Swarovski Story

 

The Swarovski Story

 

         The spectacular rainbows, which lit up the sky after rainstorms along with the colored spectrums of light through crystal, must have fascinated Daniel Swarovski from early childhood.  He was born on October 24th in 1862 in Georgenthal, Bohemia, which was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at that time.  Bohemia was one of the top manufacturing centers for glass & crystal, and it is where Daniel’s father also owned a small factory/shop cutting crystal for his neighbors, friends, & family.   As a young boy, Daniel loved to watch his father work in his factory and was truly fascinated by the entire manufacturing process of glass & crystal.  At the age of 21, he learned enough to complete his apprenticeship with his father and several other crystal cutters, where he had gained valuable knowledge & fine-tune his skills. 

         Later that year, he left town to go into Vienna who was hosting the Elektrische Ausstellung (1st International Electrical Exhibition).  Inspired by new, exciting techniques from Siemans & Thomas Edison (Considered one of the top inventors in the world), Daniel quickly had a brilliant idea to design & build a machine exclusively for precise crystal cutting.  In pursuit of realizing his vision by bringing to light his idea, he worked religiously day & night.  Finally, after 9 long years (1892), he was ready to register a patent on a machine, which for the very 1st time, made it possible to cut crystal to perfection.  It was extremely fast & “clearly” more precise than the manual labor & exhausting work commonly used at the time.  A new era in the world of crystal has begun.  A new company was then founded in 1895 by Daniel Swarovski, his brother-in-law, Franz Weis, and good friend Armond Kosmann.

 

 

         On October 1, 1895, Daniel and his partners found the perfect, ideal location for the company in Wattens located in the Austrian Alps.  There were sufficient water resources for hydroelectricity, they were far enough away from their competitors around Bohemia and safe from imitation, and finally, there were excellent trade routes to fashion centers, especially Paris, where crystal jewelry stones were in great demand.  Construction soon followed and in 1907, the hydroelectric plant in Wattens went online, thus providing an abundant source of clean energy.  In 1908, Daniel Swarovski, whose sons Wilhelm, Friedrich, and Alfred had by now joined their father’s company, began experimenting with crystal production in a workshop specifically constructed for this purpose, next to the family’s villa in Wattens.  After 3 years, they had designed and built their own melting ovens.  One year later and after countless attempts, they had successfully found the “recipe” for optically flawless crystal, and in 1913, the Swarovski Company began producing its own crystal.  This was an important milestone in the history of the company for it took mass production & manufacturing to a new level.  Swarovski’s flawless, brilliantly cut jewelry stones were so successful and caused such great excitement, they were soon coveted everywhere!  They sold incredibly well at Europe & Parisian fashion houses as well as to many jewelers.  For this reason, Swarovski concentrated initially on the production of jewelry stones & beads.  Soon after, many other products were added.   About this time, World War I was taking place and the Swarovski Company was soon feeling the effects.  There was a shortage of both cutting machine parts and raw materials.  Always using a crisis as an opening, Daniel used this opportunity to develop his own line of tools for crystal manufacturing.  In 1907, after 2 years of research & development, he had managed to produce his own brand of grinding wheels and dressing tools used in the process of cutting crystal.  In 1919, they were registered under the brand name of Tyrolit

        By this time, Daniel Swarovski was approaching 60 years old.  He was nearing retirement and spent most of his life looking to improve the process of crystal cutting & manufacturing.  Soon, his sons were expected to carry out their father’s visions & dreams, the family name, & the company’s legacy.

Significant Moments of the Swarovski Co. (1925 - Present):

1925:  Swarovski begins experimenting with glass-reflecting elements.  25 years later in 1950, products appear on the market under the Swareflex trademark. 

1931:  The Company begins to manufacture “trimmings” – Jewelry stones processed into decorative bands & laces then applied to garments & accessories. 

1935:  Daniel’s oldest son, Wilhelm, produces the 1st prototype pair of binoculars, laying the foundation for Swarovski’s Optic Products division. 

1956:  (a) At the age of 94, on January 23, Daniel Swarovski I passes away. 

