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What Is the Difference Between Glass and Crystal?

If you’re planning a full course meal for an elegant event or looking to add a sophisticated touch to a romantic dinner, you may find yourself headed to the china cabinet to pull out the good crystal. Crystal glass has long been associated with high-end dining, but why is it considered more luxurious than standard glass? Below we’ll clarify the difference between crystal and glass to help you set the table for your next event.

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Crystal vs Glass

Crystal champagne glass

When comparing glass vs crystal, crystal is a type of glass that contains strengthening minerals like lead-oxide, potassium carbonate, and silica to make the material durable. The added strength allows the crystal to be molded into thin, delicate shapes. Standard glass is usually made with sand, soda ash, and limestone, making it durable but unable to be molded as thin as crystal. Crystal is also able to refract light while glass will typically lack that ability, making crystal more sought out for formal table settings and more expensive than glass.

What Is Glass?

Glass is a transparent material that can be melted down and molded into solid shapes. It is made from sand, soda ash, and limestone, but other minerals like silica and barium can be added to manipulate its color, durability, and thickness.

Glass with a low mineral count is non-porous, which makes glass dishwasher safe and heat-resistant. Some popular types of glass used in public settings are borosilicate glass, commonly used for glass food storage containers, and fuzed quartz glass used for camera lenses and lab equipment.

What Is Crystal?

Crystal glass is a transparent material made with the same ingredients as glass, but with added lead-oxide or metal-oxide. The additional ingredients make the crystal retain its integrity even when cut or blown. The added ingredients in crystal glass makes the material slightly porous, giving it the ability to refract light brilliantly. However, this also means that the material is not dishwasher safe.

Crystal is produced by companies around the globe and can be made with varying levels of lead-oxide. Unlike the name suggests, crystal glass does not actually contain a crystalline structure in its material compound. The name is derived from the Italian term “Cristallo”, which was used for high-end hand-blown glass in Murano, Italy. Its association with sophistication makes crystal desirable and higher in price than glass.


The Differences between Glass and Crystal

Crystal Margarita glass

Glass and crystal are both made by being heated in a furnace until molten. They are then blown by a glassblower and shaped into the desired designs. However, the two materials do feature various differences, from their chemical composition and weight down to how they refract light and reverberate sound. We take a close look at their differences below to clarify why crystal comes with a higher price point.

Appearance Differences

  • Glass: Glass is often slightly foggy in appearance and can typically feature a tint based on the ingredients in its composition. It can have a green tint if made with iron or a blue tint if made with soda-lime.
  • Crystal: Crystal boasts incredible clarity, which makes it a desirable choice for high-end glassware and decorations.

Weight Differences

  • Glass: Glass is lighter in weight in comparison to crystal pieces of the same design.
  • Crystal: Because crystal contains lead or other metals, it tends to be heavier in weight than standard glass of the same design.

Thickness Differences

  • Glass: Due to the soda-lime in its chemical composition, glass requires a high working temperature and hardens rather quickly after being heated, which results in a thick rim. The material is more fragile than crystal so most cup rims will be reinforced for added strength.
  • Crystal: Crystal can be heated at lower temperatures than glass because of the lead and potassium carbonate in the composition. This allows for the glassblower to more easily work the material and make it thin. The additional chemicals also help the material to remain strong while being stretched further than glass.

Cut Differences

Crystal old fashion drinking glass
  • Glass: Since glass hardens more quickly than crystal, it offers little time to be cut by hand. The material is generally too hot to manage with gloves so glass is typically bent into shape while hot or blown into a mold. Any cuts on the surface are usually sharp, rigid, and brittle.
  • Crystal: Since crystal is strengthened by its minerals, it is soft enough to add smooth hand-cut details to its surface without compromising its durability. The material is more malleable than glass, allowing the artist to add intricate patterns. The cuts can then be buffed and polished without fear of shattering the structure.

Refraction Differences

  • Glass: Glass has very little metal content, which means that light will pass through like a windowpane without refracting. The soda-lime in glass lacks retracting abilities.
  • Crystal: Because of the lead and metal content in crystal, the material can refract light that passes through it in the right position. Light disperses from crystal in a rainbow hue, making the material desirable for decorations and tableware.

Sound Differences

  • Glass: Glass provides a dull chime when tapped or flicked. The sound is usually short in length and subtle.
  • Crystal: When tapped, crystal creates a satisfying bell-like ringing sound. The lead content in the material allows the sounds to be slightly prolonged.

Benefits

  • Glass: Glass tableware is a great option for everyday use because it is made thick and durable. It can be put in the dishwasher for easy cleanup and has a reinforced rim to prevent chips and cracks.
  • Crystal: Crystal glass refracts light beautifully, glinting light into rainbows. This makes it an excellent choice for cups, bowls, vases, champagne flutes, chandeliers, and ornaments. It can also be molded thin, which means that wine glasses can have a thin rim, providing an uninterrupted flow of wine. Crystal is also popular at weddings because of the ringing noise it makes when glasses are clinked.

Crystal FAQs

Although crystal has been around since the 17th century, there are still many questions surrounding its safety and crafting. Below we’ll answer some of the most frequently asked questions about crystal.

What Is Lead Crystal and Is It Safe?

Crystal Champagne glasses

Lead crystal is glass that uses lead-oxide as a strengthening and clarification agent. Lead crystal is not considered safe for beverage or food storage. There is a low-risk of lead consumption if you are using lead crystal for a single beverage or food serving. However, if you are storing a liquid in lead crystal for a prolonged period of time, such as storing whiskey in a decanter, you may be at risk of having lead leach into your beverage.

According to the European Union, crystal must contain at least 24% lead oxide to merit the title of lead crystal. Anything below that rating must be strictly labeled as crystal glass or crystalline. In the United States, any glass with 1% lead oxide can carry the label of crystal.

Does All Crystal Have Lead?

Not all crystal glass contains lead. You can find lead-free crystal that uses alternative metal oxides, such as barium oxide, potassium oxide, zinc oxide, and magnesium, instead of lead oxide. This is to make the glass safe for food storage without the concern of lead leaching into the food or beverage. The best way to know if your crystal contains any lead is to have it lab tested.


Whether you’re catering a wedding or serving festive holiday cocktails at a Christmas party, crystal can help you bring your event to a higher level of sophistication. Make a great impression on your guests with glassware that is sure to catch the eye as they sparkle in the room.

Posted in: Catering Tips | Product Spotlights | By Janine Jones
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