You’ve picked out a fabulous china pattern, but now you need stemware to match. Things can be a little confusing, and there is one question everyone always asks – What distinguishes crystal from glass?
Strictly speaking, crystal is a type of glass.
Unlike plain glass, crystal contains lead. When lead is added to glass it gives the glass more weight, increases its resilience, and adds a brilliant sparkle. The addition of lead oxide to glass also makes it easier for blowers to manipulate without reheating and makes the material better suited for molds, leading to more dynamic designs. Full lead crystal can only be labeled as such if it contains at least 24 percent lead oxide.
Due to concern that the lead in crystal could cause health problems, many manufactures are now promoting non-lead crystal. Both types of crystal are made with sand, soda ash, and limestone with barium oxide in place of lead.
Both lead and barium give the glass an extra brilliance and clarity not found in plain glass. Though it can look similar, lead crystal is the only true crystal while non-lead crystal is a brilliant form of glass.
Now you’re probably thinking about the term “lead” and you’re wondering if it is safe. Don’t worry.
Lead crystal has been used for centuries and some of the finest glassware in the world is still made from this material. Recently, there has been some concern about its use in serving food and drink.
Over weeks and months the lead used in glass containers can leach into stored beverages. To prevent this, avoid storing liquids for long periods of time in lead crystal containers. Research has proven that everyday drinking and serving from these vessels does not pose a risk. To be safe, the Food and Drug Administration recommends you do not feed babies from lead crystal bottles and you avoid lead crystal glasses if you are pregnant.
California’s Proposition 65 requires a warning of potential dangers, including birth defects, from consuming food or beverages served or kept in full lead crystal.
Some tips for telling the difference between crystal and glass:
– Hold up a glass to the light. If the glass acts as a prism and you see a rainbow you are holding crystal. If not, it is just plain glass.
– When struck, crystal produces a musical ring. Glass does not.
– If you wet your finger and run it around the rim of a crystal glass it will also produce a musical tone.
– Crystal can be worked thinner than glass, so if the rim of a piece is exceptionally thin it’s probably crystal.
– If you compare two glasses of the same size, the crystal glass will be heavier.
– Glass typically has sharp cuts, while crystal will have clean, rounded cuts.