How to choose between Glass and Crystal Stemware

For the special occasions of life, it is customary to bring out the crystal to raise a toast to newlyweds, graduates, new beginnings, etc. 

For the average person, distinguishing between glass and crystal may be difficult at first glance, as they can look alike with only subtle

differences.  There are differences, however, especially when it comes to chemical composition, thickness, clarity, refraction of light,

cut, sound, and weight.  A good consumer should be informed before choosing to invest money in either one.

                                Overview of Glass and Crystal

Crystal and Glass are substances of nature, which evolve from the Earth.  Although solid and hard they are fragile.  Often times clear 

and translucent, they can appear to be invisible.

Glass refers to an item made with the following combinations:

Soda-lime:   is made from lime, soda, and silica.  This is the most prevalent glass, usually for light bulbs and windows, and because 

the components are so readily available in nature, it is the most inexpensive.

Borosilicate Glass:  Is made from soda, boric acid, and silica. This kind of glass is usually made into Pyrex, or used in the laboratory, as it is heat resistant.

Fused quartz:   Is made from melting organic quartz crystals at high temperatures. This kind of glass is typically used for laboratory equipment, cameras, 

watches, and halogen lamps.


Crystal refers to glass that is made from silica, soda, potash, with the addition of lead oxide and other additives.  These additives give the glass more pliability

in the production process, as well as giving the finished product more clarity and durability.  Lead crystal is most commonly used for tableware and 

decorative pieces for the home.               

 How to Distinguish between Glass and Crystal

Aside from the chemical composition which is not apparent at a glance, there are other ways to see and feel the differences.

(Pictured below is the
Juliska Glass Graham pattern.)

Thickness:  Crystal will usually feel thinner than regular glass, as the addition of lead allows for a longer working time, making it easier to sculpt. 

Clarity:  Glass stems are slightly cloudy when held up to the light, especially those made from soda-lime, whereas crystal is known for its clarity.  

The higher the lead content, the greater the clarity.  In the US, glasses that contain 1% of lead are categorized as lead crystal, In Europe, on the other 

hand, crystal is defined as glass with a lead content that ranges from 10-30%.  Please note, that “seeds” or bubbles in the glass are not flaws.  They are a 

direct result of gases being untied in the melting process and do not affect the quality of the glass

Cut:  Crystal is typically cut and polished to a smooth surface. One way to tell crystal is to feel the facets and cuts.  Crystal is smoother than glass.

Refraction:  Similar to clarity, a crystal’s refractive quality has a direct link to lead content.  A high lead content will cause an item to sparkle in the sunlight. 

Optically clear crystal is polished to a smooth and blemish-free finish.  This type of crystal is known for creating rainbow prisms in the sunlight.  Glass is 

more opaque.

Sound: Another way to tell the difference is by the sound it makes when you tap the rim. Glass will make a “thud” sound; crystal will make a sound that “pings” when you tap it.

Weight: Because of its lead content, crystal will have a heavier feel to it.  Pick up a stem of crystal, it will feel more solid than a glass stem. Glass will feel lightweight.

 (Pictured below is
Waterford Marquis Crystal Summer Breeze pattern)



There are significant differences between crystal and glass.  Take your time and be informed when investing.  The choice between glass and crystal 

depends on taste and budget and there are great quality choices in both categories.

Bottom line is: When selecting your stemware and barware choose a pattern that you love from either Glass or Crystal and that goes well with your 

table setting. That should make you happy when using them time and time again.

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