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Swarovski’s Green Move: Lead-free Crystal

The Austrian crystal firm has patented a formula for the creation of a new product called the Advanced Crystal.

A Swarovski crystal.

MILAN — Swarovski is going lead-free.

This story first appeared in the September 17, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The Austrian crystal firm has patented a formula for the creation of a new product, the Advanced Crystal, which is lead-free.

“This was an almost impossible task and we started researching it 10 years ago,” said Markus Langes-Swarovski, great-great-grandson of Daniel Swarovski, founder of the company, in an exclusive interview. “Lead was always a key ingredient in crystals and helped add the quality of shine.”

Langes-Swarovski, who has been managing the group’s Elements Business division since January, said the formula allows crystals to be “as beautiful and with the same properties” as those with lead. Crystals previously could contain up to 30 percent lead, which was never harmful to customers, explained the executive.

“This is not about consumer safety considerations. There is no migration of lead when melted into crystal. The formula is inert, so there is no chance of any effects to the consumer. It is our core policy to stay at the forefront when it comes to technical development and innovation, and we must take the step to prove that it is possible to produce a product that is not only lead-free but is also as equally brilliant and beautiful,” said Langes-Swarovski.

Advanced Crystal is available starting this month.

Langes-Swarovski refused to see lead in crystals as a “dogma — we thought there had to be a way around it, and pushed production and research. If lead moved out of fuel and other appliances, we could do it with crystals, too.”

He is especially pleased the company succeeded now as this is a “special year” — Oct. 24 marks the 150th anniversary of the founder’s birthday. “I would have loved for him to see this,” said Langes-Swarovski.

Lead, he said, is no longer a quality indicator, as the new product is just as brilliant. He conceded the research was “very costly and intensive,” also because lead gave a certain “tenderness” to the crystal, making it “softer, easier to cut,” so that the company had to improve melting, forming and grinding tools, machinery and chemical formulations.

He was adamant that the costs not fall back onto the customer, so Advanced Crystal will not be more expensive than Swarovski’s crystals that previously contained lead. The company plans to fully change its overall collections with the formula: “Our business-to-business, business-to-consumer and our own jewelry [divisions]. Anyone working with us will receive Advanced Crystal,” he said.

The executive said the company, which closed 2011 with sales of 2.2 billion euros, or $3 billion at average exchange, invests 4 percent of revenues in technology. “But it’s not enough. We have an obligation to do more, and innovation has been one of our key success movers. There is a strong appreciation for new products, expectations are high, customers and clients want new things, which help catalyze creativity,” he said.

Since he took over earlier this year, Langes-Swarovski set up a new specific “innovation cell” to invest in “bolder and more intense” research.

To mark the founder’s 150th, the company is launching the Xirius 1088, produced according to the Advanced Crystal standard, with a gemlike cut and available in a palette of 88 colors. “We have further improved the brilliance of our flagship product, the jewelry chaton, marketed under the new name Xirius 1088 reaching 2.5 times greater brightness,” he explained.

Langes-Swarovski said company sales were up 8 percent until the second quarter, “a little below our expectations of 10 percent,” but defined it as a “pretty good performance given the environment.” As with most of his peers, he remarked on the difficulties in Southern Europe, compensated by solid gains in China, the U.S. and Brazil, which “is doing incredibly well.”

While conceding 2012 was “not an easy year,” he was optimistic and “confident in the way the business is set up.” The company is planning to further build the Swarovski brand and expand its product categories. The firm launched an entertainment division and is sharpening its role in the jewelry market by “looking at acquisitions over the years to come.” He said: “We want to become a truly important player in the jewelry industry and evolve our new business models in 2013 with our partners.”

Langes-Swarovski was previously responsible for corporate brand management and communication, establishing licensing partnerships which, in turn, led to the creation of a beauty line and a collection of sunglasses, and he also helped expand the entertainment spot Swarovski Kristallwelten, or Crystal Worlds.

A producer of precision-cut crystal for fashion, jewelry and more recently lighting, architecture and interiors, the company is still family-owned and run by fifth-generation family members. The firm has 26,100 employees and a presence in more than 120 countries. It also has its own branded lines of accessories, jewelry and home decor items.