In brief, Czech glass and Czech crystal production has been around in Europe for hundreds of years. The difference was that as Bohemia was the seat of royalty and emperors for much of the Middle Ages it was at the "cutting edge" of glass design and production. The tall champagne flute glass was a Bohemian design.If you want to see how the glass/crystal is made both half-day and whole-day GLASS FACTORY TOURS available. Details on my Beroun Glass Factory and Karlovy Vary Glass Factory (Moser) pages.
Czech Glass and Czech Crystal - What's the difference?
Let's first define what is Czech crystal and that will make Czech glass (and it's different types) a bit more understandable. There's a difference between the EU and USA on this and you'll need a Chemistry degree to fully understand it all but here goes:
For something to be called Czech crystal it must contain at least 10% lead oxide. European standards demand that to be called "Leaded" Czech crystal it must have at least 24%. High end Czech Crystal production may be labelled as "high leaded" Czech crystal indicating that it has lead content greater than 30%. Czech crystal labelled as "full-lead" meets the 24% standard. Crystal can be less than 24% lead content if it contains enough of an element called Barium which increases the optical qualities.
Glass always has trace elements of lead but in the USA the lead content need only be as little as 1% to qualify it to be called crystal. Compare this to the EU where anything with less than 4% lead is glass.
Czech Glass and Czech Crystal - How do I know if it's Crystal or Glass?
Two things will identify Czech crystal. The first is the weight. 24% lead content makes crystal much heavier than Czech glass. Cheaper products will increase the glass volume for cutting making it much thicker and making the weight heavier which brings us to the second identifier. Real Czech crystal has optical properties which have to be seen to be believed. Holding a Czech crystal glass up to even normal light should result in "multiple rainbows" as the lead content increases the light refraction properties it's like looking into hundreds of prisms simultaneously.
Czech Glass and Czech Crystal - Is cut glass and cut glass crystal the same?
As described above, Czech glass on it's own can be very attractive after it has been cut into various designs but it does not have the light refraction properties of cut crystal. Cut glass can also be called "faceted" which is the method of cutting angles into the glass to increase refraction properties.
Czech Glass - Coloured glass
Three hundred years ago it was difficult to produce completely clear Czech glass free of impurities. The producers decided to adapt their products to a bigger market and address the impurity problem by using coloured glass. There are four main colour groups, Red, Blue, Green and Brown. Blue and Green Czech glass are the famous products of the former Czechslovakia renowned worldwide over the last two centuries. The other colours are more recent. As a rule you don't normally find coloured Czech crystal as coloured glass does not refract light. This is also known as "Stained" Czech glass.
Czech Glass - Painted glass
The glass can be clear but normally it's an add-on for coloured (can also be called "enamelled") Czech glass. The designs very wildly in terms of the subject, the amount of surface covered and thickness of the enamelled paint. The most popular Czech glass colours for painting are red and green. The most popular designs are flowers. I have to say that painted Czech glass sets of glasses look great in the shop but, take a minute to imagine how and where you would use them when you get home. Clear glass is timeless, colour clashes. And don't even think about putting these things in the dishwaher.
Czech Glass - Blown glass
Blown glass goes through the process being manually expanded by air from a glass-blower. Fantastic to watch the process but, I'd never buy it. If you want the full blown glass experience then go to Venice. Czech glass manufacturers have a part of this market but blown glass is markedly absent at the top end of the market.
Czech Glass and Czech Crystal - Is cutting and engraving the same thing?
Engraving is normally done on regular Czech glass as it will be some kind of picture. Engraving Czech glass makes an abrasion on the surface of the glass and if done well can be very decorative. Cutting means making deep grooves into the glass or leaded Czech crystal often called faceting to improve it's light qualities.
Czech Glass and Czech Crystal - Where to see and buy
You'll find Czech glass and crystal shops all over central Prague. Tons of the stuff is on view at any time of the day or night. The lower end shops are on Wenceslas Square, Na Prikope and Celetna. The two high end producers are Moser (www.moser.cz) and Egermann (www.egermann.com). Moser also has a shop in Na Prikope.
Czech Glass and Czech Crystal - Tours
You can visit four or five Czech glass production locations close to Prague but most require a group tour to be pre-booked. The two closest to Prague are Podebrady and Beroun but, the famous Moser factory is in Karlovy Vary. If you're going to do the Karlovy Vary tour with the Moser Czech glass factory tour then check prices in Prague first to compare them with factory prices. You can get a good Czech glass deal in Karlovy Vary. Other details are on my Tours page.
You are going to be in a crystal overload situation on your first day. Take your time about choosing something and think about where you are going to put it if its for your own home (note my warning in the "painted glass" section above). My advice is to go for some nicely engraved glass as you'll find it easier to clean. Heavily cut glass or crystal will have to be washed from time to time to get the best result.