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Crystal Clear

There is something about crystal. It’s beautiful to look at and even more gorgeous when the light catches it. A stunning cut crystal vase can be compared to a diamond … cut and clarity help determine the sparkle.

Just as Cubic Zirconias are the fakes of the diamond world, cut glass can be the imposter in the world of crystal. To be the real thing, crystal requires a lead content of 24%. It’s this lead content that means that crystal is best hand washed. Thus, if your new purchase is labelled ‘dishwasher proof’, then I’m afraid it just isn’t crystal. Although crystal is known to be strong, the heat of a dishwasher ruins it over time. It loses its clarity and becomes cloudy, once again due to the high lead content.

Crystal decanters filled with richly coloured wines and spirits are always visually appealing to me; not because I’m a great lush, but more because of the sparkle and contrast of colour. Take, for instance, port in a cut crystal decanter complete with a shining silver engraved neck tag – it just oozes refinement. As I have discovered, there are a great array of decanters designed for different kinds of alcohol. So how do you know which to use for what? Well….decanters with a bulbous bottom are more suitable for red wine. The theory behind this is that when the red wine is funnelled in from the top, there is plenty of air at the bottom to circulate through the wine and bring out its ‘nose’.

Upright or triangular decanters tend to be designed for spirits or water. Perhaps the most fascinating decanter has to be the new Riedel Amadeo. Superbly designed, personally I see it as a cross between a piece of laboratory equipment and pure art. The fluid design is truly striking. This masterpiece was created by a leading Austrian designer to celebrate Riedel’s 250th birthday, as well the 250th birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It is handmade and mouthblown through the process of freeform art, using techniques which are thousands of years old. No moulds are used in the making of this piece.

With 25% lead crystal it has been so popular that a black version has just been released. Being so intricate each piece is unique – no two Amadeo decanters look alike. “It is so difficult we have only been able to find one person who can produce this decanter,” say Riedel.

Riedel claim that Claus Riedel was the first person in the long history of glassware to design a glass’s shape according to the character of the wine. They thus claim he is the inventor of the functional wine glass. Riedel have gone to the extent of having a wine and glass guide on their website. Here they match their wine glasses with a vast array of wine types, ensuring you get the very best from your wine … and your glass. Their new Tyrol range doesn’t look like your traditional wine glass. It’s something quite different as the glass doesn’t have a traditional long stem. Instead, the glass, made of lead crystal, stands on a solid half sphere shaped base which offers an amazing light reflection. The low height allows the glasses to be enjoyed daily because they can be stored easily and fit into any dishwasher. The range consists of ten different sizes, and each glass has been developed for popular grape varieties, soft drinks and desserts.

There are various names and places associated with the art of glassmaking. Regions such as Bohemia, and places such as Venice and Murano in Italy are synonymous with the art of glassmaking.

Venetian glass is a type of glass traditionally made in Venice, Italy. It is world-renown for being eye catching, elaborate and colourful, not to mention skilfully made. Byzantine craftsmen played a role in developing the art of Venetian glassmaking. Towards the end of the 13th Century, the centre of the Venetian glass industry moved to the island of Murano. This move came about when the Venetian Republic feared a fire would break out from a foundry and cause destruction to the city’s mostly wooden buildings. Although efforts were made to keep the skill and technique of Venetian glassmaking within Venice and Murano, the techniques became known elsewhere, and Venetian-style glassware is now produced in other Italian cities as well as other countries in Europe.

The Waterford Crystal brand is world renown. Started in 1783 by two brothers, George and William Penrose, who founded their crystal manufacturing business in the busy port of Waterford, Ireland. Merchant ships sailed regularly from the port of Waterford with cargoes of crystal bound for Spain, the West Indies, New York and New England.

Less than 100 years later the initial company failed due to the economic climate of the time, and it was another century before the enterprise was re-established. Waterford Crystal today is known for its dedication to the purity of colour and inspirational designs of the highest quality possible. The product range has extended beyond its core crystal products to include china, table and bed linens, stainless flatware and silver gifts, writing instruments, holiday heirlooms and crystal jewellery.

Times Square in New York even has a touch of Waterford Crystal. The famous New Year’s Eve Ball was design and manufactured by Waterford Crystal. The 1,000 pound ball is approximately six feet in diameter and contains over 650 lights. The outer surface is covered with 504 crystal panels specially designed and cut to ensure that they can survive the extraordinary extremes in temperature that exist at the top of Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

If you think about it, crystal is used extensively and often seen as ornamentation. Take, for example, the well known company, Swarovski, a European
company, founded in Bohemia in 1895 by Daniel Swarovski and associates. This company has made a name for itself supplying crystals for the embellishment of a wide range of design-driven industries such as fashion, interior design and jewellery. Today there is a worldwide network of more the 1,150 Swarovski stores.

Crystal and mirrors go hand in hand as they both reflect light beautifully. Both are enhanced when cut, as this creates a pattern and opulence is created.

Opulence is something you either like or dislike but either way it’s always present in interior design. Crystal, and in fact anything that reflects light in general,
is topical in interior design. For instance, the stunning pieces of furniture imported by Auckland company Sarsfield Brooke whose pieces are available through interior designers. The impressive commode pictured at left has been based on Art Deco principals, and features precious materials. The silver leaf is applied by hand, centimetre by centimetre, and the inside is lined in velvet. The glass is curved by skilled craftspeople to make this piece of furniture a true statement of refinement.

The mirror shown is a reproduction of a typical Venetian mirror of the 17th Century. It starts off as a very high quality piece of glass, then it is silvered, cut and skilfully hand-bevelled. The operation goes through various phases such as rounding off and polishing, then it passes to the master engravers where the classical Venetian motifs are etched by hand using special copper wheels. When the hand applied phase is completed the mirror is assembled. Although the true art and skill of making Venetian glass art faces competition from imitations, the tradition continues.

Glass and crystal have been around for centuries and, given the history of the world renowned companies producing beautiful and exquisite items, I think it’s safe to say glass and crystal are everlasting.