Chandeliers have been around a long time. They were probably in common use in Egypt 5,000 years ago, for it is believed that arrays of butter lamps were used to provide the light required to decorate the Pharaoh’s tombs. These could possibly have been the first chandeliers, though probably not.
Since the days of ancient Egypt, the chandelier has moved on. They have been manufactured out of virtually every material known. Today it is possible to buy chandeliers manufactured from: wood, glass, iron, brass, copper, plastic, ceramics, steel, stainless steel, wrought iron, deer antlers and more.
How they are embellished or decorated is almost limitless, also. It is almost impossible to think of a form of décor which has not been used to embellish a chandelier somewhere. Also, the source of light has been customised, or adapted to suit chandeliers as technology moved on. From the butter lamp to candles, oil to electricity, even solar energy and fluorescent material, it has all been adapted for accommodation into a chandelier somewhere.
Glass has been manufactured for thousands of years. Examples of coloured glass and lead glass have been found in Mesopotamia, (1700 BC) Egypt, (1500 BC) and ancient China. The Mesopotamians and Egyptians were experimenting with lead in glass 3,000 years ago and several examples of coloured glazes have been found containing lead oxide more than 3,000 years old. It must be assumed that lead glass and coloured glass has probably been used in chandeliers or lighting for most of this time.
In the Middle East it was discovered that the addition of different types of base metals or minerals either made glass clearer, or gave it hints of colour. By the 12th century, the Egyptians knew how to make most of the glass that we take for granted today, including lead crystal. The only problem was, that it cost a fortune to make, and was the realm of only the very wealthy. At that time, Egypt was the world leader in the production of high quality glass and crystal. Even today, some of the highest quality lead crystal is manufactured in Egypt, which is responsible for nearly 80% of the lead crystal produced in the world today.
In the 18th century Louis XIV of France rose to the pinnacle of his power. He ruled over a country which had become the undisputed economic, cultural, and artistic leader of Europe and thereby the so called civilised world, (it was expedient in those days to ignore anything which wasn’t European or Christian, so everything East of Athens, or South of Naples didn’t count).
Louis, France’s Sun King, decided that a country as great as his must have the greatest palace in the world, and he set about building The Palace of Versailles. This took over twenty years to build, was the largest building in the world and cost a staggering amount of money, 20% of France's GDP for 20 years. If a modern day politician even suggested building something like this today, he/she would be locked up in a lunatic asylum, but in Louis' day, this sort of thing was acceptable (at least until they chopped off his descendants head). The reason I’m waffling on about Versailles is because of the influence it had on the design and manufacture of chandeliers in Europe. In his attempt to build the most magnificent building in the world, Louis XIV needed an equally magnificent way of lighting it, and voila, the drop crystal chandelier was born.
If you ever get the opportunity to purchase an original Louis XIV drop crystal chandelier, be prepared to part with enough money to buy an 80 foot yacht, or a detached house in The City of London, these things don’t come cheap. Of course, in The Sun Kings day, what Louis did everybody had to do, or they simply weren’t in step, so virtually every chateau in France had the odd drop crystal chandelier, and it wasn’t long before the rest of Europe followed. A spate of ‘keeping up with the Jones'’’ only in this case it was the Louis’.
Still, without Louis X1V and his extravagances we may never have had what I consider to be the most beautiful style of chandelier ever devised by man, and that is why this website is full of variations on the basic theme of drop crystal chandeliers, as made fashionable by the once great French court.
Today, the drop crystal chandelier can be found all over the world. It is made in almost every size, and in literally tens of thousands of different styles. From the tiny single bulb pendant found in smaller homes to the huge 500 bulb stunners found in some of the worlds most prestigious hotel lounges. Unlike Louis XIV, most of us can’t afford to have our chandeliers made from solid gold, so we tend to make them in more basic metals, such as iron, brass, or copper, and then electro plate them in gold, silver, or even chrome. The materials from which they are made, accounts for their weight, which usually surprises most people who come looking for a drop crystal chandelier for the first time.
The weight of a drop crystal chandelier is hardly surprising when one considers what they are made from. It isn’t so much the iron, brass or copper used to manufacture the main body of the chandelier, but the crystal itself, which accounts for the weight. Crystal is an amalgamation of glass, and lead, with possibly a few other impurities if colour is required.
Glass is simply sand, heated to a high temperature until it melts and becomes amorphous, then manipulated into the required shape and allowed to cool again. Of course, it isn’t quite as simple as that, but my point is, sand is not lightweight. If you’ve ever built sandcastles on the beach, or mixed mortar when building a house, you will know what I mean. Sand is a heavy substance, so why do people expect glass to be lightweight? Possibly because they can see through it!
Crystal is even more interesting. To make crystal, we first take sand, mix in a proportion of lead, anything from 10% to 40% by weight, melt it down, and presto, we have lead crystal.
