Rhinestones have been dazzling jewelry and clothing for over a century, adding glitz and glamor to everything from evening gowns to cowboy boots. But what exactly are rhinestones, and are they the same as crystals? While they may look similar, rhinestones and crystals are distinctly different.
Rhinestones are man-made stones that simulate the sparkle of diamonds and other precious gems. The earliest rhinestones were made from rock crystal, quartz, or glass, and were often used as cheaper substitutes for diamonds. Modern rhinestones are usually composed of crystalline silica, leaded glass, acrylic, or plastic. While they may contain traces of minerals for coloring, rhinestones are not genuine gemstones.
The main component of rhinestones is metal foils or coatings on the backside, which allow them to reflect light and create that dazzling sparkle. Common metal backings include silver, aluminum, gold, and copper. This reflective backing is what distinguishes rhinestones from crystal. Real crystals do not have a foil backing and are higher quality solid glass.
Rhinestones vs. Crystals
While they are often used interchangeably, rhinestones and crystals are not the same thing. Swarovski is one of the most recognized brands of crystal jewelry. Here are some of the key differences:
- Composition: Crystals are made of leaded glass, while most rhinestones have a glass or plastic top with a metallic foil backing.
- Quality: Crystal is higher in clarity and brilliance. The foil backing on rhinestones can peel and tarnish over time.
- Cut: Crystals have more intricate and precise faceting cut by machines. Rhinestones usually have simple facet cuts.
- Color: Crystals come in a full spectrum of colors, including clear and colored varieties. Rhinestones are limited to clear or a few colors.
- Price: Due to their higher quality craftsmanship, crystals are generally more expensive than rhinestones.
So are rhinestones real crystals? While both offer bright, sparkling looks, rhinestones are man-made imitation stones, while real crystals are higher quality, precision-cut glass. However, rhinestones have an appeal all their own.
The Allure and History of Rhinestones
What rhinestones lack in gemsstone pedigree, they make up for in versatility and affordability. Their sparkly look dazzles for a fraction of the cost of real diamonds. The name itself even comes from one of the earliest imitation gems called “rhinestone”, which consisted of quartz crystals from the Rhine river.
Rhinestones became popular during the 1920s, when fashion favored all things glitzy and Art Deco. clipped into applications that held them in place. Coco Chanel began embellishing her clothing designs with rhinestones, sparking a trend that continues today.
Rhinestones adorned flapper dresses, movie starlet gowns, and the “cowboy couture” of singing cowboys like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. Rhinestones lent a touch of glamor to western wear and nothing said country music quite like a rhinestone cowboy.
Rhinestones continue to be widely used in accessories, jewelry, evening wear, bridal apparel, and kids’ clothing. They shine on shoes, handbags, tiaras, brooches, belly dancer costumes, and more. Rhinestones range in size from tiny pinpricks to large statement stones over an inch wide.
While rhinestones may be affordable imposters, their enduring popularity is authentic. Rhinestones can be set in almost any metal, evoke vintage glamor, and provide plenty of bling for your buck.
How Rhinestones Are Made
Manufacturing rhinestones involves several steps to achieve that brilliant shine:
- The domed stone is cut into the desired shape, usually with a simple faceted top to refract light. More elaborate cuts are also used.
- Stones may be molded from plastic, acrylic, glass, or crystal components. Prongs, grooves, or flat backs are cut to set the stone.
- A thin metallic foil backing, like silver or aluminum, is applied to the backside of the stone. This provides the reflective surface that gives rhinestones their sparkle.
- The stones are polished to a smooth, light-catching finish. Some may be coated for extra shine.
- Rhinestones are set into jewelry findings, apparel, accessories, and decor using prong settings, glue, or other methods.
While early rhinestones had lead glass added to increase refractive properties, most today are lead-free to comply with regulations. Rhinestones come in a rainbow of colors both transparent and opaque. Most have that unmistakable glitter thanks to the metallic foil backing.
Prices for Rhinestone Jewelry and Accessories
One of the biggest appeals of rhinestones is their affordability compared to fine jewelry. Here are some typical price ranges:
- Rhinestone stud earrings - $10 to $30
- Tennis bracelet with rhinestones - $50 to $200
- Rhinestone necklace - $20 to $50
- Rhinestone brooch or pin - $10 to $30
- Rhinestone hair clip or comb - $5 to $20
- Rhinestone phone cover - $10 to $25
- Rhinestone home decor item - $5 to $50
- Rhinestone belly dance belt - $50 to $150
Larger rhinestones, more elaborate designs, and sterling silver settings will be at the higher end of the price scale. For a glittering look on a budget, rhinestones can’t be beat.
What are Rhinestones Used For?
