Swarovski crystals, also known as Swarovski Rhinestones and crystal elements, are highly polished, machine cut glass stones used in the DIY sector for embellishment, jewellery making, fashion, costume design, nail art, beauty and are prevalent in the creative and performing arts industries. Although the exact manufacturing process is not known, Swarovski crystals are made from quartz sand and other natural minerals. Historically the crystals were made with 32% lead, but after a change in the manufacturing process in 2012, they are now listed as lead-free. Swarovski crystal rhinestones, also known as Swarovski flatback crystals, gem and diamantes, achieve their famous high quality sparkle through the facets cut into the glass, which reflect light and offers the brilliance in shine we are all familiar with today.
History of Swarovski
Founder, Daniel Swarovski, was born in Bohemian Georgenthal (now Czech Republic) in 1862, in an area known for glass cutting and production. Daniels’ Father was a glass cutter who owned a small factory, and this was where Daniel Swarovski learnt the art of glass cutting himself. In 1895, he founded the company A. Kosmann, Daniel Swarovski & Co, which throughout the years has been developed and re-branded to what is now known as Crystals from Swarovski®.
Images courtesy of Swarovski, Daniel Swarovski 1910
The late 1800’s saw the development of a patented glass cutting machine that could cut crystal to a fine and precise level, which led to success for Swarovski, and the opening of a new glassworks factory in Austria. Post WW1 and the roaring 20’s saw Swarovski crystals explode in popularity in film, fashion, dance and theatre, and the distribution into the USA.
In 1956 at the age of 93, Daniel Swarovski died, and coincidentally this was the same year that the AB Aurora Borealis effect crystal was developed. The rest of the 1900’s saw Swarovski Crystals take over the world in the creative and performing art industries, growing popular among jewellery designers, celebrities, filmmakers, singers and the humble craft hobbyist.
Now, after multiple rebrands and hundreds of new product launches, Swarovski has confirmed its elite status by scaling back distribution and limiting who can purchase and use their product.
Importance in the Creative Industry
Swarovski crystals have played a hugely important role in the creative industry, even as far back as the 1920’s, when fashion, dance and theatre were the most popular pastimes of the day. Nowadays, the iconic rhinestones are still widely used in costume making, fashion design, bridal couture and even pop up in the nail art and beauty world; tooth gems are back in fashion!
The presence of sparkling Swarovski crystals really elevates a design, whether it’s an item of clothing, a pair of shoes, a piece of furniture, a wedding gown, a craft project – anything and everything can be embellished and Swarovski are the ones to do it!
Image credit: Jimmy Choo
In this article we will be talking about the different types of Swarovski crystals, how they can be used and applied, where you can purchase Swarovski, and ideas for DIY crystal projects you can try at home.
Section 1: Understanding Swarovski Crystals
Types and Shapes
The full Swarovski range includes a vast array of crystal products from jewellery and jewellery components, chandelier lighting and lighting components, crystal figurines and ornaments, plus an entire DIY sector, known as Swarovski Elements, which is what we are focussing on in this article. The DIY sector features individual crystal pieces for creators, such as hotfix and non hotfix rhinestones, beads, pearls, chatons, fancy stones, cupchain, cabochons, sew on stones, crystal buttons, rhinestone shapes and Crystal Pixie for nail art. These crystal embellishments are most commonly used in the creative arts, couture, performance and beauty industries, and within each of these product types, there are many different shapes, sizes and colours available.
Quality and Brilliance
Swarovski is known all over the world as the leading manufacturer of crystals and cut glass, using high tech machinery to produce a myriad of crystal components, ensuring they stand out from other manufacturers. Their range of flatback stones, sew on stones, beads and pearls, which are the more popular components in the DIY sector, are the market leader in terms of quality of cut and brilliance. For example, the 2088 Xirius flatback rhinestone, the latest cut, features 16 facets in star formation, offering an amazing sparkle. The round and flatback pearl range has a smooth and pearlescent exterior and a durable scratch-proof coating making them a popular choice among jewellery designers. The overall standard of Swarovski foil backed crystals and sew on stones is of the highest quality in the industry, with a smooth, flat base and scratch resistant finish.
Colours and Finishes
Swarovski boast a huge range of colours and coatings in their crystal range, including standard ‘flat’ colours, AB colours and special effect colours such as metallic, multi-tone, neon, shimmer and opal.
- Clear: Also known as simply Crystal, the clear rhinestone is completely colourless, but has a mirror foil backing which reflects the light like a diamond. It is one of the most popular crystal colours.
