What are Rhinestones and How Do They Sparkle

Posted by Rhinestone Guy on 4/15/2020 to Rhinestones' Knowledge

Rhinestones is a term loosely applied to any glass or crystal shaped ‘jewels’ used in costume jewelry, clothing decoration, or anywhere the cost or shape of the “real thing” rules out its use.  They are created to resemble gems. Some have a flat bottoms, for gluing, mounting and hot fix applications. Some feature a flat back with drilled holes or in metal settings for sewing.  Others, feature a pointed back, like a diamond, and used applications. Our focus is the flat back variety of stones, flat backs and sew-on types.

The term “Gem” refers to mineral expensive stones that are cut, refined and polished for use in jewelry.  There are precious or semi-precious gem classification for stones. Diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds are precious, and all others are semi-precious. Interestingly, all are minerals and there is no difference between the two classes.  It is a classification invented years ago to increase the value of precious stones. Gem’s value depends on its rarity, purity, size or weight. So back to rhinestones.  Just like gems they have different quality, cut styles and sizes with different prices.

We at Rhinestone Guy divide the crystal stones based on size and shapes as are all are rhinestones. We separate the round smaller Flat Back (Chaton Roses) stones from the round Point Back stones (Chatons). Smaller shaped other than round crystals we refer to as rhinestone shapes.  Larger faceted stones we call Jewels.  Cabochons is the term we used to rounded, smooth surface stones.  Regardless, they are all glass, crystals.

Brilliance of Crystals

Crystals' brilliance depends on two main features. The quality or purity of the glass and the cut of the stones. When cut well, they can look like diamond under the right lighting conditions.  The better quality stones are machine cut.  The machines’ precision creates consistent facets and sparkle. Lesser quality stones are molded or machine pressed. In the past, high quality, finest rhinestones contained high levels of lead. New technological advances in the crystal industry led by Swarovski, brought to the market lead free and lead compliant stones that provide great sparkle without the lead. 

How Rhinestones Sparkle

Rhinestones create the sparkle in different ways. Your traditional crystals have foil backs.  These foil back stones produce the sparkle from the “mirror” foil. The light enters the stone and bounces back through the facets creating the sparkle. The clearer and the sharper the cut glass, the greater the light’s reflection, or sparkle. We rate the sparkle from 0 to 10.  With 10 being the best.  We call it the Rhinestone Guy sparkly scale.

Some crystals feature specialty coating for a different shine and effect. Coated stones like Swarovski Lacquer pro stones, produce sparkle from the outside coating of the stones with the color created from the bottom of the stone. Foiled AB (Aurora Borealis) coated stones and the Swarovski’s shimmer stones sparkle from both the mirror and the coating creating a unique sparkle.  We will elaborate on these in the next section.

Un-foiled stones (or transmission stones) reflect or sparkle only from the surface shine.  They bring some of the color from the item they are placed on. 

Rhinestone Colors

Nature’s Gems feature myriads of colors.  So often, the color of rhinestones follows the gem they are imitating.  Some examples:  Peridot (lime green), Siam (deep Ruby red), Sapphire (brilliant Blue), Amethyst (a warm purple), Emerald (emerald Green), Citrine (brilliant Yellow), and so on. In the past some-odd years, we have seen many new “designer” colors come from the major rhinestone companies. The newer stones’ color names have nothing to do with known gems, but suggest their color.

The best known gem, is, of course, Diamond. So naturally, the most popular rhinestone color is Crystal (Clear like a Diamond) and Crystal AB, a coated version of the Crystal stone that produces an iridescent effect.  Rhinestones colors are created by adding various inorganic compounds…copper, chromium, cobalt, iron, gold, and others to the clear glass.  Glass coloring is an art form in itself.  Consistency of reproducing the same colors is a challenge even for the most experienced companies.  A minor formula change or reaction in the color mix can create lots that are not identical. So, if your project “requires” all the rhinestones of one color be identical, we strongly suggest buying your stones at one time.  Buy more than you think you will need to get the stones from the same run period. There is no guarantee that later date rhinestones will have identical color since they come from a different production run in the future. This is true of all rhinestone producers.  

