Rhinestones – A bit of the History and the Lingo

History of Rhinestones


The name rhinestone originated from pieces of crystal or glass found in Austria’s Rhine River.  Rhinestones have been around for centuries and were originally cut and finished by hand.

Rhinestone is a word used to define a faux gem that is usually made from either crystal, glass crystal, glass or plastic (acrylic).  Vintage rhinestones were primarily produced in Austria, Czechoslovakia, France, West Germany, and Japan.

In the 1700’s, a French jeweler developed a technique for applying lead to the back of glass.  This process greatly enhanced the brilliance and sparkle of the glass.  In the 1800’s, Swarovski created a glass cutting machine which cut faceted glass that had dazzle and brilliance far superior to hand cut crystal.  This became known as “Swarovski Rhinestones”.  Swarovski’s invention allowed for a speedy mass production while still producing a magnificent finished stone.   This process is still being used world wide by companies other than Swarovski.

The top of the line rhinestones are Swarovski Rhinestones and are made of lead crystal with an faceted cut.
Acrylic rhinestones are less expensive than glass stones, however, they can have a tendency to look less real than glass.  They also feel much more artificial as they are lightweight.

Rhinestone Colors

46pRhinestones were originally created to simulate gem colors, therefore the most common colors are Clear (diamond), Ruby, Sapphire, Topaz, Emerald, Aquamarine, and Amethyst.

Other common colors include Jonquil (pale yellow), Peridot (Apple Green), Rose Pink, Fuschia, Jet (Onyx black), Chalk White (opaque white), Light Sapphire, Light Topaz, Light Amethyst, Garnet, Hyacinth (Reddish Orange), Smoke Topaz, Black Diamond, Montana Sapphire (navy blue), Alexandrite (color shifts from purple to aqua), Blue Zircon (blue-green), Capri Blue (bright, royal blue) and more.

AB rhinestones are produced by adding an Aurora Borealis coating to the stone.  The coating will cause a prismatic effect in light refraction, casting all colors of the rainbow, with the base color showing through.  Crystal AB results when a ‘Crystal’ color has an AB coating applied.  This stone will cast mild colors in all ranges. Swarovski AB coatings reflect in the red, blue, green, and gold areas, whereas Czech reflects more Gold/Yellow than do the Swarovski.

Rhinestone Lingo


There are so many terms used in describing rhinestones, that it can sometimes feel like a foreign language.    AB, Cabochon, Foiled oh my!    What do all these terms mean?

Flatback or FB – A rhinestone which has an even, flat underside, suitable for applying to other flat surfaces such as clothing, nails, crafts, etc.  These can easily be applied with adhesive.

Faceted Back or “pointy” back – A rhinestone which has a pointed, faceted underside, suitable for jewelry, crafts, and clothing.

Domed Back – A rhinestone which has a rounded, dome-like underside that is not faceted or flat.

Foiled Back – The underside (bottom) of the rhinestone is coated with a metallic foil, most commonly silver or gold, thereby causing the light to reflect back as if from a mirror.

Unfoiled Back – The underside (bottom) of the rhinestone is un-foiled, thereby allowing the light to pass completely through.

Machine Cut or Full Tin Cut – The machine cut rhinestone is the most brilliant.  Each facet is cut and polished in such a way that the edges are sharp and crisp, giving the rhinestone sparkle.

Half Tin Cut- All of the facets on the top side of the stone have been cut and polished.

Cabochon – Cabochons have a smooth, domed top without facets.  Usually they are flat-backed.

Cab Top – Faceted, domed bottom side with a smooth, cabochon top-side.


Rhinestone Sizing


SS: “Stone Size” This designation is used for flat back and larger pointed back stones. Stone Sizes are usually:

8SS = 2.3 mm, 10 SS = 2.8 mm, 12 SS = 3.1 mm, 16 SS = 3.9 mm, 20 SS = 4.7 mm, 30 SS = 6.4 mm, 34 SS = 7.1 mm, 40 SS = 8.9 mm, 42 SS = 9.1 mm, 49 SS = 11.1 mm

PP: “Pearl Plate” This designation is used for pointed back stones up to about pp35. Roughly, 1/2 pp = SS, but not exactly. The name comes from pearl sizing techniques where a plate has holes of a certain size drilled in it so pearls of that size or smaller will fall through.




Hopefully, we have taken a little of the mystery out of rhinestones and shopping for vintage rhinestone jewelry will be more fun for you!   Visit Stuff4Uand4U for a nice selection of vintage rhinestone jewelry.



  1. I learned a new word today – Cabochon. So interesting reading about the history of rhinestones and where the name originated from. Now I have the song Rhinestone Cowboy stuck in my head. 🙂

    • ccfsm@prodigy.net

      Cabochon is a fun word. Glen Campbell, Rhinestone cowboy, is from my state. His brother attends church with my son – small world!

  2. Loved reading about rhinestones – it speaks to my love of all things bright and shiny!

  3. Cool…I really like your articles with a bit of history behind…cool with rhinestones even if I do not really wear much of those 🙂

  4. I learned a lot about rhinestones from your post! Thanks so much for sharing 😊

  5. You have definitely take a bit of the mystery out of rhinestones… I hadn’t know most of this… very informative.

  6. Thanks for sharing the history of rhinestones. I have some of these in my collection… Yet, admit I don’t know what KIND – lol. You always share such interesting tidbits.

    • ccfsm@prodigy.net

      Thanks for the kind words. So much sparkly stuff out there; always good to know what the good sparkle is:)

  7. I love reading about rhinestones and knowing more about their origin and history. I seem to learn a lot from your blogs about them

  8. I didn’t know most of this. Although I suppose a lot of it is common sense – especially the flat back one. I love Swarovski’s jewelry and have several pieces I just adore. They are so beautiful.

  9. I didn’t know a lot of this, but really like rhinestones and enjoy this type of jewelry. It is really pretty. Thank You !

    Lori English

  10. Cabochon – what an interesting word! They say you learn something new every day. Who knew there was so much to learn about rhinestones.

  11. I have been in all of those countries that were mentioned here. I probably must not have noticed the relationship of rhinestones to them. It is of course different when you are thinking of Switzerland, you automatically think of Swiss made watches. Japan is famous for mikimoto. But anyway, Rhinestone from Rhine River makes sense.

  12. I am a huge fan and lover of vintage jewelry. Loved learning more about rhinestones and will have a whole new appreciation for the vintage pieces I run across xo

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