- AB: ‘Aurora Borealis’ or AB gets its name from the natural phenomenon that occurs in certain skies at night known as the Northern Lights. It is a coated crystal that has a rainbow effect, much like a soap bubble, or sometimes described as an ‘oil on water’ effect. This is the most popular colour by far, especially in the performing arts world, the stunning AB coated crystal reflects light superbly and looks gorgeous under spotlights. The coating reflects the colours that surround it so use against pale colours for pinks, purples, pale blue and golds to shine through. Or use on a darker background to see greens, yellows and darker shades of blue.
- Standard: These colours are one single monotone colour, such as Fuchsia pink, Sapphire blue or Emerald green.
- AB Colours: This range includes all the standard colours, with the iridescent AB coating over the top, which gives the effect of lots of different colours being reflected from the stone.
- Metallic: Metallic coated crystals such as Rose Gold, Aurum and Light Chrome, are a solid looking crystal, rather than iridescent, i.e. they look like a little piece of metal.
- Multi-tone: Two-tone or multi-tone crystals shine with more than one colour, for example Volcano or Heliotrope.
- Neon: These are glow in the dark, fluorescent colours which are popular for freestyle dance costumes and festival wear.
- Shimmer: Swarovski’s Shimmer range is a fairly recent launch which features iridescent crystals that have even more sparkle to them, available in a few different colours.
- Opal: Opal crystals such as Yellow Opal, Pacific Opal and White Opal have a milky, more subtle sparkle and are popular for creating vintage style designs.
Section 2: Applications of Swarovski Crystals
Fashion and Apparel
Swarovski crystals have always covered fabrics, from catwalk garments and sportswear to high end shoes and trainers. Rhinestone embellishments are used to enhance and elevate an item of clothing or accessory, giving them a luxurious and expensive feel. In the fashion world, celebrities don Swarovski encrusted outfits for award shows, catwalk shows, music festivals, red carpet events etc. Just recently, Harry Styles stunned the crowd at the Grammy’s with a Swarovski adorned outfit, meanwhile rapper Doja Cat wowed at Paris fashion week by showing up with over 30,000 Swarovski crystals covering her face and dress!
Images courtesy of Swarovski
For us non-celebrities though, you can easily jazz up your own clothing with Swarovski crystals by using the hotfix or non hotfix method to create patterns, lettering, logos or icons onto the fabric.
Although Swarovski design and make their own jewellery and watches, you can use individual pieces from the DIY sector to make your own. With a huge range of crystal pendants, sew on stones, pointy back chatons, stones in settings, fancy stones, cupchain and cabochons available, you can create all kinds of beautiful jewellery. If you have the correct tools and findings, it is easy to get creative and glue a large oval crystal into a pendant bezel for example. Or make simple necklaces and bracelets using round pearls and crystal beads.
Within interior design, applying Swarovski crystals to furniture, mirrors, wallpaper, vases, glassware, artwork, lamps, soft furnishings and other household items is becoming increasingly popular. The addition of crystal in the home brings elegance, style, luxury and offers a bespoke style. For years we’ve seen crystal buttons studded armchairs and curtain pelmets, and beaded lampshades, but now you can find Swarovski encrusted wall art and in some cases the wallpaper itself.
Throughout its history, Swarovski crystals have been used to decorate dance, performance and theatre costumes, from the flapper girls in the 1920’s to the Spice Girls in the 2020’s. Crystals play a huge role in costume design and dancewear, bringing light, shimmer and sparkle to the stage, flatback hotfix or non hotfix rhinestones are used to make costumes as well as props and sets. In the dance world, competitive dancing relies heavily on an the aesthetics of the dress, and in Irish dancing in particular, the look of a dress goes towards the scoring and ranking, in other words, the more crystals the better! Again, for dancewear flatback crystals are glued or heat fixed onto the fabric, and sew on stones often feature heavily too.
Nail Art & Beauty
Adding Swarovski crystals to nail art is fast becoming a long standing trend in the beauty world, big names in the industry such as Kirsty Meakin and Katie Barnes often use Swarovski crystals to enhance their nail art. And crystal nails are also seen often in the celebrity world, for award shows, fashion weeks and music concerts. Swarovski nail art embellishments include the smaller flatback crystals, shapes, pearls and pixie and are attached to the nail using Crystal Fix glue. Another popular trend in beauty is tooth gems, we saw them appear in the early 2000’s and now they’re everywhere! Swarovski crystals, as well as some other brands such as Preciosa, are now lead free so are safe to use on the teeth.
