At times of celebration, crystal glasses are often brought out to mark the special occasion. After all, experts say that good stemware will enhance the taste and sensory experience when drinking fine champagne or wine. But the average person typically can’t tell the difference between a regular wine glass or champagne flute and its crystal counterparts at first glance. Distinguishing from the variety stemware offered these days can prove to be difficult task — the answer isn’t always crystal clear. Being able to identify the difference can help you score amazing deals at yard sales or flea markets. If you’re curious to know the difference or are looking to invest in the finer stemware consider these tips on what to look out for. Like buying a diamond ring and taking into account the four Cs — clarity, colour, carat and cut — crystal has distinguishing properties you should look out for.
Defining glass and crystal
Your everyday juice glass and other glassware are typically made of traditional soda-lime glass, which is made up of a combination of lime, sand (silica) and soda. It’s generally more affordable and is made to withstand dishwashers and the variety of temperatures.
Crystal is actually a special kind of glass that has about 24 per cent of lead oxide in it. Anything lower is not considered crystal. For that reason, it’s often referred to as lead-crystal, which will actually sparkle more as the lead content gets higher. Crystal is also much more expensive.
How to tell the difference
Clarity: Hold it up to the light and you’ll probably see a rainbow because crystal and its cuts will act as a prism. Crystal is clear and bright where as glass may have tints and is generally cloudier.
Cut: Crystal is often used in chandeliers, fine wine glasses, vases, jewelry and other higher-end items because of its reflective quality. When it has barium oxide in it, it has a high index of refraction. The refractive index makes crystal sparkle like a diamond when cut at sharp angles.
Weight: Crystal is much heavier than ordinary glass because of the lead oxide content. It’s also thinner than regular soda-lime glass. A direct comparison of two glasses of the same size will show crystal has more of a substantial feel.
Sound: Crystal makes a musical ping or chime when tapped, whereas glass does not. Try also wetting your fingers and running it around the rim of the crystal glass and you’ll be able to hear a musical ring.
Potential Health Hazards: Health Canada warns that lead crystalware may release lead into food and beverages it comes in contact with. The risk is lower if the crystalware is only used over the course of a meal. Health Canada recommends avoiding storing food or beverages in crystal and soaking new crystalware in vinegar for 24 hours and rinsing it before you use it. Also wash crystal by hand with a mild detergent. Dishwasher detergent can damage the surface and cause more lead to be released next time it is used. Eating a balanced diet that includes calcium, iron, protein and zinc will also help reduce the amount of lead and cadmium your body absorbs. If you’re especially worried, consider buying lead-free crystal, which doesn’t have the same weight and brilliance of crystal, but is quite similar in all other aspects.