Your Brand Carved In Glass
Taylor Decanter and Single Malt Scotch

Why is lead in my glassware?
Actually, if it came from us it probably doesn't have any. The concern, of course, is the risk of exposure to lead, which is highly toxic and can leach into fluids stored in lead crystal containers. The amount of lead one might be exposed to from occasionally drinking wine from a leaded crystal wineglass would be quite small, perhaps less than from living in an older home where lead solder was used for the plumbing. Any lead crystal stemware we've ever carried has come from manufacturers who meet all of the applicable federal guidelines. (You can learn more about reducing any health risks from using leaded glassware here.)

Long-term storage of consumables in lead crystal containers is quite another matter. A recent study at North Carolina State University found that Port stored in a lead crystal decanter reached levels of 89 micrograms per liter after two days. After four months, the levels were between 2,000 and 5,000 micrograms per liter. The amount of lead in Brandy stored in lead crystal for five years reached concentrations of 20,000 micrograms per liter. Contrast this to the Environmental Protection Agency's standard for drinking water of 15 micrograms per liter.

Most of us will consume two or three liters of water each day but not nearly that much wine or spirits. With the exception of Port, wines aren't normally kept in a decanter for more than a few hours. But liquor often is. We have never sold lead crystal decanters and for the obvious health implications don't recommend their use. Our decanters are superb; hand-crafted of brilliant, lead-free crystal. So we consider this an avoidable risk.

It appears that Mesopotamian glassmakers may have used some lead in their glass but its use in modern times began in the early 17th century when George Ravenscroft (1618-1681), an English merchant with ties to Venice, was commissioned by the Worshipful Company of Glass Sellers to find a means of using native raw materials for glass manufacturing that might be comparable to the renowned Venetian glass from the island of Murano. Ravenscroft's experiments eventually led to what he called 'crystalline' glass, with relatively high concentrations of lead oxide. (It's no small irony that Ravenscroft Crystal, the world's leading manufacturer of fine, lead-free crystal stemware and decanters, takes its name from the individual credited with creating the lead crystal industry.)

The addition of lead oxide to the glass matrix does a number of things. First, it lowers the working temperature of the molten mixture, allowing more time to shape the piece before it solidifies. That was not insignificant when all glass was blown by mouth and shaped by hand. Molten lead crystal has a viscosity a hundredfold less than ordinary soda glass making it much easier to create pieces without trapped air bubbles and swirls.

Furthermore, lead crystal is much softer than ordinary soda glass once solidified, which makes it far more practical for decorative cutting. Each cut of cut crystal is typically made with a spinning cutting wheel and subsequently dunked in an acid bath to polish it. The deep-etch engraving that we practice has no such limitations. The only difference we notice is that lead crystal engraves faster.

From an aesthetic standpoint, the inclusion of lead oxide in the melt increases the refractive index of the glass and consequently the index of dispersion; the amount by which a medium can separate light into its component spectra. This enhances the brilliance and sparkle of cut crystal pieces as light reflects and transmits through the edges and facets of the cuts. Our lead-free crystal pieces are all crafted from very pure minerals and have a brilliance that approaches that of lead crystal.

All of which leads us to the following conclusions:

We do have lead crystal bowls and cups for awards which are elaborately cut yet have clear panes that we can engrave one. Otherwise, cut crystal is largely inconsistent with engraving and therefore superfluous to what we do.

● We're not strongly opposed to lead crystal stemware or decanters for wine, especially when their use is intermittent, when appropriate cautions are taken, and when wine is not being stored in lead crystal. (Please understand that we are not medical authorities and that we only know the little bit that we have read on the subject.) Nevertheless, since wine connoisseurs judge a wine in part by its visual appearance, they avoid cut crystal or colored stemware and decanters. Therefore, we see no compelling reason why lead-free crystal isn't perfectly acceptable for wine.

● We do not recommend lead crystal decanters for liquor, since their usage tends to be for long-term storage. Our lead-free decanters are made from a very pure mineral which can challenge the high refractivity and brilliance of non-cut lead crystal.

Imperial Crystal, Inc.
PO Box 510
2440 Old U.S. Highway 287
Laporte, Colorado 80535

Telephone (970) 472-6100
Toll-Free (800) 616-6101
Fax (970) 472-6101
E-Mail Customer Service