Lead charms: how the famous Bohemian crystal is born

The Czech Republic carefully preserves the secrets and traditions of glassblowing

Once upon a time, no self-respecting Soviet could do without Czech glass sideboard. “Around the World” went to the birthplace of Bohemian crystal and found out what makes it famous today.

Lead charms: how the famous Bohemian crystal is born

The Caesar Crystal Bohemiae factory is located away from the main roads, among picturesque wooded hills and fields, where the river Sazavka murmurs between the trees. A good place for unhurried work of master wizards and those who learn from them.

The room is spacious, bright and surprisingly uncrowded. Several glassblowers in shorts and light shirts are working on a wooden platform at the back of the shop – it's hot. An orange flame blazes in the muzzles of the furnaces, where the crystal mass melts, a splash of water is heard, which the apprentices pour over the wooden forms standing by the platform.

The master blows into a long tube, twisting it in his hands. At the end of the tube, a bright ball of glass mass gradually increases. The glass blower makes the outer, colored layer of the crystal product. Inside this layer will be the usual transparent. This technology allows you to create a transparent pattern by cutting through a colored layer. Precisely this, applied crystal is the main production of the plant.

Engraver Ruzhena leads me through the workshop, explaining the stages of creating a product worthy of being called Bohemian crystal.

Ruzhena Brzezenska

An engraver at the Caesar Crystal Bohemiae factory (in 2020 — Note by Vokrugsveta.ru). Born in 1965. Lives in Svetla nad Sazavou, Vysočina region. She studied at the school of glassmaking in Kamenicky-Szenow. Works at the plant for 30 years. Her husband is a private entrepreneur, there are two children in the family.

Glass production

About 70% of the raw material is quartz sand, limestone, potash (potassium carbonate) and lead oxide are added to it, as well as dyes. The mixture is sent to a kiln, where it melts at temperatures above 1000 °C in the digester, forming a viscous mass of a certain color. Copper oxide colors the mass green, manganese oxide purple, cadmium red, and cobalt blue.

Lead charms: how the famous Bohemian crystal is born

Ruzhena: “We used to have a huge furnace in which the crystal mass was smelted tons. We switched to small gas-electric furnaces. They work on a different principle: for about 20 minutes, the gas pumps the temperature up to 1000 ° C, then the electric generator is turned on, which maintains it. It's much more economical.”

Caesar Crystal Bohemiae

Lead charms: how the famous Bohemian crystal is born

It is located in the village of Jozefodol near the town of Svetla nad Sazavou. It was founded in 1861 by the Viennese entrepreneur Josef Schreiber, who was the first in Europe to start producing pressed crystal in addition to handmade crystal. After World War II, the company was nationalized. In 1994, the plant was privatized by the Cisarge brothers and received its current name.

Produces hand-carved crystal with lead content of 24%. In 1995, the Ministry of Industry of the Czech Republic awarded the company the honorary brand CZECH MADEin a sign of confirmation of the high quality of its products. About 50 people work at the plant (in Soviet times there were about two hundred people). Approximately 70 000 items are produced per year.

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Shaping the base

The glassblower collects the required amount of mass on the end of the tube, winding it in several layers. Evenly rotating the tube, the master begins to blow the ball. Having brought the workpiece to the desired size, he places it in a wooden form – a kind of case of two halves with symmetrically hollowed out recesses of the required parameters.

For each model, its own wooden form is made from beech or oak. So that the tree does not catch fire from contact with the hot glass mass, the molds are pre-soaked in water for several hours, then periodically watered during operation.

Having placed the workpiece in the mold and continuing to rotate the tube, the craftsman inflates the product, then removes it to evaluate the result. If necessary, the procedure is repeated several times until the workpiece acquires the proper form.

