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Crystal Chandeliers always the Romantic
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

The crystal chandelier makes a grand re- entrance in the long romantic history of chandeliers.

Originally a branched candle holder made of wood or iron and suspended from the ceilings of Anglo-Saxon churches prior to the Norman Conquest (1066), the chandelier remained solely in the realm of the church until the 15th century, when people began adding central lighting to their homes. Only the court circles, aristocracy, and upper bourgeoisie, however, could afford this luxury of a chandelier until the 19th century.

Therefore, most antique chandeliers date from 19th and early 20th century periods. The few bronze chandeliers that survived from the 11th and 12th centuries represent a halfway stage between large sculpture and lighting fixture. Even fewer sterling silver chandeliers survived the Louis IV era (1638-1715), according to David Stevens, owner of Orion Antique Importers, because Louis melted down the sterling to mint coins to cover his army expenses.

Englishman George Ravenscroft's discovery--lead oxide added to raw glass materials made finished glass softer and easier to cut--revolutionized the glass world in 1676 and made possible the invention of lenses, microscopes, telescopes, and yes, crystal chandeliers with strong, heavy, and brilliant lead crystals. In fact, some crystal chandeliers made today are based on styles from as early as the Baroque period, 1600-1740.

Orion Antiques carries a number of antique candle chandeliers; for instance, a rock crystal and gilt bronze chandelier (1804-1814) with twelve candles for $43,000 and an 18th century Italian hand blown solid crystal chandelier with a central crystal column, six crystal arms for candles, and blue crystal drops for $15,500.

Oil, gas, and kerosene replaced candles beginning in 1850 only to be replaced themselves by electric current. Pre-electrical chandeliers need external wiring for practical lighting, says Stevens, who also restores antique chandeliers, and currently has an electrified Louis XV gilt bronze and baccarat crystal chandelier, circa 1870, with triple bevel rosette and violin drops for $22,000.

With bulb chandeliers came a flurry of new designs causing popularity in the crystal chandelier to wane during the later part of the 20th century. But renewed interest in crystal beginning three to four years ago has made the crystal chandelier the number one seller today, according to Dee Day at Meletio Electrical Supply Co. Schonbek crystal chandeliers, a manufacturer started in 19th century Bohemia, can be found in the White House, Buckingham Palace, and now as the best selling chandeliers at Meletio, according to Day, and at Light's Fantastic, according to Tim Koerner, who said pricing starts at $2,100.

A large number of sales in chandeliers comes from catalogue orders, an eight week process, according to Day, who keeps on her desk a verse reprinted in part:

"I want a fixture just like this,

Only with a different glass.

Except instead of pewter,

I'd like to have it brass.

Instead of having five lights,

I want it to have eight.

And rather than the curved arms,

I would want them straight.

Buyers can customize the chandeliers to fit their budgets because price fluctuates with size, style, and crystals. The most elegant and expensive crystal is the Strass crystal, a hand-crafted gem with sharp cut facets, prismatic brilliance, and lead content greater than 30 percent. (Maximum lead content is 33 per cent.) Intermediate crystals, Swarovski and Heritage, are either hand cut or machine cut gems. And the most economical crystal, Legacy, is not a cut crystal, but molded and pressed. Adding full spectrum light, such as the Krypton halogen bulbs in place of candle bulbs, adds even more rainbow color to the Strass and Heritage crystals, says Koerner.

We've decorated all in modern,

With a little provincial too.

This is just the perfect fixture,

Could you paint it blue?

It makes sense to have silver plated hardware, lacquered to prevent tarnishing, in the dining room, says Day. And gold now shares the spotlight with a growing popularity in rod iron hardware. For instance, bronze finishes are the most popular at Lights Fantastic, and pewter is becoming very popular not just in chandeliers but throughout home hardware, according to Koerner. More people are coordinating the entry and dining room chandeliers with matching wall accents in the guest powder baths.

Ceiling medallions also enhance chandeliers by covering over outlets, says Koerner, who suggests the medallions be proportionally smaller than the chandeliers.

I don't know the room size,

Or the ceiling's pitch,

But that's the perfect fixture,

Can you put in a three way switch?

Fitting a chandelier requires three basic measurements: the size of the room, the size of the table, and the height of the ceiling. For an elegant look in the dining room, place the chandelier five feet over the floor (5 1/2 ft. if ceiling is high) and at least 30 inches above the table, according to Day. In other rooms, the chandelier needs eight feet of clearance for traffic flow. And in the bath, it's crucial the chandelier be out of reach to prevent shock, even though chandeliers are well grounded. More lee-way exists in the entry, especially in twenty to thirty foot entries, where the chandelier can hang at almost any elevation.

We sell a chandelier lift to raise and lower the chandelier at the push of a button, says Koerner. The lift allows the owner to lower the chandelier for cleaning and changing light bulbs, and to adjust the height of the display. Chandelier lifts come in 100 to 500 pound capacities and cost $895 upwards. Built primarily in new homes, lifts can also be added to existing homes with an attic crawl space above the entry.

Other popular chandeliers include the alabaster glass, a semi-translucent hard calcite banded like marble, which is the second biggest selling chandelier at Lights Fantastic, according to Koerner.

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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