All that glitters is not gold — sometimes it's rhinestones. They shimmer, sparkle and dance in the light, and they are nothing more than faceted bits of glass.
The original rhinestones were rock crystals that were plucked from the shores of the Rhine River in Austria, hence the name. But, as the sources of genuine stones became depleted, resourceful jewelers sought techniques to duplicate the look of the original.
In the latter part of the 1770s, a French jeweler by the name of George Frederic Stras came up with the idea of metal-coating the backs of clear crystals, which would force reflection from the backing out through the stone. That method created rhinestones as we know them today. An advancement by Daniel Swarovski in the technique of cutting crystals to mimic the facets of gemstones more than a century later enabled them to be produced en masse, and the popularity of rhinestones soared.
Today's rhinestones are relatively inexpensive, and are made from glass, acrylics, paste or gem quartz. They can be used to embellish everything from wedding tiaras to Vegas showgirl headdresses, from competitive figure skating costumes to costume jewelry pieces.
Their popularity hit its heyday during the modern era between 1945 and 1960, when fine quality jewelers invested their talents in the making of fine rhinestone pieces. Fashion designers spangled the majority of eveningwear (and much daywear) with this fun and flirty detail. High-end clothing decorated with them, and signature jewelry pieces, have become a hot commodity in the antiques and collectibles market.
Today's crystal rhinestones are still mostly manufactured in Austria, with the Czech Republic a close second. Those made from acrylic are manufactured in many countries. Regardless of where they were produced, they will need to handled carefully to guard against damage. While storing rhinestones, people should never place them face-to-face because they will easily scratch; they should always be stored separately or have tissue placed between the pieces. To clean them, a cotton swap dipped in rubbing alcohol can be used. Water should be avoided as it will tarnish the foil backing.