Material Insights: How Lead Crystal is Made

Lauren Deegan

Lead crystal stands out as one of the most traditional and beautiful choices for items ranging from decanters to clocks to awards. At Cristaux International, we love working with lead crystal because it adds unmistakable class to any product. It goes through an intricate process of transformation from raw material to a finished piece that can only be completed by talented artisans. It’s as durable as it is gorgeous, and we know that our clients love it.

Have you ever wondered, though, what sets lead crystal apart from regular old glass? The simplest answer to the question lies in the name. Unlike other types of glass, this variety is manufactured using a lead oxide that adds durability and gives the finished product the warmth and sparkle for which it’s so well known. Here at Cristaux, we love letting our clients in on the design process. That means involving you in the product development process, and it also means providing you with great background information about materials.

A Brief History of Lead Crystal

The majority of ancient cultures produced glass in some form and used natural crystal for a variety of objects too. In fact, many historians believe that an early fascination with natural crystal lead artisans to experiment with adding different types of metal to glass to change its appearance. Such glass experimentation became popular in Great Britain in the 15th century. Elizabeth I was a great fan of the art and supported several glassblowers who’d relocated to London from Venice.

This initial support for glassmaking set the stage for the erection of George Ravenscroft’s London glass house in 1673. Ravenscroft experimented with glassmaking, creating a product that he called flint glass. Ravenscroft played with this early formula until he’d created lead crystal free of imperfections. Motivated by government excise taxes in the U.K., many glass houses moved to Ireland and other areas in Europe, where they thrived well into the 19th century. The production of lead crystal continues in many of these countries today and has expanded to new areas of the globe as well.

Inside the Lead Crystal Manufacturing Process

Lead crystal is produced following an eight-step process that can only be carried out by experienced artisans. It’s an intricate process, and attention to quality is essential at every step. Artists start with a mix of silica sand, potash and red lead. The amount of lead used can vary from house to house, but the manufacturing process remains the same.

  • The base cocktail is melted down in a furnace heated to nearly 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit. Controlling furnace conditions is essential to protecting glass purity.
  • A team of four to seven artists transfers the mass of molten crystal to wooden blocks or molds that will be used to give it shape. The crystal is blown to fit the mold.
  • The glass blowers continue their art to create a chamber in the vessel. Pieces such as handles are added.
  • The piece is moved to an annealing oven that helps slow down the cooling process and improve durability.
  • Once it’s cooled, an artists can draw a pattern onto the vessel. Rough cuts are made using special wheels.
  • A sandstone wheel is used to dress the rough cuts so that the finished design comes together.
  • Once all cutting is complete, the piece is dipped in a mix of hydrofluoric and sulphuric acids. The acids help remove a thin layer of glass to leave a uniform surface with high luster.
  • On some pieces, a process called intaglio is used to engrave text, portraits or other illustrations.

Once the process is completed, each piece is carefully inspected to ensure that it meets quality and design standards. At Cristaux, we pride ourselves on creating beautiful products that meet the very highest standards. If it’s lead crystal you’re dreaming of, we can help.