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How Can You Tell If a Wine Glass Is Crystal?

crystal wine glass sitting on a table with a hand touching the glass lip.
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Crystal has a particular reputation for being the “fancy” version of glass and is typically used for formal tableware on special occasions. So naturally, this might leave you wondering what’s so special about crystal. The discerning wine enthusiast will want to know how to spot a wine glass that’s made of crystal.

Glass Wine Glasses

A typical wine glass is created primarily using sand and a soda-lime mixture. Wine glass manufacturing has come a long way since its origins, which date back to Egypt as early as around 1600 B.C.E. Over the years, glass has become clearer and more brilliant. Within the last 500 years, new techniques and mixtures have produced types of glass that outshine traditional glass. Read on to find out what they are.

Crystal Wine Glasses

Crystal is simply a type of glass. They are manufactured in a very similar fashion to regular wine glasses, with the major difference being chemical composition. In addition to the soda-lime mixture, crystal glasses also have a high lead-oxide content. This is why crystal is sometimes referred to as “lead-crystal” or “leaded-crystal.” The addition of lead oxide makes the glass extra clear and increases light refraction, which adds to the visual appearance of the drinkware.

According to the European Union Council Directive 69/493/EEC, glass must contain at least 24% lead oxide to be considered “lead crystal.” According to the FDA, using crystal drinkware on sporadic special occasions is deemed to be safe. However, it should not be used as everyday drinkware due to health concerns regarding lead. This has led to the creation of lead-free crystal.

Lead-Free Crystal Wine Glasses

From a traditional standpoint, some will argue that there is no such thing as lead-free crystal and that crystal must contain lead to be considered crystal. This leads some to more accurately call it “brilliant glass” or “extra-clear glass.”

No matter what it’s called, it makes sense for there to be an alternative to traditional crystal from a practical standpoint. For those that wish to drink from high-end drinkware on a daily basis, you no longer need to worry about the possible downsides of lead crystal. Today, the majority of the wine glasses you find for sale will be lead-free crystal rather than leaded crystal.

Lead-free crystal substitutes lead for other ingredients such as barium, zinc, or potassium. The mixture creates a glass that is extra-clear and brilliant when compared to normal glass. It has qualities nearly identical to leaded crystal glass.

Our Favorite Crystal and Lead-Free Crystal Wine Glasses

The best splurge:

Zalto Denkart Universal Wine Glass sits in a white background
Zalto Denk'Art Universal Wine Glass Hand-Blown Crystal
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If you’re worried about knocking over your best glasses:

wine-enthusiast-short-stem-wine-glass
Fusion Air by Wine Enthusiast Short Stem Taste Wine Glasses - Set of 4
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If you want to go big on a budget:

crystal-wine-glass
Crystal Wine Glasses – Hand Blown Red & White Wine Glasses – Set of 4
View In Store

Top 3 Ways to Tell if a Wine Glass is Crystal

  1. Sound
    If drinkware is made of crystal, it will make a telltale resonating ringing noise when tapped. This can be heard when making a gentle toast- by clanking other drinker’s glasses or tapping the glass to announce a toast. Additionally, if you wet your finger and us it to circle the rim of a crystal wine glass, you will likely begin to hear a high-pitched hum from sound reverberating.
  1. Light
    When light shines through crystal it will create a prism effect. You should see a rainbow if you hold crystal up to a light. This is especially evident when facets are cut into the crystal to create designs. The many edges create an even more powerful iridescent effect.
  2. Weight
    Lead is a heavy element. Therefore, any crystal drinkware will be heavier than a glass of equal size. The difference is subtle but may still be noticed by those who are more discerning.

 

 

Other Ways to Identify Crystal

Smooth Edges

Crystal has different working properties than normal glass. Specifically, it has a lower melting point and the polishing process is different. After patterns are cut into crystal using diamond cutting wheels, the crystal is polished in an acid bath. The acid polish creates smooth edges where the cuts abraded the glass. Regular glass cannot be polished this way, which typically leaves sharper edges.

Thinness

Crystal wine glasses might be thinner at the rim. Crystal is less fragile than normal glass. This means it can be made thinner while still maintaining strength.

Tint

Under an ultra-violet (UV) light, crystal appears purple, while soda-lime glass appears green.

Clarity

The term “crystal-clear” has its origins because crystal is more clear than regular glass. Therefore, when comparing the two, side-by-side, you should see a visual difference.

Are Crystal Wine Glasses Worth the Cost?

Now you know the differences between standard glass and crystal and how to spot crystal at the next fancy dinner you attend. However, this may leave you wondering if crystal wine glasses are worth the cost. As you can see from the information above, the differences between regular glass and crystal are notable. The added brilliance and clarity of crystal can bring your wine drinking experience to the next level.

On the other hand, for those who want to indulge frequently, you may wish to opt for regular glass or lead-free crystal wine glasses. This could be for health reasons or practical purposes such as not wanting to hand-wash your drinkware.

Whatever you choose to drink from, we have great options to suit your preferences.

Please note, this article may contain links to Amazon products. As an Amazon Associate, Glass.com earns from qualifying purchases.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Daniel Snow

Daniel Snow serves as the Vice President of Operations for Glass.com and is also a contributing editor. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management from George Mason University and has a background in the real estate industry. After high school, Daniel even worked at a family-owned glass shop for a short period of time and is an Auto Glass Safety Council certified installer. In his free time, Daniel enjoys being outdoors, especially around the water where he can be found surfing, fishing, and boating. He has a passion for bringing old vehicles back to life and loves working with his hands to restore cars, boats, and motorcycles.

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