Rock Crystal

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Carved Rock Crystal Quartz Spindle Whorl, Iran.
© Trustees of the British Museum.

The Greek word krystallos meaning "ice", provides the basis for the origin of the name Rock Crystal. This transparent colorless form of quartz conjures up the imagery of frozen rock and was so dubbed in ancient times. A popular material for carving since antiquity, some fine examples from ancient Egypt, Iraq, Iran and other parts of the Middle East have survived the ravages of time.

Circa 1650, and on into the Georgian era, jewelers carved flat topped rock crystals with faceted sides called Stuart Crystals, in a variety of outlines to mount atop gold wire ciphers and hairwork. Created in commemoration of King Charles I, they could be found bezel set in rings, pendants, earrings, clasps and cufflinks. During the Victorian era, the fashion for rock crystal carving was predominantly found in seals, cameos and intaglios.

The Art Deco Period extensively used geometrically carved rock crystal plaques that complimented jewelry designs by providing the background for a ring, brooch, pendant or bracelet. These often had a diamond or other stone set in the center. Rock Crystal has also been carved into objects, to be further enhanced by gemstones, such as flowers, bows and baskets. Bangle and cuff bracelets have been carved from a solid piece of quartz and, while rock crystal is not usually faceted, rock crystal beads often are. Rock crystal continues to be carved for jewelry today.

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Carved Rock Crystal Quartz Stuart Crystal Pendant with Profile of Charles I.
© Trustees of the British Museum.

Rock Crystal.jpg

Carved Rock Crystal Quartz Bow Brooch with Ruby and Diamond Accents.
Photo Courtesy of Frances Klein Classic Jewels..

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Victorian Reverse Crystal Intaglio.
Courtesy of Lang Antiques.

Reverse Crystal Intaglios

Extremely popular in the late Victorian Era, reverse crystal intaglios were composed of a rock crystal cabochon, carved on the flat side and painted to give a three dimensional quality to the subject. Reverse intaglios were used extensively in gentleman's jewelry of that era as the subject matter often included animals, hunting motifs and monograms. The crystals were backed with mother-of-pearl before being set in jewelry. This fashion died out in the 1920's when the quality of the carvings diminished and molded and painted glass began to appear on the market.

Gemological Information for Rock Crystal Quartz

Color: Colorless
Crystal Structure Hexagonal (trigonal) Hexagonal Prisms
Refractive Index: 1.544 to 1.553
Durability: Good
Hardness: 7
Family: Quartz
Similar Stones: Any Colorless Gem & Glass
Treatments: Quench Crackle, Irradiation, Heat, Coating & Backing, Dyeing
Country of Origin: All Over the World

Rock Crystal Quartz Care

Ultrasonic Cleaning: Usually Safe
Steam Cleaning: Very Risky
Warm Soapy Water: Safe
Chemical Attack: Soluble in Hydrofluoric Acid & Ammonium Fluoride and some Alkalies
Light Sensitivity: Stable
Heat Sensitivity: Can Fracture with Extreme Temperature Changes


  • Dawes, Ginny Redington Dawes with Collings, Olivia. Georgian Jewellery: 1714-1830: Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: Antique Collectors’ Club, 2007. Pp. 158-159.
  • Gem Reference Guide, Los Angeles: Gemological Institute of America, 1988. Pp. 189-190.
  • Newman, Harold. An Illustrated Dictionary of Jewelry, New York: Thames and Hudson, 1981. Pp. 259 & 256.
  • Scarisbrick, Diana. Jewellery in Britain: 1066-1837, Wilby, Norwich: Michael Russell, 1994. Pp.168-169.
  • Schumann, Walter. Gemstones of the World, New York: Sterling Publishing, Co., 1977. Pp. 116.