THE WORLD OF SWAROVSKI
Daniel Swarovski and Franz Weis arrived with their families in the Tyrolean village of Wattens on 2 October 1895 after a two day rail journey from their old home in Bohemia. They were struck both by the beauty of its location in the Alps, and by the bewilderment of the local people as to what two foreign crystal cutters were doing in their quiet farming community.
The company they created there – Swarovski – is one of the world’s most famous brand names, with more than 30,000 employees and stores in 170 countries. Still based in Wattens, it generates an annual revenue of over €3 billion, more than two thirds of which comes from jewelry. For 120 years, five generations of Swarovskis have sought new ways of enhancing the beauty of their products by forging collaborations with the most inspiring creative minds of their eras. A material once associated with traditional elegance and grandeur has been imbued with a thrilling sense of iconoclasm and contemporaneity as Swarovski crystals have sparkled in the creations of great fashion designers from Chanel to Prada, and shimmered in classic movies such as The Wizard of Oz and Breakfast at Tiffany’s as well as on the curtains of the Academy Awards ceremony and the chandeliers at the Palace of Versailles.
Experimentation was part of Swarovski’s culture long before its co-founders arrived in Wattens. Its origins lie in another village, Georgenthal in northern Bohemia, in what is now the Czech Republic, where Daniel Swarovski was born in 1862 and his parents ran a workshop, polishing glass stones by hand for hatpins and brooches. As a teenage apprentice, Daniel enjoyed tinkering with the production process, and in 1891 he lodged a patent application for a machine which cut crystals from glass with such finesse that they resembled diamonds. To prevent their competitors from copying it, he and his business partner Weis decided to move to a new location and chose Wattens. The most prestigious Parisian fashion and jewelry houses soon insisted on using their “Pierres Taillées de Tyrol”, or “Stones Cut in the Tyrol”, and Swarovski adopted a local flower, the Edelweiss, as its corporate symbol. Daniel instilled into the business his personal passion for innovation, creativity, social responsibility and entrepreneurialism. New cuts, colors and finishes of crystals were developed, as were crystal fringes and ribbons. Swarovski diversified into tool-making by founding Tyrolit in 1919; into binoculars and telescopes with Swarovski Optik in 1949; and road safety products with Swareflex in 1950. It then began its transformation into a globally recognised brand by selling crystals directly to its customers, rather than through distributors, notably by persuading Christian Dior to become the first couturier to use a new crystal, named Aurora Borealis because it evoked the iridescent effect of the Northern Lights. It is the unmatched expertise in cutting jewelry stones that lies at the heart of the company and that inspired Swarovski in 1965 to go beyond the material of crystal and start to cut genuine gemstones and later, in 1976, also created stones.
Swarovski also introduced products under its own name. Its lighting business got off to an auspicious start by supplying crystals for the “Sputnik” chandeliers designed by J&L Lobmeyr for the new Metropolitan Opera House in New York. On opening night, September 16 1966, the first ovation was for the chandeliers as they glided up to the ceiling. A decade later, Swarovski introduced a tiny crystal mouse made from chandelier components as the first of its immensely popular crystal figurines. The Swarovski Crystal Society, founded in 1987, now has 250,000 members worldwide. Equally successful were new ventures in tableware, fragrances, beauty products and, above all, jewelry, which has become Swarovski’s core business since its introduction in 1977. Three years after that, Swarovski launched the first of what is now a global chain of 2,480 jewelery stores. When Swarovski celebrated its centenary in 1995 by opening the Crystal Worlds cultural attraction in Wattens, it swiftly became the Tyrol’s most popular tourist destination. Nearly a million people flock there each year to see the biggest crystal ever made and other crystalline marvels.
Nor has Swarovski neglected its roots in fashion. During the early 2000s, it persuaded the iconoclastic British designer Alexander McQueen to experiment with Swarovski crystals. The results inspired other fashion designers, including Miuccia Prada, Alber Elbaz of Lanvin, Christopher Kane and Viktor&Rolf. Thanks to their influence – along with Swarovski’s support for leading art and design schools, and events like the British Fashion Awards in London and the CFDA Fashion Awards in New York – a generation of designers has emerged who have only ever thought of its crystals in an innovative context, as have their customers and social media followers. Swarovski has made similar strategic interventions in other fields, notably interior design and architecture. Zaha Hadid, Hella Jongerius, Yves Béhar and other acclaimed designers have participated in the Swarovski Crystal Palace project to reinvent the crystal chandelier. Mean while the French industrial designers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec collaborated with Swarovski on the development of the Lustre Gabriel, a magnificent chandelier installed in the Gabriel staircase at Versailles in 2013. The company has also revitalised its history in film by working with contemporary costume and production designers to create such memorable images as the shimmering crysta
l corset worn by Nicole Kidman in 2001’s Moulin Rouge!, Rodarte’s ballet costumes for 2010’s Black Swan and the curtains at the Academy Awards ceremony.
The company’s proud philanthropic tradition led to the founding of the first Swarovski Waterschool in Austria’s Hohe Tauern National Park with the aim of teaching local children the importance of sustainable water management. Since then, Swarovski has launched Waterschools on some of the world’s great rivers in China, India, Uganda and Brazil. To further build on Swarovski’s commitment to charitable giving the Swarovski Foundation was launched in 2013. The foundation is committed to championing culture, creativity, health, human rights and the environment. To date it has provided funding to establish the Swarovski Foundation Centre for Learning at the new Design Museum London, to restore the statue of San Giorgio at the 16th-century Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, to support women’s empowerment in Nigeria with Women for Women International, and to facilitate quality education with Teach for Austria. All of these inititives have sustained the values that Daniel Swarovski brought to that sleepy Tyrolean valley 120 years ago. His legacy of beautiful crystals, technical innovation and exquisite craftsmanship has created something truly remarkable: a family company with a sparkling heart and pioneering spirit that makes every day extraordinary for millions of people.