Image credit: Crystal Canine, Kirsty Meakin
Section 4: Buying Swarovski Crystals
Retail vs. Wholesale
Back in October 2021, Swarovski made the decision to limit who would be allowed to purchase, sell and use their crystal components. Since then, suppliers of Swarovski components, which include flatback crystals, pearls, beads, fancy stones etc, have been selling what they had left, unable to re-stock. Only customers who comply with the strict requirements set out by Swarovski were able to purchase and sell their product, leading customers to question ‘Is it worth investing in Swarovski?’ With retail quantities being harder to find and their prices increasing, it might be worth looking at purchasing wholesale packs. If you’re a business or creator who relies on consistently using large amounts of Swarovski crystals, then requesting a wholesale account would be valuable to your business. Smaller retail quantities, which are still available from a number of suppliers including Crystal Parade, are useful for one off projects or if you like to experiment with lots of different products, such as in nail art.
Genuine Swarovski crystals will always have their swan logo on the wholesale packaging, however, to recognize them when they have been removed from their original packaging there are some tips and tricks the expert eye can see:
- Check the foil backing - Swarovski’s non hotfix backing is completely smooth and has a slight gold tinge to it, whereas Preciosa and other rhinestone brands are more grey/silver in colour.
- Swarovski have a recognizable star shape cut into the facets of the stone. When you compare a 2088 Xirius stone to a Preciosa Maxima for example, you can clearly see the star pattern.
- Another good tip for spotting Swarovski among the crowd is to check for scratches, chips or any irregularity. Swarovski crystals will not have any – unless they have been dropped or extremely roughly handled.
- Have a good look at the holes cut into the sew on stones, Swarovski’s have a really neat, smooth finish with no chipping to the crystal itself.
- When it comes to pearls, the Swarovski pearlescent coating is very durable, smooth and scratch resistant.
- Swarovski crystals tend to have a good weight to them, it’s estimated they have approximately 32% lead oxide, compared to just 12% to 28% lead oxide in other glass crystals which makes them heavier by comparison. So if you feel your crystals are lighter than expected, they are probably not Swarovski.
Applying for a wholesale trade account with Swarovski would be the most cost effective way of purchasing, however, as mentioned above Swarovski have limited who can do this. Shopping with retailers such as ourselves is the best way to buy lots of different Swarovski products for the DIY sector, if you’re new to crystal embellishment you could look at purchasing some Swarovski crystal mixed packs which is a great way of trying out different stones.
Section 5: Maintenance and Care
Cleaning and Care Tips
Once you have applied Swarovski crystals to your surface, it is important to keep them well maintained to ensure they last as long as possible. Here are a few tips to preserve their beauty:
- Once applied, and glue is completely dry, polish the crystals with a slightly damp cloth to remove any grease or glue marks. You will immediately see them light up.
- Try to avoid contact with anything that might scratch the crystals, or cause them to fall off. If transporting your item anywhere, wrap up carefully in bubble wrap.
- If you need to wash an item that has crystals on such as clothing, costumes or dancewear, make sure you do it on a cool wash and don’t use fabric conditioner. Even better – hand wash!
- Try not to keep the item in direct sunlight which may affect the glue.
- Avoid contact with chemicals such as perfume and household cleaning products.
It’s important to take good care of your Swarovski crystals, even if you’re not using them. If you have crystals in your craft kit that you’ve not yet used, keep them tightly wrapped in their packaging or in storage pots. This will stop any scratches or chips. Storage pots are also a great way of separating colours, sizes and shapes etc, especially if you work with lots of different crystals like nail artists or crafters. For larger crystals such as fancy stones, buttons or sew on shapes, it is a good idea to keep these separated by keeping them in their original packaging, or wrapping them tightly in tissue paper.
Section 6: Swarovski in the Industry
Trends and Innovations
In general, Swarovski leads the race when it comes to new product launches and are one step in front with new colours and styles. For instance, releasing the new ‘Xirius’ cut a few years ago was a huge leap forward in quality for Swarovski. The star like cut of the facets transformed their rhinestones, offering even more sparkle. They were closely followed by Preciosa and their ‘Maxima’ cut, which increased their number of facets from 12 to 15 – again, a big step up in quality.
Another example, Crystal Pixie for nails was a huge success in the beauty industry, selling out within weeks. This success led to the launch of an almost identical product a couple of years later from Preciosa, with their Crystal Faerie.
Swarovski were also the first to introduce neon crystals, or ‘Electric’ crystals as they call them, which glow under UV light, and have since been replicated by Preciosa and Zodiac. Their electric range, which includes fluorescent pink, yellow, green, blue, orange, purple and bright white took the festival and nail art world by storm when they were first released, and are still hugely popular.
