Behind Swarovski is a fascinating story of innovation, creativity and social responsibility – with crystal and its many facets always centre-stage. Read the history of Swarovski: from the birth of its founder, Daniel Swarovski in Bohemia in 1862, to the company’s present exalted position on the international stage.
1862 Daniel Swarovski’s invention
The interplay of light on crystal enthrals Daniel Swarovski during his childhood. Born in Bohemia in 1862, crystal plays an important in family life.
Bohemia, then a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, is one of the most important centres for the production of glass and crystal. And in the small factory run by Daniel’s father, crystal is dressed and smoothed.
As a young boy, Daniel takes a keen interest in the work going on in his father’s workshop. He takes his apprenticeship both here and also with other crystal grinders. When aged 21 he visits the “First Electrical Exhibition” in Vienna and hits on the idea that is to shape his life. The new techniques developed by Siemens and Edison inspire him to develop a crystal-grinding machine.
He spends days and nights working on fulfilling his vision. Finally, nine years later (1892), he registers a patent: A machine, which for the first time makes it possible to grind crystal stones to perfection. Faster and with much greater precision than had formerly been possible by working laboriously by hand.
This invention marks a new era in the world of crystal. The foundation stone for the present firm is laid. In 1895 Daniel and his brother-in-law, Franz Weis, and also Armand Kosmann, set up the new business.
1895 Location Wattens in the Tyrol
Daniel Swarovski takes his family from the Bohemian town of Georgenthal (now Jiřetín/CZ) to Wattens in the Tyrol. Daniel Swarovski and his partners find the ideal location for their company in Wattens in the Austrian Alps. There are sufficient water resources here to power the machines. They are also far enough away from their competitors and therefore relatively safe from imitation. Finally, there are good trade routes to the fashion centre of Paris, where crystal jewellery stones are in great demand.
1913 Construction of crystal production plant.
Together with his three sons, Wilhelm, Friedrich and Alfred, Daniel Swarovski establishes a crystal production plant where he can produce his own purest quality raw material. To this day the company’s success has been due to its uncompromising quality standards.
In 1908 Daniel Swarovski’s three sons – Wilhelm, Friedrich and Alfred – joined their father’s company and begin experimenting with the production of crystal. These experiments are conducted in a workshop specially constructed for the purpose. All of this takes place near the family’s villa in Wattens.
It takes three years to design and build their own furnaces. It takes even longer for them to find the “recipe” for flawless crystal. In 1913 Swarovski begins to produce its own crystal. This is an important milestone in the history of the company, taking mass production to a new level.
Swarovski’s flawless, brilliant cut jewellery stones cause great excitement and are coveted everywhere. They sell incredibly well in the Paris fashion houses and jewellers. For this reason, Swarovski concentrates initially on the production of jewellery stones. However, further product ranges are soon added, which today combine to create a harmonious, “multi-faceted” business.
1919 The TYROLIT brand
Swarovski markets the grinding and dressing tools it has developed under the brand name of Tyrolit. Today Tyrolit is the market leader in Europe and is one of the world’s three main suppliers of grinding tools.
During World War I grinding machinery was scarce. Daniel Swarovski takes advantage of this situation and develops his own tools.
After two years of research and development, he manages to produce the grinding and dressing tools required to machine crystal jewellery stones. In 1919 they are registered under the brand name of TYROLIT.
1948 Swarovski Optik
Swarovski Optik is founded. Manufacturing precision instruments, such as telescopes and binoculars under the Habicht brand name, the company manages to secure a leading position on the world market.
Wilhelm, the oldest son of the company’s founder, produces his first prototype for a pair of binoculars in 1935 and in doing so lays the foundation for a further Swarovski product. These binoculars, sold under the brand name Habicht, open access to the optical industry, becoming the company’s saviour during the war. Today Swarovski Optik is the world’s leading manufacturer of precision optical instruments.
1976 Silver Crystal
A tiny crystal mouse begins a new era for Swarovski: the retailing of finished crystal products. The original mouse is the first item in the “Silver Crystal“ range, which now incorporates more than 120 gift articles and collectibles. The brilliantly cut animal figurines, fruits and other decorative objects are available worldwide in over 13,000 specialist retail outlets.
In 1976 this crystal mouse marks the beginning of a new product strategy. For the first time, crystal becomes a material associated with style and sophistication, not just as a haute couture accessory and in chandeliers, but also as a crystal objet d’art.
A multi-faceted series of sparkling treasures grows from the crystal mouse, which becomes a bestseller at the Winter Olympic Games in Innsbruck. Inspired by nature and beautiful objects, these delightful figurines impart a feeling of joy and well-being amongst collectors and enthusiasts from all around the world.
1987 The Swarovski Collectors Society (SCS)
The Swarovski Collectors Society (SCS) is founded in order to offer collectors of Swarovski crystal special benefits and services. Today the Society unites over 450,000 members in 35 countries. The crystal creatures and fantasy creations from the Silver Crystal range successfully transform enthusiastic customers into crystal lovers and crystal lovers into collectors.
Encouraged by its public success and a flood of written requests, the Swarovski Collectors Society is founded in 1987 as the medium for providing crystal lovers with information about the collection, individual items and the company itself.
A SCS collectors’ magazine is published four times a year in seven languages, incorporating details of various highlights and activities.
1995 100th Anniversary
Swarovski celebrates its 100th anniversary and its success during the preceding years with a variety of special activities and products: Vivienne Becker’s book “Swarovski – Faszination Kristall” (Swarovski – the Fascination of Crystal); the swan brooch; a SCS-trip from Prague to Wattens with 2,000 participants as well as the “F.A.I.T.H. Winter Ball” in the “Tavern on the Green” in New York.
1995 Opening of Crystal Worlds
As thehighlight of the centenary celebrations, in October Swarovski opens the “Swarovski Kristallwelten” in Wattens, an exhibition centre designed by the multi-media artist André Heller.
In this unique location the magical world of crystal is brought to life over an area covering 2000 square meters.
Works of art and fantastic creations illustrate the story of the company and communicate the exquisite beauty of crystal.
2003 Crystal Worlds Crystal becomes an inspirational powerhouse behind art and science, an “über-metaphor”, a textual leitmotiv, a framework for ideas, a multi-faceted symbol and an aesthetic work of wonder.
In 1993 to mark the 100-year anniversary of Swarovski, the Crystal Worlds exhibition was created with the aim of celebrating the intangible and the enchanting. In 2003 these incredible worlds underwent a metamorphosis, which paid tribute to its past success as an exhibition centre, concert and festival hall. Expanded with a series of breathtaking chambers of wonder and with a strong focus on contemporary fine art, the broad-shouldered “Giant of Wattens” represents not just a new “welcome” concept but is also a shop separate from the exhibition area. Artistic director, André Heller (Artevent), is responsible for completing this €15 million reconstruction.
The function and raison d’être of Crystal Worlds is to showcase crystal in all its forms and to make space available for an inspirational interaction with this glittering material − whether as a performing art, theatre or music, as science or myth.
And it’s also a place where you can view − and buy items from − the largest collection of Swarovski crystal objets d’art.
André Heller and other well-known artists have created halls housing millions of sparkling and glittering jewellery stones forming one huge work of art, in which light, colours, music, water, aromas and the dimensions of space interact to transport visitors into a fantasy world.
In order to create the illusion of an underground world of crystal, caves were excavated and an artificial mountain was formed. Instead of vast pylons of concrete and steel, the visitor encounters an expanse of parkland, the visual highlight of which is an expanse of hedging, reminiscent of an enormous giant’s hand.