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Daniel Swarovski and Austrian Crystal - Part II

The Young Daniel Swarovski

Young Daniel was a tinkerer, and at a young age began to try to automate the cutting of glass. At the age of 21 he attended the “First Electrical Exhibition” in Vienna and was impressed by the potential of this source of power. By the age of 30 he had applied for a patent on a machine which allowed the precise cutting of glass jewelry stones (e.g. rhinestones). The invention gave him an advantage over the other glass stone cutters of the Jablonec region, and he felt the need for increased secrecy to develop his ideas.

Bohemia was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and in the Tyrolian mountains of Austria he found the place he was looking for. In 1895 he leased a small factory with a water power plant in tiny (population then 744) Wattens. Wattens was well suited. It had abundant water, which Swarovski first used directly for power and then to generate electricity. I was also near an important railway link and only 15 miles from Innsbruck. He began a production technique which ground and polished hundreds of glass stones in a single process, much as used today. The details of the process remain secret, even to Swarovski employees.

In the next few years the “Tyrolean cut stones” as they were known, came into great demand in the fashion centers of Europe and North America. A new factory was purchased and employed 100 workers, electrical lights were installed, and soon a new power plant had to be built.

Early Innovations

Up to this point, the cut crystal was all made from glass supplied from Jabonec. Swarovski, desiring independence and better control over his product, began experimenting with his sons in a small laboratory next to their house. In 1911 they introduced their own glass, both clear and colored. It was produced in furnaces they invented and by processes they had pioneered. The burgeoning business has always been a family affair. By 1925 sons Wilhelm, Friedrich and Alfred begun to control different parts of the company’s affairs, ensuring a smooth transition of leadership.

The company expanded until the outbreak of World War I, when many of the workers were conscripted. Swarovski managed to save it by producing military equipment, which also protected the livelihood of the families of his workers. One outcome of the war was Swarovski's perfection of a better type of grinding wheel, due to the shortage of abrasives during the conflict. By 1919 these were made commercially, and the Tyrolit wheels became the foundation of a program of corporate diversification; they are still marketed today in 80 countries.

Faceting and Cutting Beads

The term cut bead does not always mean the same thing. While we may think of it as the mechanical wasting of glass to produce facets, the facets are the only thing in common with all cut beads. Among seed beads, for example, hex-cut and two-cut are most often drawn out with facets along the tube. Three-cut and sometimes two-cut beads are hand made by tinkers for use on lace bobbins. They are cubes, paddled into shape while still hot, often with a “waffle” surface.

It is not uncommon, particularly in Bohemia, to combine molded facets with cutting. The cornerless hexagonal, so popular world-wide, is a combination of a drawn hexagonal tube which has been cut at the twelve corners. The “Vaseline” beads and several other faceted beads were molded into shape, then other faceted beads were molded into shape, then facets cut into them. During the course of the last century, fewer and fewer facets were actually cut on these beads, being replaced by more molded facets over the years.

Hand faceted beads are sometimes called tin cut indicating the plate on which the faceting was done. Such facets will be very sharp at the edges, unless the bead was subsequently fire polished, placed in heat just enough to let the surface run and give a sparkling finish. Swarovski beads are cut to perfection by the use of machines which give very precise facets, essential to the sparkling diffusion of the light through the glass.

Part I - Introduction Part II - Daniel Swarovski's Dream Part III - The Swarovski Empire