1. Rhinestone History
Natural gemstones are so glamorous that the compulsion to emulate them has grown among all people who occupy themselves with decorating the human body. And `emulate` is the most you can hope for since natural gems are unique. Substitutes for gemstones have a history, based in Europe, which is closely tied to the development of the glass industry. Ancient and medieval glassmakers were largely concerned with creating imitation gemstones. Venetian glass shops in the fourteenth century exported handmade gemstones to all parts of Europe and supported an enormous world trade. By the 16th century, faceting was introduced to bring out the reflective properties of diamonds and colored gems. But not until the late nineteenth century were glass stones cut by machine, which enabled the production of a sufficient quantity of stones to make it a viable business.
Machine-made stones have come to be known as `rhinestones,` a word with origins in Austrian history. In the early decades of the twentieth century, a few tourist shops along the banks of the Rhine river sold jewelry with stones called `Rheinkiesel.` These were water-clear stones which were cut like diamonds, and had red, green and blue blotches inside. They were made from glass molded and cut in Bohemia and the red, green, and blue patches had been ingeniously fused into the clear glass during the molding process. `Rheinkiesel,' literally translated, means `Rhine pebbles.` Whether the tourists believed that the `stones` had been fished out of the river or simply bought them for their attractive appearance as souvenirs to take home
Glass-makers from Saxony and Silesia were first lured into Bohemia in the fourteenth century, as over the next two hundred years the vast forest was penetrated by roads linking remote monasteries. To this day Bohemian garnets and other natural transparent materials are cut near the town of Turnau. The town of Gablonz is first mentioned as a village in 1350. By the sixteenth century, glass-making was organized by the landed gentry of the area who saw its business potential. The natural materials were abundant in quartz, potash and wood for fuel.
As the glass industry and trade routes became established, the craftsmen became very specialized. Fashionsforglass stones became important in the Austrian Empire, Franceand Britain and the Bohemian workers met the demand with astonishing hand-crafted glass objects. Jewelry, beads, and buttons were created for each market. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the industry around Gablonz included villages within a thirty-mile radius and employed thousands of people. Their products included chandelier parts, buttons and hollowware, but the heart of the industry was the stones and beads used for costume jewelry and exported to all continents.
In 1891, Daniel Swarovski left the exporter in Gablonz to continue his experiments with the Weis firm at Johannensthal, not far away. Here, he concerned himself `primarily with the manufacture of cut punches, which were used for the so-called diamond-cut, a substitute for stones set in metal. At the same time my brother Emil pointed out to me that the need for the small crystal stones was very great and that we could also get orders for these. These stones were from one to ten centimeters in diameter and cut in the manner of diamonds. At that time they were made primarily in the Czech area of Bohemia by small farmers beside their farm work. Even school children had to help with this work.` [Swarovski, p. 3]...`The finished stones were delivered primarily to the Gablonz exporters who exported primarily to Paris and to England. North America, which certainly could have used more stones, could only import very small quantities because of the high duty [imposed to protect a small glass-producing business in New England]. [Otto Hoffer interview.] In foreign countries, but also т Gablonz here were more and more jewelry manufacturing firms which made the stone
in the desired quantities. .