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September 02, 2016
Lead crystal is a unique form of clear glass with a lovely, almost rainbow reflective property. It can be both machine-made and handcrafted. Machine-made crystal glass is affordable and also considered more durable than handmade crystal glass. But handmade lead crystal, especially cut lead crystal, is an art—and a true artist cannot be replaced by a machine.
Manufacturing of each crystal piece is very careful and complicated process, which consist of various different steps. The quality of the final product depends on both the raw materials used and the skillful hands of the artists.
A handmade crystal glass container begins with the blowing process, when workers blow through a tube into a gob of hot glass to create a large bubble—the beginnings of a hollow container. It takes skill developed over years to know how to get just the right thickness and size. Wooden molds and wooden tools then shape the bubble into the correct form, a vase, a decanter, a bowl, or something else. If the container has a handle, it, too, is added on while the glass is still soft. Because lead crystal is heavier than other glass, and because the walls have to be unusually thick to leave room for the decorative cuts, it takes four to seven strong artists working together to shape the glass before it cools.
Outside of the furnace, the surface of the glass cools very quickly, but the center of the glass wall takes a little longer, and the difference can cause stresses to develop that make the glass fragile. To prevent such stresses, as soon as the crystal container is shaped, it is placed in an annealing oven where cooling can be slowed and carefully controlled.
Finally cool, the glass crystal piece is ready for cutting. The artist draws a reference pattern directly onto the crystal and then uses a power-driven diamond-tipped wheel to make the cuts. As intricate as the designs are, they are made with only two types of cut, the wedge cut and the flat cut, which differ only in the angle at which the glass is held to the wheel. Correctly applying the pattern and not cutting too deeply or too shallowly take a lot of experience and skills.
Freshly cut glass, of course, is sharp. The artist smooths the cuts and adds final details to the design with a sandstone wheel. Then, a bath in sulphuric and hydrofluoric acids polish the crystal to a beautiful, uniform finish. Any engraving is added last, with tiny copper cutting wheels.
All crystal and glass products sold by the Crystal Wonderland are carefully inspected at each stage of the process. Only high quality crystal pieces are allowed to advance to the next phase. Damaged pieces or any crystal product that do not reflect our high standards is sent back to the furnace to be re-melted into a new quality product.
But there is no such thing as “perfect” or “standardized” handmade crystal. Absolute similarity can only be achieve in machine produced crystalware. Handmade pieces can have tiny variations in height, size, and shape, that are minimal. Another sign of handmade craftsmanships are some almost invisible bubbles, seeds,tiny cords, that may form during some of the steps Such variations are not considered flaws and ensure that each piece is unique, just like the human hands that crafted them.
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