Glassware Glossary

What is Lead Crystal?

Lead crystal is a kind of glass that is made with lead instead of calcium or lime, which is used to make most common drinking glasses. The advantage of leaded glass is that it refracts light more brilliantly because lead changes the molecular structure of the material itself. Leaded glass also stays malleable for longer periods of time when heated, making it easier for artisans to work with.

Does All Crystal Have Lead?

Most modern glassware that’s manufactured for drinking purposes does not contain any lead, and some of it can have a beautiful, high-end appearance through the use of production techniques that don’t involve lead at all. The term “crystal” in the context of glassware usually refers to antique glass items that contain at least 24% lead. These items would have been used for presenting liquor on special occasions. However, glass is not technically a crystal.

In a scientific sense, the word “crystal” refers to the molecular structure of a material. Some examples of solids that have a microscopic “crystal lattice” structure include diamonds, salt, and ice. Glass is considered a “non-crystalline amorphous solid,” meaning that the structure of its molecules differs from that of a true crystal. Therefore, the material we think of as fine crystal isn’t really crystal at all.

So, although it’s a little bit confusing, crystal simply became the common nomenclature for leaded glass, but not all high end glassware is technically crystal.

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