Most standard color stones are consistent.  The entire color schemes change when a colored or crystal rhinestone is coated to produce and “Effect Rhinestone” or an “AB” rhinestone. Simplified, the crystals get “sprayed” with several thin layers coating of Titanium or other nonreactive metals. Crystal AB looks nothing like Crystal. Standard color stone are substantially different from their AB coated counterparts. The coating “block” the color, and small amount of the original colors peak through the coating.  In the package, sometimes, they all look, bluish.  You have to place them on your material and move them around to see the color. The variance from lot to lot of coated rhinestones is even greater than there base color counterparts, for the applications of coatings is another art form altogether. The slightest change in coating thickness will make a great change in appearance. Variance from lot to lot here is much greater than in non-coated stones. Again, buy more than you think you will need for the project.  Consider it a “waste” factor.  But we know that no rhinestones go to waste.  You can always use them on something fun.

Sizes of Crystals

Round rhinestones have graduating sizes with an SS (stone size) identification. SS7 or 7ss as an example. They measure in millimeter range that correlates to a size. The higher the SS size the larger the stone.  There is no correlation between the size and millimeter meaning - SS 6 or 6ss stone is not 6mm.  Larger stones create a flash and smaller stones create glimmer. Flat back rhinestones run from SS3 (1.4mm) to SS48 (11mm).  Certain sizes are only available, or made, in Crystal and Crystal AB.  Millimeters (mm) is the measurement for larger jewels, sew on stones, rhinestones shapes and cabochons.

Quality of Crystals

Sparkle, color, durability and cut consistency are measurement of crystals’ quality. The European manufacturers lead the field in crystals’ quality. They started making crystal embellishments dating back to the 1800’s. These manufacturers, like Swarovski and Preciosa, invest time and money in research and development to produce the highest quality of crystals.  

Regrettably, there are fake stones in the marketplace.  Beware of extremely low prices of stones claiming to be European brand stones, the odds are that they are not genuine.  Watch for wording such as: “Swarovski Quality” or Czech Quality” crystals. These are not genuine European crystals. Both brands appoint companies, like Rhinestone Guy, to represent their brand and goods for sale to the buying public. So buy your stones from Approved Resellers for genuine stones. We earned our designation of Swarovski Authorized reseller and Czech Preciosa Authorized Partner. 

We bring to you our own private lines of crystals bring excellent sparkle and quality at great prices: RG Studio, made in Austria, Bright Choice, RG Premium and RG2.  

On our Sparkly Scale, the flat back or hotfix Swarovski and Preciosa stones are at the top, a 10 of the sparkle scale.  So is the RG studio line of flat back stones.  Our Bright Choice flat back stones are a 9.  The RG Premium hot fix rhinestones are 8 and the RG2, Korean hotfix stones a 6.  All are glass.  Except for the RG2, which are machine pressed, all our stones are machine cut.  All flat back stones and can be glued or mounted.  The hotfix kind feature a pre-coated, heat activated glue on the underside of the underside for hot fix application.  

Sample Cards, Your invaluable Tool.

One last note about Rhinestone Colors … Do NOT rely on printed matter, pictures, whatever to choose a specific rhinestone color. Photographs approximate the colors. The Internet cannot possible display the true color of any rhinestone.  It is even worse with coated and effect stones as colors change dramatically with the changing angle of light hitting them.  The colors shown on the Internet can only be worse than the original photograph, for no two monitors, screens or printers will display the same colors. Believe in real samples, and even then, some surprises will result, for variance in different lots, especially coated stones can be dramatic. Therefore, I strongly advise a sample card before jumping into the fray.

Sample cards of the various brands will allow you to evaluate the different stones for yourself. They will give you a size reference as well as color choices. We produce, in-house, two hinged and laminated sample cards with actual stones and crystal sizes. The stones are glued to a clear PVC cover so you can place the stones over the material.  There is no need to guess. One card has Swarovski and Czech Preciosa rhinestones with an assortment of selected shapes and pearls. The other card features our RG (Rhinestone Guy) private line of products, rhinestones and nailheads. If you are a professional, sample cards are a must tools for your craft or trade. 

Final Thought…

Think carefully the make and intended use of the item or garment before making your decision on what rhinestones you will be using, for the differences can be dramatic!  Plan on stones’ placement.  Consider what the garment is supposed to do, and how to achieve that effect. There is nothing to prevent you from mixing the types of stones. Also consider the event, age and your budget.


Remember to have fun, and Sparkle Up with Style

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