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Monday, July 29, 2013

Rhinestones 101: Everything You Ever Needed to Know About Rhinestones and How to Buy Them

Welcome to Rhinestones 101! This post will you a rundown of how to get the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to buying stones for your ballroom costumes (or any other stoning project you may have).

You've probably already know that when it comes to costume decoration, Swarovski crystals are king (or queen?). All of the top ballroom designers use Swarovski crystals to decorate their costumes, which makes sense because Swarovski produce beautiful stones. However, you’ll quickly discover that  Swarovski beauty comes at a steep price. Prices can start as high as $4.99 for 40 crystals, if you buy them from a craft of fabric store. I know that doesn’t seem terribly expensive, but to put it into perspective, you will need 30 crystals crystals to cover just one square inch, if you’re working with ss20 size crystals. If you’re working with slightly smaller ss12 crystals, you’re going to need a whopping 67 crystals per square inch. Therefore, before you jump into your stoning project you need to learn a little bit about the different types of decorative crystals and the best way to buy them.

First, let’s talk about size:

All women know size matters, and when it comes to stoning your costumes you don’t want to go too large or too small. You don’t want to use too many large crystals, because it looks odd and cheapens the look of the costume – large crystals are OK for accents. You also don’t want to use crystals smaller than ss12 for dresses (unless you need them to complete an outline or accent), because they don't give you as much impact. Personally, I tend to stick with ss20-ss34 for costumes, and ss10-ss16 for shoes and accessories. When ordering, keep in mind that most online size charts are not scaled – in other words, the size you see on your screen probably isn’t the size of the actual stone, so it's nice to have a color card and size chart on hand.

Now that you have a few general rules on how to choose the size of your crystals, let’s talk about the types of crystals:

There are four major types of crystals and/or decorative stones used on ballroom costumes, and it’s important for you to know the differences between the major types, because not all stones are created equal. The four major types of stones are Swarovski crystals, Preciosa crystals (also known as Czech stones), Korean stones, and China stones.
            Swarovski -  I don’t feel like I need to spend a great deal of time talking about Swarovski, because you probably already know quite a bit – if you don’t, go to Google and type in Swarovski and ta-da!, everything you ever needed to know. Basically when it comes to stoning ballroom costumes, Swarovski are excellent, but just because they’re the most popular and the most expensive doesn’t make them the best. The only place Swarovski is truly better is in jewelry – Swarovski has more facets (sides) than other stones, which some people feel makes them look better up close – I can’t tell the difference between Swarovski and our next type of stone. Basically, what I’m saying here is stop trying to fit in, and save yourself some money – you’re dress will actually look better if you forgo Swarovski crystals, but I’ll get to that in a second.

            Preciosa (Czech Stones) – Preciosa are my favorite type of crystal/rhinestone when it comes to decorating ballroom costumes. It’s pretty much impossible to tell the difference between Preciosa and Swarovski. If you claim to see a major difference between the two, you’re a spoiled bitch and you should move back to Beverly Hills. The biggest difference between Preciosa and Swarovski is that Preciosa has fewer facets (sides) than Swarovski, and this is a major asset! While Swarovski may look better up close in some people’s opinion (I don’t see it, but whatever), Preciosa look like a million bucks from a distance. The reason? Less facets! Because there are less facets in a Preciosa stone they reflect light far better than the more popular Swarovski crystals. I LOVE THESE STONES! Not only do they look better than Swarovski, because they don’t have the following that Swarovski has they’re significantly less expensive. So in sum, you’re getting a better looking stone for less money. Score! 

            Korean Stones­ - I don’t have a ton of experience with Korean stones, so I can’t give you the detailed review that I was able to give with the Swarovski and Preciosa stones. Don't quote me on it, but I don't think Korean stones are lead crystals like Swarovksi and Preciosa. What I know for sure is that Korean stones are of a lower quality than both Swarovski and Preciosa. Most often you will see that less expensive dress sites (and eBay stores) price their dresses using Korean stones, so keep that in mind when you’re making a purchase. 

            China Stones – DO NOT BUY CHINA STONES!!!!! Unlike the above stones, China stones are molded glass or plastic bullshit. They’re made by pouring plastic or glass into molds and then popping them out after it has solidified. There is virtually no quality control, which means shapes are often irregular or damaged. China stones also don't shine like their competitors; they just look dull. I’ve also heard that people have a lot of issues with glue not sticking to China stones. 

So, now you know about the size and types so stones so let’s quickly address color:

Color is entirely up to you. However, you probably need to check out the color in person before you purchase a large amount of stones. While color shouldn’t have any effect on the brilliance of the stones, if you’re ordering your stones online the color may not be what you expect. If you plan to order stones in the future, pick up a sample board of your preferred stone type. If you don’t see yourself placing many stone orders, run to Michaels or AC Moore and look at their stone selection and either buy a small pack or write down the name of the color you like – this way you know what you’re getting before you place the order. Last, I want to recommend that you always buy stones with the AB coating; the AB coating helps the stones catch the light and magnifies the sparkle exponentially.

Now the most important part – How to buy your stones:

As I said earlier, stones can be expensive, especially if you don’t know how to buy them. If you go to a craft or fabric store, you’re going to be paying $4.99 for 40 size 10ss crystals, which is totally ridiculous! You need to buy your stones online and in bulk. If you’re stoning a costume you’re going to need several grosses of stones (1 gross is 144 stones). The best way to buy is to buy in 10-gross packets, meaning that you’ll be buying at least 1440 stones at a time. It sounds like a lot, but you’re going to need at least 10 gross to stone a dress well. You’ll probably need 30-50 gross, maybe more, if you plan to cover a dress entirely with stones. 

Before you order, calculate how many stones you’re going to need – this doesn’t need to be perfect, but do over estimate. It’s better to have too many stones than not enough. To do this, you need to whip out your calculator and a conversion chart, like this one. Once you know how many stones you need, go ahead and figure out how many grosses you need (to do this just divide how many stones you need by 144). Now all that’s left to do is find a retailer; I recommend either Rhinestone Guy or Harman Importing. Sometimes the best prices will be reserved for wholesale buyers, however in my experience if you call the company and plan to purchase 10+ grosses they'll sell to you. 

Last but not least, I want to include a little safety note: Most crystals and rhinestones are made with high amounts of lead. As long as you don’t put them in your mouth or lick your fingers while you’re handling them, you will be fine. But just remember you need to wash your hands after handling stones and keep them away from children. 


  1. Great post! Do you have any recommendations for vendors for whom you do not need a business license?

    1. Hi Amy! I have a list of a few vendors I like. If you email me at I'll be happy to send you some recommendations (each vendor has pros and cons, so I like to let you guys know in more detail rather than just throwing a name out). Also, keep in mind that sometimes if you email those that require a business license and let them know how many stone you need they can work with you. You'll have to order in bulk (though most ballroom dancers do) - they're mostly just trying to exclude those that only want to order 1 gross or less.