Museum Stories

Crystals and Art – The Wonder World of Swarovski

Agnieszka Cichocka 16 January 2023 min Read

In the middle of the Austrian countryside, in Wattens, you can find yourself surrounded by a mixture of contemporary art and crystal wonders by Swarovski. The brand museum was created in 1995 by multimedia artist André Heller to mark the centennial anniversary of the company’s founding. Read about this renowned company, its museum – Kristallwelten Wattens, and major artists who contributed to its collection.

History of the Company

Swarovski was invented by Daniel Swarovski, a Czech-born Austrian glass cutter. In 1892, he patented the electric cutting machine that allowed the production of lead crystal glass jewelry, which until then had to be cut by hand.

In 1895, Daniel Swarovski, Armand Kosmann, and Franz Weis founded the Swarovski company which established a crystal-cutting factory in Wattens. The place was chosen as a perfect one due to local hydroelectricity crucial for the energy-intensive crystal grinding processes. This is where the first crystal-cutting machines found their home and revolutionized the jewelry business by creating a method for the mass production of crystals. Swarovski wanted to make “a diamond for everyone” and create jewelry affordable for all people.

swarovski crystals:

Daniel Swarovski in the early 20th century. Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

What Is a Swarovski Crystal?

Contrary to popular belief, the Swarovski crystal is actually not a crystal. They are glass crystals created using quartz, sand, and minerals. The process of the production and the exact raw materials used are the company’s secret. Moreover, Swarovski crystal has a chemical coating that is used to create many colors of the crystals. They also come in different shapes and sizes and, with their stunning clarity and excellence, are becoming world-renowned.

swarovski crystals:

Sir Richard Buckminster Fuller, Crystal Dome, Kristallwelten Wattens, Wattens, Austria. Museum’s website.

The Most Iconic Swarovski Achievements

Since its beginnings, Swarovski has stolen the show more than once, creating crystal masterpieces for various occasions such as the stage for the Academy Awards in 2018 which was decorated with 45 million crystals. It took more than
3000 hours to compete and weighed approximately 7000 kilograms. 

One of the most iconic moments was at the time when Marilyn Monroe wore her stunning dress with 2500 Swarovski crystals to sing “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Gardens.

The Mercedes Benz SL 600 was covered with 300,000 crystals that were given a diamond shape and exhibited at the Tokyo Auto Show in 2016 before being put on sale. 

swarovski crystals:

Marilyn Monroe’s Swarovski dress, Kristallwelten Wattens, Wattens, Austria. Museum’s website.

Kristallwelten Wattens: Where Art and Crystals Merge

The concept of the museum, created by multimedia artist André Heller in 1995, was designed around the Chambers of Wonder (Wunderkammer). Heller’s thematic centerpiece was the shape of a “Giant” as he developed a story of a Giant who set out to experience the world and all his treasures and wonders to finally settle in Wattens/Tyrol.

The idea is based on the historical Chambers of Wonder in the castle of Ambras located nearby, which was a 16th-century attempt to assemble a universal collection of all knowledge known at the time. In Kristallwelten Wattens, internationally and nationally recognized artists, designers, and architects have interpreted crystal in their own unique ways and created their artworks using the sparkling material. 

swarovski crystals:

Yayoi Kusama, Chandelier of Grief, Kristallwelten Wattens, Wattens, Austria. Museum’s website.

18 Chambers of Wonder 

Chandelier of Grief

Among the most interesting artworks exhibited in Wattens is the Chandelier of Grief by Yayoi Kusama, one of the most popular contemporary artists in the world. The Japanese artist has created a chamber where, in the center of a hexagonal mirrored room, hangs a Swarovski chandelier that turns constantly, lighting in complex choreographic patterns. On the wall outside of the chamber, we can read what Yayoi Kusama wrote:

Chandelier of Grief

I don’t know why but pains always emerge from abyss
And, the intense light revolving dazzlingly
Sinks to the bottom of my heart
This body has been metamorphosed into a chandelier
Snuggling up to the brilliant scars
I will keep living, till the end of the sky
Forever, forever
As long as my life lasts, I want to live
As long as my life lasts, I want to live

Umbra

Umbra is the newest piece in the collection created by James Turrell, a world-renowned artist considered to be a magician of light. Shallow Space Constructions: Umbra is a light and color installation that appeals to all our senses. In this chamber, the viewers have a chance to experience what is the most important in crystals – the light. This is what makes it blink and shine, is its soul, and brings magic to it. 

Ready to Love

Entering Ready to Love by Manish Arora, an Indian fashion designer, you feel like entering a love paradise where the heart dictates all the terms and rules it all. Manish Arora is known for his psychedelic color palette and kitsch motifs in garments that he also combines with traditional Indian crafts like embroidery. In his Ready to Love installation, each heart is handcrafted with various traditional Indian techniques. The artist is showing us that love is something we can all relate to and allows us to sink in the depths of its magical realm. 

swarovski crystals:

Manish Arora, Ready to Love, Kristallwelten Wattens, Wattens, Austria. Museum’s website.

Studio Job Wunderkammer

Long ago, Chambers of Wonder were small curiosity cabinets that held a collection of scientific exhibits. This was the inspiration for Studio Job, founded in 1998 by Job Smeets, a pioneer in contemporary art and design. The studio combines traditional and modern techniques to produce once-in-a-lifetime objects. In Wattens, the Studio’s Chambers of Wonder is a domed space including a model of a mountain that was cast in bronze and covered in Swarovski crystals. The mountain’s slopes are flowered with miniature structures, such as the Alpine chalets and landmarks including London’s Big Ben clock tower and New York’s Statue of Liberty. Each of the elements is gilded and hand-painted.

El Sol

El Sol, which stands for the sun in Spanish, is an installation by Fernando Romero formed from 2880 custom-made Swarovski crystals. The project explores the relationship between people and the sun. The structure is exactly one billion times smaller than the sun itself. At the heart of the artwork, the artist has placed a sphere of LEDs, whose light is split by the inner facets of the precisely cut crystals in such a way that it creates a surface reminiscent of the sun. Romero’s inspiration was the geometry of Aztec and Mayan pyramids. 

Eden

Patrik Fredrikson and Ian Stallard have been collaborating since 1995 and have gained international recognition as the emerging representatives of British avant-garde design. Their works have been acquired by Victoria & Albert Museum and have been exhibited at the French National Art Collection, the Design Museum in London, MOMA, and the Museum of Art and Design in New York. The Eden Chambers of Wonder is the creation of a landscape that brings to mind the primal responses in each human – the forest. Walking deeper and deeper into the forest, the audience encounters enormous hidden gems which are the biggest crystals Swarovski has ever produced. The work is a magical praise of nature. 

swarovski crystals:

Fredrikson & Stallard, Eden, Kristallwelten Wattens, Wattens, Austria. Museum’s website.

The museum with its light exhibitions and intriguing modern art pieces is definitely worth visiting while in Innsbruck, though not all of it is a top-class exhibition space. The room where you can experience snow decorated with a Christmas tree that glitters with shiny crystals may seem a bit kitschy compared to other spaces in the museum. Apart from the inner exhibition, you can also enjoy the garden with more contemporary art pieces and installations.

Kristallwelten Wattens is located in Wattens, Austria. The museum is open daily from 9 AM until 7 PM.

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