Lead charms: how the famous Bohemian crystal is born

Ruzhena :“It requires precision: if you blow too hard, the glass base will simply burst. A glass blower has a very hard job. He is constantly on his feet, behind his back is a red-hot furnace, in his hands is a pipe one and a half meters long with a weighty blank at the end. Infrared radiation from hot metal and glass mass can cause eye disease – the so-called glass blower's cataract. Another occupational disease is inflammation of the salivary glands, pneumoparotitis, caused by constant air pressure in the oral cavity.

Adding an inner layer

A blank of transparent glass is placed inside the prepared colored base and blown out, forming the second layer of the product. By this time, the crystal has had time to cool down to 800 °C. The product is again immersed in the furnace so that the two layers are fused together, and then they give it a finished look in the same wooden form.

Ruzhena: “The least problems arise with ruby-red crystal: it, like transparent, can be given for remelting if a marriage is found. It will not work with other colors: the shade will no longer be the same, & nbsp; – they are disposed of. By the way, no more than 3% of products are sifted out, mainly at the stage of glass blowing.”

Lead in a glass

Greek word κρύσταλλος< /em> means “ice”. Initially, this was the name of perfectly transparent quartz without impurities. By analogy with rock crystal, they also gave the name to an artificial amorphous material, which is a type of glass with a high content of lead oxide. According to a special directive of the European Union, the marking lead crystal (“lead crystal”) can only have glass products containing at least 24% PbO.

Lead lowers the melting point of glass, making it more pliable and stronger at the same time. Crystal is characterized by a high refractive index, high dispersion, that is, a strong splitting of white light into rainbow colors, brilliance and excellent sound. If the PbO content is more than 30%, then we are talking about high-lead, or elite, crystal. If from 18 to 24%, then the term “pressed crystal” is used.

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Connecting the base and the leg

The legs of glasses and vases are cast separately, this is one of the hallmarks of Bohemian crystal. The master holds a pipe with a stem, an apprentice – with a base. In order to press the leg exactly into the center of the product, workers evenly rotate the tubes in opposite directions. Having connected the parts, the glassblower separates the hot and pliable product from the pipes with a special knife.

Lead charms: how the famous Bohemian crystal is born

Ruzhena :“Manufacturers in other countries create whole products by pulling the stem with tongs. Our crystal is characterized by a slightly noticeable joint between the leg and the base of the object.'

Cooling the product

The product goes through a conveyor belt into a special furnace, which is a long “corridor” the temperature in which gradually decreases: from 450 °C at the inlet to 50 °C at the outlet. Small objects take five hours to cool, large ones take seven.

Ruzhena : “Crystal is sensitive to temperature changes, so it needs to be cooled gradually , otherwise the product may crack.”

Grinding the edges

The edges of the cooled product are ground on an abrasive disc. Crystal is constantly poured with water so that contact with the disk is not too hard. Then the edges of the product are additionally slightly melted with a gas burner.

Lead charms: how the famous Bohemian crystal is born

Ruzhena: “Handmade makes each of our products unique, even if they are similar externally. Take, for example, bowls with lids – at first glance you can’t tell. But if you accidentally mix up the covers, the difference will immediately become noticeable: the “alien” one will not fit so tightly to the edges.

Pride of Bohemia

The first mention of Czech glass dates back to 1162. In the 13th century it was exported to Germany, in the 16th century there were 34 glass factories in the Czech Republic, and the profession itself became so respectable that it could bring a title of nobility. In the 1670s, Englishman George Ravenscroft made high-quality glass by adding lead oxide to its composition. This invention was also adopted by Bohemian glassblowers.

The glory of Czech glass spread all over the world: it was sold not only in Europe, but also in Asia, America and Russia. Even the famous Venetian glass could not compete with Czech crystal.

After the Second World War, all glass factories were nationalized and became the property of the state. At the same time, Czech glass factories began to use pressing technology, which made it possible to produce inexpensive, but high-quality crystal on automated lines.

