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Monday, June 12, 2017

Ballroom Dress on a Budget: Swarovski vs. Preciosa vs. STAR BRIGHT

If you’ve been keeping up with my recent posts, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve recently spent a lot of time talking about what you should expect to spend on a ballroom dress, where the money goes, and how to save on a top-quality dress. In this post, I want to focus on one of the most expensive components of a dancesport dress: stones!

One of the most expensive parts of a dress can be the stoning, especially if you’re having your designer stone the dress for you. When you have a designer do the stone work for you, cost adds up quickly since the designers not only charge for labor, but most designers work exclusively with Swarovski and they tend to add some mark-up to the price-per-stone/gross in addition to their labor rate. Thus, one of the best ways to get a top-quality dress on a budget is to do the stoning yourself!

Doing the stoning yourself isn’t as daunting as it may seem, and I’ve already done a post on the basic step-by-step process for adding crystals to a dance dress. Plus, if you’re willing to attach the crystals yourself, you have more options for which crystals you want to use, which means you can save more money!

Even though most designers refuse to work with any stones other than Swarovski, there are actually three brands of crystals I would whole-heartedly recommend for any ballroom dress. While Swarovski is my favorite, as it often helps achieve a higher resale value on the dress, they come with a high price tag that is not longer justified by quality. Though Swarovski’s quality used to be unparalleled in the world of flatback crystals, there are now two other brands that I think are comparable: Preciosa and STAR BRIGHT.

Undeniably, Swarovski is the gold standard for decorative crystals in DanceSport. While I do love Swarovski, and use them on most of my own dresses, the reality is that a lot of Swarovski’s high price tag is simply good marketing. Thus, if you’re trying to get a high-quality gown on a tight budget, I strongly advise looking into using either Preciosa or STAR BRIGHT. Since Swarovski patents various aspects of their crystal-making process, there are slight differences between Swarovski, Preciosa, and STAR BRIGHT, though I think considering the price difference these differences are negligible. So what are the differences and how much less expensive are Preciosa and STAR BRIGHT?

First, let’s start with the price difference:
All the prices listed are for 1 Gross (144 pack) of SS12 Crystal AB stones -
Swarovski: $3.44 to $4.89+
Preciosa: $2.63 to $3.89+

The price varies some based on retailer, stone size, and color. However, Preciosa and STAR BRIGHT are always less expensive than Swarovski. While a price difference of around $1 doesn’t sound like much, when you consider that most Ballroom and Latin dresses have over 50 gross of stones, the price difference adds up quickly. This becomes especially true when you take into account that if you have a designer/seamstress stone your costume you’ll only be able to use Swarovski and you will be paying far above wholesale for each gross.

Other than price, what are the other differences?

Price aside, one of the primary differences between Swarovski and competitors is the specific cut of flatback stones. Since most companies trademark the specific cutting technique, or at least patent their cutting machines, the cut varies slightly between companies. That being said, I personally don’t see a huge difference in brilliance (shine quality) between the different cuts (except maybe with jewelry). 
Left to Right: STAR BRIGHT, Swarovski, Preciosa
While there can be some variations in color, the colors are pretty comparable in general. While I wouldn’t recommend replacing Swarovski stones on an existing dress with Preciosa or STAR BRIGHT, as it may look inconsistent, there’s no issue with the colors in Preciosa or STAR BRIGHT. In my opinion, the colors are equally vivid and often match exactly. That being said, Swarovski has a wider range of colors and special finishes.

In my opinion, ballroom dresses should always include some AB or Shimmer effect stones. While the AB coating often alters the original color of the stone, the coating really kicks the shimmer up a notch. However, not all AB coatings are created equally. This doesn’t necessarily mean one coating is worse than another – they’re just different. AB effect is created by putting a thin layer of a metallic coating (originally gold) over the stone to create extra shine. The variance in AB stones between brands generally has to do with how much coating is put on the stone. Swarovski tend to use a pretty thick coating, which STAR BRIGHT also does, which makes STAR BRIGHT AB stones a better dupe for Swarovski than Preciosa. Preciosa, on the other hand, use a thinner coating, so with Preciosa you tend to get an effect more similar to Swarovski’s Shimmer Effect stones rather than Swarovski’s AB stones. All this being said, I want to reiterate that the difference between AB aren’t bad, they’re just different.
Right: Swarovski
At the end of the day, if you’re trying to save money on your dress, I’d use either START BRIGHT or Preciosa stones. Realistically, I think the biggest thing you’re paying for with Swarovski is the name. I’ve got dresses with both Swarovski and Preciosa (STAR BRIGHT wasn’t released at the time) and not a single person was able to tell that the stones weren’t Swarovski. Likewise, people who argue that Preciosa and STAR BRIGHT don’t stick to the fabric as well as Swarovski are, frankly, full of shit. If you use the proper glue and proper gluing technique, the stones stick just fine! When it comes to deciding if you want to use Preciosa or STAR BRIGHT, I’d order color cards for both, so you can see in person which colors you prefer – especially if you’re looking at using AB stones. And if you’re happy with the colors from both companies, I’d go with whichever brand is less expensive.

Another thing to keep in mind when you’re trying to save money on a dress is it’s important to shop around for stone prices. Always buy from a certified reseller, as you want to make sure you’re getting authentic stones at a good price. STAR BRIGHT Austrian crystals are sold exclusively through Har-Man Importing Corp., so you can rest assured that you’re getting authentic STAR BRIGHT stones at the best price through them. While they typically don’t sell to the public, if you’re interested in buying STAR BRIGHT crystals, you can drop a line to Alisa, the company’s owner here, and if you mention that Ballroom Bitch sent you, she’ll be more than happy to help you out. Preciosa can be purchased through a number of online retailers, including Har-Man, so as long as you ensure your retailer is a recognized Preciosa reseller, you're good to go. Regardless of which brand you choose, never buy your stones from Amazon, eBay, or similar retailers, as they are not certified distributers, so there’s a good chance you’ll be paying a premium for fake stones.

*I have not been compensated for for this review/post. Har-Man Importing Corp. did provide sample stones for the purpose of review. 

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