Rhinestones 101: Know Your Gems

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Rhinestone motif made from hotfix Korean rhinestones

If you’re purchasing rhinestones, the first step is picking the right kind for your project. There are a lot of rhinestones out there and to get the most out of your purchase you must consider the cut of the stone, the material it’s made from, and how you’re going to attach it to a garment.

Brilliance & What are Rhinestone Made of?

Different materials and facet cuts change a rhinestone’s brilliance (how it reflects light). How a rhinestone shines determines the kind of clothing it should be used with, as not all rhinestones shine alike.

Cut lead crystal produces the best rhinestones, but they are the most expensive. Stones made from lead crystal have more glimmer up close, so they are used for gowns and evening wear. Molded glass is a less costly alternative and is flashy at a distance, but it’s not a convincing gemstone up close. Glass rhinestones are used more for costuming since the audience can see them shine even from the nosebleed section. 

The facet cut changes a rhinestones brilliance, too. The more faceted stones have a higher glimmer valve while the less faceted stones have a higher flash value. Swarovski’s current standard cut is a 14 facet (unless the stones are marked as vintage). Remember, glimmer is for gowns while flashy is for Fosse.

Types of Rhinestones

Swarovski Rhinestones

One of the leading manufacturers of luxury cut lead crystal in the world, Swarovski makes top-of-the-line rhinestones. These high-end stones are more suited for evening wear and gowns but can also be used for costuming purposes. There is a dispute in the industry if Swarovski rhinestones are truly the best, but since their reputation precedes them, they have remained the face of the rhinestone industry for decades.

Preciosa Rhinestones

Based in the Czech Republic, Preciosa is a luxury cut lead crystal glass producer and has been manufacturing rhinestones before the formation of Swarovski. Less expensive than its top competitor, Preciosa offers high-quality rhinestones that are flashy at as distance and are sought after by costume designers.

Korean Rhinestones

Easy on the wallet, Korean Rhinestones are nothing to overlook. Recently, they have revamped their production methods and are now producing better quality stones from molded glass. These rhinestones offer a less expensive alternative to garment manufacturers looking to add some glitz to their products.

Size Chart

The size chart might throw first-time buyers since it’s based on old jewelry terminology. The higher the SS (stone size) the larger the stone. Generally, smaller stones provide more glimmer while larger stones have more flash. Below is an average size chart for comparison.

  •         5SS = 1.8mm/.070”
  •         6SS = 2mm/.078”
  •         7SS = 2.2mm/.086”
  •         8SS = 2.4mm/.094”
  •         9SS = 2.6mm/.102”
  •         10SS = 2.8mm/.110”
  •         12SS = 3mm/.118”
  •         16SS = 4mm/.157”
  •         20SS = 4.7mm/.185”
  •         30SS = 6.4mm/.251”
  •         34SS = 7mm/.275”
  •         40SS= 8mm/.314”
  •         48SS = 11mm/.433

Korean Rhinestone chart

How to Attach

There are five basic ways to attach a rhinestone to a garment, but some have fallen out of favor in recent years as heat transfer became more readily available.

  • Mechanical Mounts or Tiffany mounts have prongs that come through the back of the clothing and bend over the edges of the rhinestone like teeth to clamp the stone in place.
  • Rim Sets are rings of metal that surround the edge of the stone with prongs designed to go through the fabric and bend behind the back of the stone.
  • Hotfix Rhinestones are coated on the back with an heat-activated glue coating. Hotfix stones can  be set using an applicator wand or an iron or heat press (using a carrier sheet) to apply more than one rhinestone at a time in a pattern. However, it’s hard to set big rhinestones with this method due to their large surface area and weight.
  • Old fashion gluing technique. There are many types of rhinestone setting glues. Do not use super glue for gluing rhinestones! Super glue is too brittle to withstand wear and tear. Glued garments shouldn’t be dry-cleaned either unless you want to lose all your hard work.
  • Sew them on by hand. Be sure to purchase rhinestone with holes drilled in them if you choose you taken on this time-consuming process.

Effects

Effects also vary depending on the manufacturer. Below are some of the more popular rhinestone effects:

  • The “Aurora Borealis” (AB) metal-coated rhinestone produces an iridescent rainbow effect over a single base color. This effect is popular with clear crystal rhinestones. Aurora Borealis rhinestones were created in 1955 by Swarovski.
  • Matte rhinestones lack the luster of their shimmering counterparts and appear “misty” or “frosted” instead.
  •  A satin finish leaves a light hematite coating over the stone creating a smoky effect.