Beyond jewelry and apparel, rhinestones have myriads of uses for adding a touch of sparkle. Here are some of the ways rhinestones are used:
- Clothing - Rhinestones adorn dresses, T-shirts, jeans, shoes, hats, handbags, and more. They are hot glued, sewn, or heat pressed into fabrics.
- Accessories - Rhinestones make anything from hair clips to phone cases shine. They are used on sunglass frames, luggage tags, compact mirrors, and any accessory you can imagine.
- Nails - Rhinestones are glued onto fingernails and toenails to add some bling.
- Crafting - Crafters use rhinestones to embellish picture frames, vases, candles, scrapbooks, and handmade cards.
- Shoes - Sparkly rhinestones make any shoe stand out from ballet flats to stilettos. Figure skates would not be complete without rhinestones.
- Beauty - Rhinestones are adhered around the eyes, cheeks, temples and décolletage for temporary glittery accents.
- Decor - Rhinestones can be glued onto just about any surface like lamps, furniture, frames, vases, holiday decorations, etc.
- Tattoos - Some tattoo artists will incorporate rhinestones into tattoo designs. (These should be set by experienced artists to avoid migration under the skin).
With sizes from tiny pinpoints to large showstoppers, rhinestones are the versatile way to add a little (or a lot of) sparkle!
Are Rhinestones Real Diamonds?
While rhinestones contain traces of minerals and crystal components, they are not real diamonds or gemstones. However, their exceptional affordability makes them attractive, both financially and aesthetically. Here are some key differences between rhinestones and diamonds:
- Composition - Diamonds are pure crystallized carbon. Rhinestones are composed of glass, plastic, or crystal components with foil backings.
- Hardness - With a rating of 10 on the Mohs scale, diamonds are the hardest known mineral. Rhinestones have a hardness around 7 and can get scratched.
- Cut - The precision cut of diamonds results in unmatched light refraction. Rhinestone cuts are less complex.
- Clarity - Diamonds are prized for their clarity. Rhinestones usually have some flaws and inclusions.
- Origin - Diamonds form underground over billions of years. Rhinestones are manufactured in factories.
- Value - Large, high-quality diamonds sell for millions! Even small diamonds carry significant value based on their 4Cs (cut, color, clarity, carat). Rhinestones have very little resale value.
- Sparkle - While rhinestones offer plenty of eye-catching sparkle, a diamond’s brilliance is unmatched. The light performance of diamonds results from their exceptional refractive index.
So while rhinestones pale in comparison to the qualities of real diamonds, these man-made sparklers have an allure all their own.
What is Rhinestone Jewelry?
Rhinestone jewelry incorporates small rhinestone accents or large dazzling rhinestone centerpieces into necklaces, rings, bracelets, and other jewelry. Rhinestone jewelry first became popular during the Roaring 20s and remains a favorite for its flashy style.
Characteristics of rhinestone jewelry include:
- Simulated diamonds - Rhinestones evoke the look of diamonds for a fraction of the cost.
- Bold and abundant - Jewelry is lavishly adorned with lots of stones.
- Silver, gold, or rose tone metal - Stones are set in precious metal plating over base metals for affordability.
- Vintage styles - Retro Art Deco looks are common, as are modern interpretations of glitzy period jewelry.
- Affordable prices - Even elaborate pieces with quality workmanship are inexpensive since rhinestones have little intrinsic value.
- Glamorous and flashy - Rhinestone jewelry makes any outfit dazzle for a night out.
Rhinestones continue to shine on every type of jewelry from statement cocktail rings to dainty necklaces. They provide plenty of prestige for pennies compared to diamonds.
The Rhinestone Cowboy Meaning in Music
Starting in the 1960s, rhinestones became synonymous with the flashiness of cowboy couture. Country western musicians began donning customized suits embellished in colorful rhinestones, beads, and fringe. The focal point was often an ornate belt and buckle glittering with “diamonds”.
In 1969, Glen Campbell had a number one hit with the song “Rhinestone Cowboy”. Music critics speculated about the meaning behind the lyrics and title. Some believe it refers to being successful in a flashy, larger-than-life way, while dealing with self-doubt. Another theory is that it describes country singers adopting a persona with their glitzy costumes.
While “rhinestone” often connotes cheap imitation, the rhinestone cowboy represents joyful exhibitionism, glitter for the sake of glitter. For country musicians, rhinestones were a way to connect with fans through fun fashions that conveyed the spirit of their music. Even as glittery western wear fell out of vogue, rhinestone cowboy continues to represent this cultural moment in country music history.
The Allure of Rhinestones Endures
Are rhinestones real diamonds or crystals? Though they may lack the pedigree of precious gems, rhinestones possess an appeal all their own. They burst with eye-catching sparkle, evoke vintage glamor, and make luxury approachable for almost any budget. Rhinestones are the crystals for the people - pretty, playful, and fun for accessorizing anything. Each dazzling stone represents a wish to shine brighter and spread more light.