Rhinestone? Diamanté? Paste? Huh?
If you’re shopping for costume jewellery these are terms you will see a lot. So, what is the difference?
To be completely honest, not a lot.
Rhinestones, paste and diamanté are, in the broadest terms, the same thing. Sure, there are very slight differences and the terms don’t perfectly overlap so there may be a reason why an item is described as one thing or the other.
Paste, diamantés and rhinestones are all terms used to describe manmade faceted glass and crystal stones cut and polished to look like diamonds or other gemstones. Rhinestones, however, are also the natural rock crystals which were found in the River Rhine in Austria, which is how they are believed to have got their name. Initially rhinestones were made from these naturally occurring crystals and then later manmade.
It’s also been suggested the rhinestones were named after the Swarovski crystal company, who swiftly became the leading innovators in crystal manufacture and moved their premises to the Rhine Valley in the late 19th century. Again, no one is completely sure.
It is believed that “fake” gemstones were being worn as early as the 17th century, even at the Royal courts, but the real breakthrough came in 1724, when French jewel designer Georges Frédéric Strass came up with “paste”: a kind of leaded glass that he cut and polished with metal powder until it appeared to shimmer like a diamond in the light. By adding lead to the glass, it became lead crystal which was far clearer and more sparkly.
Paste is generally noted as the term used during the period of the 18th and 19th centuries, possibly to denote that the stones were “fakes” that were glued in or that the compound used was a leaded glass “paste”. Neither theory has been proven. However, if a piece of jewellery is listed as “paste” it would be generally implied to be an earlier piece than modern machine cut rhinestones.
The term “diamanté” is general synonymous with “rhinestone”, the main difference being that “rhinestone” is more commonly used on the American side of the pond, and diamanté on the English.
These days both terms have a slightly cheaper, more Las Vegas kind of image - rhinestone cowboys, blinged-up baseball caps and so on - but that doesn’t mean that either are cheap or poor quality. Swarovski have manufactured some of the highest quality diamanté, precision cut and expertly polished with a high lead count. In many cases, diamantés are beautifully mounted and prong set with all the care that diamonds would receive.
Strass also discovered that by coating the back of glass crystals with metal they would produce an effect much like rock crystals or diamonds. You can often tell stones that have this foil or metal coating on the back just by shining a light on them and finding that otherwise uninspiring stones leap into life. In fact, Strass wasn’t the first to discover this. Finely enamelled garnet jewellery has been found in Anglo-Saxon burials, notably Sutton Hoo, with the stones set in a reflective metal backing which means that the garnets would glow like flames in a great hall lit by a central fire hearth and torches.
This backing though would differentiate stones from natural rock crystal rhinestones which are sparkly enough not to need any help; caused, ironically, by natural imperfections in the stone that reflects and refracts the light.
Paste jewellery was wildly popular during the late 18th century and all through the 19th century. Women not lucky enough to own great family jewels could sport some beautiful pieces for her evening wear. Much like the secret language of the fan, the language of jewels was invented to convey secret messages to one’s lover(s).
With the advance in technologies, particularly around the late 19th and early 20th century, different mixes of lead and ash, as well as different cutting and polishing techniques have been developed which can enormously vary the quality of some paste stones.
The era of the great couture designers such as Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli projected paste jewellery, crystals and less expensive semi-precious stones right to the forefront of fashion; a look that was quickly adopted by the socialites, theatre and Hollywood movie stars of that golden age.
So, if you’re not sure if you have diamond or rhinestone, there are a couple of simple tests you can perform:
• Fog Test – Breathe on the stone. The fog created will disperse almost immediately on a diamond and linger for several seconds on a rhinestone.
• Try to Read Through It - Diamonds distort the light that passes through them. If you try to read text through the stone it will look blurry. Rhinestones should look clearer – it is primarily glass after all.
• Damage – Diamonds are one of, if not the, hardest substance known to nature. It will not chip and the corners will not soften. Rhinestones will over time, an antique piece may well have suffered some scratches or wear.
• Diamond Testers – You can take it to a jeweller for testing. Diamonds have different conductive properties to glass stones so it will tell you if you have a diamond, but not necessarily what you have. Other tests can be performed on rhinestones to see if they are natural rock crystal or man-made
You may also come across different types of Rhinestones:
• AB rhinestones have been coated with a metallic layer which reflects a rainbow of colours, giving it the name “Aurora Borealis” or “AB”.
• Transparent colours are basically coloured rhinestones designed to imitate specific stones such as rubies, emeralds, amethysts etc
• Polarised colours are made by polarizing the glass. The stones come in special colours and usually reflect two or more, depending on the direction of the light or the light source.
Its also worth nothing that a piece of rhinestone/diamante/paste jewellery marked “Austria” comes from the region of the Rhine, and potentially some of the best factories and is usually an indicator of fantastic quality.
Confused? Well, that’s normal. Wait till we get on to diamonds….
Some of the lovely diamante/rhinestone jewellery available in our Shop!