We have all seen the iconic images of Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and Michael Jackson donning crystal adorned outfits, showing how Swarovski have always been present in the film, and music industry.Images courtesy of Swarovski
More recently, these flawless looks from the Met Gala are fantastic examples of how Swarovski are still the number one choice for designers. Actress Rachel Brosnahan stunned the crowd in this Sergio Hudson gown, adorned in 4,000 Jet black crystals, while Keke Palmer, also wearing Sergio Hudson, dazzled in over 12,000 crystals and pearls. But possibly the most memorable display of Swarovski on the red carpet was worn by Cardi B, in this stunning Miss Sohee creation, dripping in shades of white, pink and nude crystals, 27,000 in total!
Images courtesy of Swarovski
Section 7: DIY Projects with Swarovski Crystals
For first time blingers, you should be starting with easy embellishing projects to ensure you get the hang of the process. It takes a lot of practice to get to a skilled level, plus there are tips and tricks you need to know to achieve the best results. We suggest starting with basic projects such as crystallizing a simple shape/initial onto a phone case, or a logo on a t-shirt etc. It is easier to stick with one colour to start with, and using the same sized crystal is also quicker to work with.
If you want to embellish an object, we suggest starting with something that has a basic shape and straight edges such as a photo frame or phone case.
Here are some ideas for simple but effective embellishing projects: Personalised coffee tumbler, phone case, rhinestone glasses/sunglasses, sparkly footwear.
Images courtesy of Crystalled By Jane, Crystal Skins, Swarovski
Intermediate and Advanced Projects
Once you’ve got the hang of the basics, and you’re ready to progress your skills further, have a go at something more advanced. Objects with curved edges or complicated shapes are always trickier to embellish as you need to work with different sized crystals. Also, try embellishing with different colours and use the ombre method, this is a very popular way of distributing colours. Here are some more intermediate Swarovski projects to try: Fully covered shoes, designer handbag, skateboard, intricate phone case design.
Images courtesy of Crystalled By Jane, Swarovski and Crystal Skins
Tips and Tricks for embellishing with Swarovski crystals
- Practice applying the rhinestones to a spare piece of paper/card before you start your project, this will help you get an idea of how much glue to use and how much pressure to apply.
- Use specifically designed tools to help the process such as a Crystal Katana pick up tool rather than fiddly tweezers, storage potsfor keeping the rhinestones neat and orderly, Gem Tac glue – our #1 bestselling adhesive and Application Syringe with Precision Tip for applying glue neatly.
- If possible, work in the natural daylight as artificial lighting makes it harder to see especially when using smaller rhinestones.
- Make sure your hands are clean when working with rhinestones - grease marks will show up and dull the sparkle.
- Spend a little more money to purchase a high-quality rhinestone. The last thing you want is peeling stones, dis-colouration or scratches.
I think what we’ve all learnt, is that since its founding in 1863, Swarovski has grown massively in engineering, innovation, and of course popularity. They are, and always have been, the number one brand for cut glass, even in the face of strong competitors like Preciosa and quality alternative brands like Zodiac. Swarovski continue to be the trend setters, the innovators, yet still the most expensive of all the crystal brands out there.
Inspiration and Encouragement
Swarovski have shown us how you can elevate the most luxurious things into something even more astounding, from red carpet gowns and BMW’s to the finest watches and designer shoes. But with just a few crystals and some glue at your disposal, us humble hobbyists and crafters can do the same at home, try heat fixing some rhinestones to your favourite logo tee, nothing says bespoke like a crystallized Nike tick. Or get creative and try using crystals on your next manicure. We have a fantastic selection of How To guides and project ideas for you to get your teeth into.
Resources and Further Reading
Whether you’re new to working with crystals, you’ve worked with them before, or even if you’re a pro blinger, it is always important to know the basics of crystal application to ensure a successful outcome. We have some useful informative Ultimate Guides to help with your Swarovski crystal application, including:
- What is the difference between Hotfix and Non Hotfix rhinestones?
- Embellishment tools and how to use them.
- Crystal colours and effects.
- How to attach rhinestones to clothing.
- The best rhinestone application styles.
AB - Crystal Aurora Borealis (Crystal AB) is SwarovskI's trade mark crystal finish and probably the most popular colour effect in the Swarovski range of crystals. The AB Swarovski Crystal is a pure transparent clear crystal enhanced with an iridescent rainbow effect coating. This special coating splits the light going into the crystal into a beautiful rainbow of soft colours. The coating reflects the colours that surround it, so use against pale colours for pinks, purples and golds to shine through. Or use on a darker background to see greens and blues reflected. They look absolutely stunning under stage lights and are a very popular choice the costume and dance dress designers.