By the end of the 1990s, many factories closed. The production of crystal again passed to private entrepreneurs, who relied on the manual production of piece goods. Pressed crystal is still being produced at some Czech factories, but it is becoming more and more difficult for such products to compete with Chinese consumer goods.

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Each line of items is accompanied by a sketch of a pattern developed by the factory's designers. In accordance with the elements and proportions of the ornament, the product is marked with thin vertical and horizontal lines. The master does this by hand with a white marker, turning the product on a rotating stand.

Lead charms: how the famous Bohemian crystal is born

Ruzhena: “Without such marking, hand engraving of the pattern is impossible. The grid helps the engraver to make cuts on the outer layer of the product in the right places, respecting the proportions of the drawing.


Several engravers create a pattern on each product. For lines of different thicknesses, different abrasive discs are used, each master works with one of them. Engravers pass the product to each other: the first one applies the largest elements of the pattern, the second – smaller ones, and so on. To prevent glass dust from scattering, the object is constantly poured with water.

Ruzhena: “The occupational disease of engravers is arthritis. Due to the heavy load on the hands. Yes, cuts are unavoidable. But, unlike grinders, an engraver cannot work with gloves: he will no longer feel the thing in them, he will not be able to determine the force with which to press on the disc.

Lead charms: how the famous Bohemian crystal is born

Acid treatment

When the main pattern is ready, the product is treated with a mixture of hydrofluoric and sulfuric acid. A characteristic shine appears, sharp edges are smoothed out. Then, if the design requires it, small strokes and those fragments of engraving that should remain matte are added.

Ruzhena: “The mixture is so caustic that it dissolves about a third of a millimeter of the surface inside and out. Because of this, the walls of the product may turn out thinner than necessary. Each thing is checked with a special brush for the presence of the smallest holes. If a hole appears, a thin bristle will get stuck in it.”

Painting (optional)

First, a layer of gold paint is applied to the surface of the product (it is necessarily used in painting, alone or together with other paints), on top of it – white elements, then – other colors. When the drawing is ready, the product is sent to the oven so that the colors melt into the crystal.

Ruzhena: “There are many decor options, good designers work at the factory”— Zdenek Kunst, Stanislav Mahek and others. Mahek started as a carver with us, eventually became a director of production, and along the way created many popular ornaments.

Crystal in Russia

In 1756, the Gusevsky crystal factory was opened. It produced both mass products and individual art products. In the 1960s, the plant became the largest center of glass production, first of all, it was famous for products made of laminated colored glass and cut crystal.

In 1764, in the village of Nikolskaya Pestrovka, Penza province, the Nikolo-Bakhmetevsky crystal factory was launched, which produced both mass production and piece goods on orders from the royal court, the church, and representatives of the nobility. In Soviet times, the plant was renamed “Red Giant”, and the collection of samples collected over the years of its work turned into the largest museum of glass and crystal in the USSR. In the 1990s, the enterprise fell into decay, but in 2005 it was bought out and restored as the Bakhmetyevskaya Artel.

In 1790, the Dyatkovo Crystal Factory was opened, which subsequently employed invited Bohemian craftsmen. In 2000, the Dyatkovo masters created the only crystal iconostasis in the world. It was installed in the temple-monument of the Burning Bush, built in Dyatkovo in 2003.

Despite the worthy quality of domestic crystal, which was in every Soviet sideboard, Bohemian crystal was valued more by our consumers.

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The authenticity of Bohemian crystal is confirmed by a sticker with the factory's logo. Products are issued a certificate certifying their origin. For safe transportation, the crystal is packed in bubble wrap and tissue paper, and the box is stuffed with wood shavings.

Ruzhena: “Many of our items are made to order. For example, that large floor vase over there will soon go to a five-star hotel in Dubai. It's nice to know that our unique products are sold all over the world, and I had a hand in their creation.


Material published in Vokrug Sveta magazine No. 5, May 2020, partially updated in March 2023

Olga Ladygina

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