisting of a mixed metallic and organic compound. Upon firing, the organic material burns off, leaving a thin layer of metal. This luster is commonly called “iris’ (gunmetal, bronze and other dark colors) and “ceylons” (generally of pastel colors, sometimes on lined glass beads).

The other method is more sophisticated, exposing the glass to fumes of various inorganic halides (especially chloride). This deposits a very thin metal film on the glass, on the order of the size of the wavelength of light. Ferric (iron) chloride will produce a deep amber coat, while the chlorides of silica, tin and titanium produce colorless coating leaving only the iridescent effect. Aurora Borealis is the most famous of this type; the Japanese version is called “rainbow”. Swarovski’s “glacier Blue” which is even more spectacular than Aurora Borealis, is essentially similar, but with an even thinner layer of coating.

Part I - Introduction Part II - Daniel Swarovski's Dream Part III - The Swarovski Empire