Adhesive – Also known as glue, cement, paste or tack, this sticky substance binds two surfaces together. Gem Tac adhesive is specifically made for bonding crystals, gems and rhinestones to surfaces.
Cabochon – A glass or crystal gemstone that has been shaped with a rounded dome and highly polished, most commonly used for jewellery pendants. They are unfaceted, unlike Swarovski rhinestones.
Chaton - A pointed back crystal used to set into a metal casings or settings for jewellery making.
Cut glass – The method of manufacturing rhinestones and crystals, glass is cut into shape using specially designed machinery.
DIY Sector – This refers to the creator market who use individual Swarovski elements to make their own design, as opposed to Swarovski jewellery, ornaments and watches.
Facets – The name of the cut given to a rhinestone, facet, refers to the flat surface area cut into the glass which refracts light inwards and reflects light outwards to create a sparkle. The more facets to a stone, the more light reflected, therefore the more sparkle.
Findings – The term given to metal jewellery making components such as ear wire, head and eye pins, clasps, claws etc.
Hotfix – A method of attaching crystals to a material using heat, from a hotfix applicator wand, heatpress or iron.
Innovations – A term used by Swarovski for new design and product launches.
Non hotfix – A method of attaching crystals to a material using glue, no heat required.
Pearl – The name given to an imitation pearl, whereby a glass stone is covered in a smooth pearlescent coating to replicate the shine of a natural pearl.
Rhinestone – Meaning ‘round stone’, rhinestone refers to the classic round shaped, flatback gem used for embellishment.
Transfers – A crystal design that is applied to fabric, in one go, using heat, transfers can be either pre-made by Swarovski or you can create your own using hotfix transfer film.
Wholesale – You can purchase packets of crystals in bulk directly from Swarovski, without going through a retail supplier.
Xirius – The name of Swarovski’s latest crystal cut. Xirius refers to the star shape cut into the stone which offers a bigger sparkle and shine, and is a good way of recognizing Swarovski from other brands. The name was inspired by the star Xirius.
Where can I order Swarovski crystals from?
There are a few online retailers that sell Swarovski crystals, we at Crystal Parade specialise in smaller crystals for nail art and vintage Swarovski crystals.
Can I buy Swarovski crystals in wholesale packs?
If you’re a business, you are now able to apply for a trade account with Swarovski where you can purchase wholesale packs in bulk. However, you are not permitted to use the Swarovski name or logo when re-selling or advertising your work.
Are Swarovski the best crystals for nail art?
If you’re a nail artist who relies on using the Swarovski name to promote your business, then using genuine Swarovski nail art crystals is best for you, however if you want to offer an affordable manicure then using Preciosa or Zodiac crystals are just as good.
How do I know I’m using the correct Swarovski crystal?
If you’re not sure you are ordering the correct colour, size or brand of crystal, we are happy to help. You can send us a photo of a crystal you already and we can identify it for you. Or, if you have a piece of clothing or other item you would like to add crystals to, we can advise the best products to use and suggest colours to compliment. Alternatively, you could purchase a crystal colour chart which contains a sample of every colour, shape and size. For more help on choosing the right crystal for your project, check out our Ultimate Guides.
What is the difference between Xilion and Xirius?
Xirius refers to the star shape cut into the facets of the stone which offers a bigger sparkle and shine. It is the most recent cut designed by Swarovski. Xilion is the previous cut, which is now being phased out to make way for Xirius, however you may still here Xilion being referred to for Swarovski beads.
What does SS mean?
SS refers to 'Stone Size' and is followed by a number, as well as the size in millimeters. In general, SS2 - SS10 are the small sizes used for nail art, beauty, fine jewellery and tooth gems. SS12 - SS20 are often used in dance, costume, craft, cardmaking and textiles. SS30 - SS48 are more commonly used for Irish dance, theatrical costumes and costume jewellery. For more information on rhinestone sizes, see our Ultimate Guide here.
How do I apply Swarovski crystals to fabric?
There are a number of ways to attach Swarovski crystals to fabric: Heat fixing, glue on method, sew on or riveting. For detailed information on the different application methods, read our Ultimate Guide to attaching rhinestones to fabric.
What is a good alternative to Swarovski crystals?
Preciosa and Zodiac are both fantastic alternatives to Swarovski, Preciosa is a high quality brand and Swarovski’s closest competitor. Zodiac crystals are a great quality Swarovski similar brand at a fraction of the cost. Find out more about how Zodiac compares to Swarovski in our Ultimate Guide: Are Zodiac as good as Swarovski?