           (b) The Swarovski Company coats crystal jewelry stones with thin layers of metal to enhance their brilliance. 

1957:  The Company sets up its own gem cutting department. 

1965:  The Company starts producing chandelier crystals & prisms under the Strass trademark. 

1976:  (a) Designed by Max Schreck, now deceased, 4 crystal chandelier parts are glued together to create the 1st member of the Swarovski full-cut crystal animal menagerie – A mouse.  

           (b) Swarovski Silver Crystal is 1st manufactured

           (c) Production of Crystal paperweight & key rings begins. 

1977:  The Company launches its own jewelry line under its “Jeweler’s Collection” label. 

1979:  Swarovski establishes itself in North America by opening a branch in Cranston, Rhode Island.  Currently, it is the major headquarters for the North American operations.

1987:  The Swarovski Collectors Society (SCS) is founded in response to thousands of requests from crystal lovers all over the world.  It is now 450,000 members strong and still growing. 

1988:  The Company’s SCS Block trademark is replaced by the Swan logo.  

1989:  The unveiling of the Swarovski line of Haute Couture accessories and decorative crystal Objects D’arte at the Hotel Crillon in Paris.  These pieces were created by the top designers in the world such as Ettore Sottsass, Stefano Ricci, Alessandra Mendini, and Herve Leger.  This is the Company’s “Top of the Line” product, often produced in limited quantities at prices in 5 figure range, not for the average collector. 

1991:   Designed by architect Roland Deleu, Swarovski opens a lavish new premise in the Rue Royale in Paris, France.

1992:   (a) The Company launches its 12-piece Selection Collection by well-known contemporary designers.  In the hierarchy of product lines, the “Selection” is considered the 2nd Top-of-the-line product.  Also produced in limited numbers, they were more affordable, but still very, very expensive.

            (b) Crystal Memories was introduced to a single chain of collectable stores in the United States as a “Trial” product line.

1993:   The official introduction of the Crystal Memories line begins. 

1995:   (a) The Swarovski Company celebrates their 1st Centennial with a gala opening in Wattens called Kristallwelton, designed by Austrian mult-media specialist Andre Heller.

            (b) The “Swan Logo” is added to the Crystal Memories collection. 

2000:   The Daniel Swarovski Paris Paradise Line is introduced.

Today, the Daniel Swarovski Crystal Company has developed into an international icon with numerous subdivisions.  Boasting over 14,000 employees strong, it has remained a privately-owned family business since it’s inception.

Swarovski Factory Today


The Swarovski Factory in Wattens, Austria   (Today)

 

To give you another perspective on the Swarovski Company, read on….

           It's Saturday and I've just cycled into Innsbruck.  Many times when arriving in a city over the weekend, I'll spend the time scouting the locations of companies to be visited.  On Monday I plan to visit Swarovski, the world's largest manufacturer of cut crystal, so Sunday morning I take a practice ride to their offices in Wattens.

        Wattens, with a population of probably 5,000, lies a dozen miles east of Innsbruck.  In the city center, I find a larger than life-size statue of Daniel Swarovski (1862-1956) who founded the company here back in 1895.   A few minutes more riding around this small town brings me to the entrance of a Swarovski plant located amidst a residential area.  I ask the guard at the gated entry if this is where the corporate offices are located and he points to a building about 20 yards away.  I always like to ride around the perimeters of these factories just to get an idea as to their size so it's off I go.  It's a big facility and goes on for blocks!  What's amazing is what I find on the other side of the factory: Swarovski Crystal Worlds!   It is a sparkly-eyed, water-spouting head of an Alpine giant  (See picture below).  It's 11 AM on a Sunday morning and there must be a dozen tour buses lined up in the large parking lot.  I tell myself that this place must be good if so many tourists plan for this.  I'm really started to get excited now!

        Opened in 1995, Swarovski Crystal Worlds is the most visited cultural-tourist attraction in Western Austria.  Over 4 million people have toured the 20,000 square foot visitor center, which is entered by walking under the giant's mouth.   It's been so successful that they're currently constructing a 20,000 square foot addition!  I have a feeling they'll be showing this off to me on Monday.  Continuing my ride around the perimeter of the factory, I now pass a half dozen or so homes built behind a wall.  Mature trees and dense vegetation tells you the homes have been here for quite a while.  Hmm, could this be the Swarovski family compound?  In town I find a visitor's information board with an aerial view of the area posted on the board.   Yep, it looks like a family compound and it's adjacent to the Swarovski plant.

