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Rhinestones: A Brilliant History

Rhinestone tiara set with multiple rhinestones taken by Detlef Thomas

Popular since their invention, the Rhinestone industry is still going strong. Named after the gemstones once panned out of the Rhine River (real rhinestone are all but depleted) rhinestones today are almost exclusively imitation gemstones cut from glass or lead crystal. Modern Rhinestone motifs and hotfix stones give manufacturers and customers and an easy and inexpensive way to decorate garments, but back in the day, they were used by royalty.

Georg Friedrich Strass, a Parisian jeweler, was the first to manufacture faux gems. Wanting to find a way to make imitation diamonds, he discovered that by coating the back of a piece of cut glass with metal powder, the backing created an illustrious shimmer in the glass, like a real gemstone. Despite the fact that they were glass, Strass’ faux stones were expensive because each had to be hand cut, making the crafting process difficult. Only the elite could afford to wear them.

In 1730, Strass opened his synthetic gemstone business in Paris, and the gems were a hit with King Louis VX’s court. The stones were treasured for their beauty and Strass was later named the King’s Jeweler just four years later. The Royals loved the imitation stones not only for their luster but because they were fake!

Photo of a pearl and Swarovski bracelet by Sandra Callau.
Photo of a pearl and Swarovski bracelet by Sandra Callau.

Back then, the wealthy would travel with everything but the kitchen sink, including their family heirlooms. Since they traveled with the family jewels in tow, their carriages were a target for robbers. To combat the highway theft, the Royals began to order replicas of their jewelry. They would travel with the reproductions while the real jewels stayed safely at home.

It was Daniel Swarovski who made the rhinestone accessible to the masses. In the 1890’s, he revolutionized the jewelry industry with his patented glass cutting machine. Faceted glass no longer had to be cut by hand, making the production of rhinestones quick, precise, and exceptionally brilliant. By 1895, Swarovski founded his business, and it has remained a rhinestone-crafting juggernaut ever since.

Rhinestones Today

Rhinestones have made a significant impact in the fashion industry, especially in costume design. Popularized by performers and designers like Nudie Cohn, Elvis Presley, Liberace, and David Allan Coe “The Rhinestone Cowboy”, the faux gems are associated with riches, fame, and big personalities. Rhinestones continue to dazzle audiences and remain a hot embellishment.

Right now, hotfix rhinestones and motifs are big business in the DIY fashion market. Heat applicators like wands and heat presses are easy to acquire, making the creation process faster than before. Rhinestone motifs are also a popular embellishment and it is easy to find and make customized designs.

Check out our store to purchase your own hotfix rhinestones!

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Hotfix rhinestone and stud decorated belt.