I’ve never come across a piece of light lead in my life, so it’s hardly surprising that lead crystal is heavier than plain glass. Lead is actually 5 times as heavy as sand, so if there is 30% lead in the crystal; it will be more than twice the weight of glass on its own.
It’s because of the weight of the crystal, that such a robust frame is needed to support it. The reason the main body of a drop crystal chandelier is made from iron, brass, copper, or bronze, is because very little else is strong enough to support the weight of the crystal, and the frame probably only accounts for 25% to 40% of the total weight of the chandelier. The heaviest commodity of a lead crystal chandelier is the crystal itself, and the higher the quality of the crystal, the heavier it becomes.
If you examine a single piece of crystal on almost any chandelier, you will see it has facets on its surface. These facets are there to maximise the fracturing of the light that passes through the crystal and thereby produce the maximum display of coloured light. It’s simple really. When light passes through a prism, the light is bent as a result of the diffractive index of the glass being different to that of air.
White light is made up of thousands upon thousands of different wavelengths of radiation given off by the sun. Each wavelength is a different colour in the visible spectrum, and each wavelength is bent at a slightly different angle to its neighbour as it passes through glass. A prism has the effect of separating out all the light into its different wavebands, thereby splitting up the different colours in the light. What therefore comes out of the spectrum are effectively all the colours of the rainbow. Each piece of crystal on a drop crystal chandelier is in effect many prisms in one. For each facet on the crystal acts as a prism, and each piece of crystal has many facets ground on its surface. The clearer the crystal is, the better the light is transmitted through it, and the more facets the crystal has the more the light is fractured and the more colour you get.
There is a limit to how clear crystal can be made, and that is governed by the lead content. Generally, the higher the lead content, the clearer the crystal becomes, the problem is that there is an upper limit to just how much lead can be added before the crystal starts to cloud, and this limit is reached at concentrations of about 38% to 40% lead.
Another draw back is that lead is expensive, and making clear crystal with concentrations of 36% and above leads to a great deal of waste, because it doesn’t always blend well, and conditions have to be just about perfect to get it right. In other words, the higher the lead content, the more likelihood there will be flaws in the crystal, and waste at this level tends to be expensive. These costs have to be born ultimately by the end user, which means that the cost of the crystal goes up almost exponentially as the lead content increases. In reality, most of us would hardly notice the difference between crystal with 10% lead, and crystal with 30% lead, but the difference in price could easily be more than 200%.
Getting the chemistry right for the crystal isn’t the whole story. Once the rough crystal is made, it then has to have the facets ground into it, and the surface polished to obliterate any marks or scratches, or it will not bend the light in the correct way. This work is often done by hand. Each facet must be ground into the crystal then polished to a high degree of smoothness. This is skilled work, and takes time. There are chandeliers on this site which have not just thousands of pieces of crystal, but tens of thousands. Each one of those pieces has ten or more facets on it, and each facet was ground and polished by hand.
So the next time you look at a drop crystal chandelier, which has been made in the traditional way, think of the skill, patience, experience, and tradition that has gone in to making it. They are certainly up there with hand knotted silk carpets, hand made and carved bespoke furniture, hand built cars, and works of art. They are almost all unique, take huge skill to make, and almost limitless imagination to design. We at the chandelier company hope you get as much pleasure out of yours, as we do out of ours.
Lead crystal (also called crystal) is lead glass that has been hand- or machine-cut with facets. Lead oxide added to the molten glass gives lead crystal a much higher index of refraction than normal glass, and consequently much greater "sparkle" by increasing specular reflection and the range of angles of total internal reflection. Ordinary glass has a refractive index of n=1.5; the addition of lead produces an index of refraction of up to 1.7. This heightened RI also raises the correlating index of dispersion, which measures the degree to which a medium separates light into its component spectra, as in a prism. This increase in refractive index from 1.5 to 1.7 significantly increases the amount of light reflected (by a factor of 1.68 for light reflecting in the normal direction). The presence of lead also makes the glass softer and easier to cut. Crystal can consist of up to 35% lead, at which point it has the most sparkle. The higher lead content also makes it much more difficult to form crystal during manufacturing.
Some of the more prominent manufacturers of lead crystal worldwide include Baccarat and J.G.Durand (Arc International) in France, Royal Leerdam Crystal of the Netherlands, Steuben Glass in the United States, Waterford Crystal (now sadly gone into liquidation) in Ireland, Mikasa in Japan, Liuligongfang in Taiwan, Swarovski in Austria, Preciosa in Czech Republic, Huta Szk³a w Zawierciu in Poland, Rogaška Crystal in Slovenia, Nova Scotian Crystal in Canada, Asfour Crystal in Egypt and Neman Glass Works in Belarus. We these great company's products can be found for sale on this website.