Crystal Worlds Entrance

 

      Privately held D. Swarovski & Company generates revenues over 2 billion and employs over 14,000 people.   A business magazine ranks the Swarovski family as one of wealthiest in Europe.

           It's a rainy Monday morning as I arrive at the head office building and check in with receptionist Andrea Pichler, who is wearing a Swarovski bracelet.  Sabine Buechele, International PR Department, is my contact person.  The reception area contains black tables with gray chairs, white walls and a gray floor.  Pictures with glass designs of animal figurines hang on the walls and there's a mixture of real and fake plants scattered about.

          It isn't until I have a look in the 10 glass enclosed cases around the room that I realize how much Swarovski's products are in everyday use.  Women wearing shoes, purses, necklaces and dresses with beads of crystal are more than likely to be from Swarovski.   At John F. Kennedy's birthday party in 1962, Marilyn Monroe wore an evening dress sparkling with more than 10,000 Swarovski crystals!  The dress was later auctioned for $1 million.   Remember entertainer Liberace?  His outrageous clothes and even his piano were encrusted with Swarovski crystals.  Go to the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City and the Chateau of Versailles in Paris and you'll find Swarovski chandeliers. You know those reflective glass-like pieces embedded in roadways to help keep you in your lane (pavement markers)?   Those are from Swarovski along with grinding tools and abrasives!  Go into a sporting goods store and ask to see top-of-the-line binoculars for hunting and bird watching?   Yep, it's a good chance they'll show you Swarovski binoculars.

        Buechele greets me in the lobby and suggests going over to Crystal Worlds for a tour.  Sounds good to me.  Jeez, the place is crawling with tourists.   Inside the giant are seven underground chambers each having a different theme.   Crystalline works of art by artists such as Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol and Keith Haring can be found along with the world's biggest crystal (weighing 135 pounds).

 

 

          Personally, I'm most impressed with the immense see-through wall inside one chamber containing 12 TONS of colorful cut crystal stones!

           After the tour, we head for the lounge area where we sit down and go through my questions.  How many people work in the head office?  They don't break it down.  Besides this factory, there’s another several miles away.   A combined total of 5,400 employees work in the two, which obviously gives credence to calling Wattens, Austria, a company town.  The tallest building in the complex is nine stories.   Parking isn't a problem here as I observed ample spaces.   Smoking IS allowed in the offices too.  It's about 20 minutes to the nearest airport with abundant shopping (Innsbruck), 5 minutes to the nearest freeway, and although there's no corporate aircraft around, there IS a helipad for officials and VIP's.

          My request to see the CEO's office and boardroom is denied.   Why?  Buechele says outsiders aren't allowed in the factory.  "But isn't senior management in an office building?" I ask.  Buechele says management is spread among a variety of buildings.   I ask if I can see Helmut Swarovski's office, he's on the Board of Management.  "No", answers Buechele.  "Why?" I ask.  It's then I learn the reason.   According to Buechele, they don't allow outsiders onto the premises because the process Swarovski uses to produce crystals is a trade secret and has been since it's inception.  Somewhat incredulous, I say, "What?  You mean other companies can't do what Swarovski does?"  "No", she answers.  Buechele goes on to say that the machinery used in crystal production is built in-house, thus not letting outsiders know how it's done.  Wow, I never realized this.  Because Swarovski crystals are world renowned, they want to keep their reputation and integrity as the masters.

           The charming Buechele doesn't let me leave empty-handed though.   I'm given two cool gifts; one is a tiny crystal globe-for my global trek and the other is a tiny crystal-laden bicycle.

        Oh, and for a final piece of trivia:  Remember back in 1972 when the "Mood Ring" became the rage?  Remember the stone that changes its color according to the mood of its wearer?  Swarovski was/is the main supplier!