Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Elephant No. 108: Rhinestones

For today's elephant, I wanted to do something fairly simple, so I decided to glue plastic rhinestones onto a wooden box. It's an object perhaps only a child could love, but it was something I'd never done before, so what the heck.

Historically, rhinestones were literally small sparkly pebbles found along the Rhine River, which runs through several European countries, including Germany and Austria. In the late nineteenth century, the Rhine abounded in the colourful quartz stones, which were much sought-after for use in jewellery and other adornments. As the supply of naturally occurring rhinestones diminished, glass was substituted.

In 1891, Austrian designer Daniel Swarovski revolutionized the costume jewellery industry when he invented a machine capable of cutting and faceting glass. This significantly reduced the amount of time it took to produce faceted glass stones—a task previously done by hand. Swarovski then began simulating rhinestones by adding a high 32% lead content to his glass, resulting in faceted stones with stunning brilliance. Swarovski also created a vacuum-plating machine to bond silver and gold leaf to the back of his glass, making the reproduction rhinestones sparkle even more.

Sometimes the word "paste" has been applied to rhinestones. Paste jewellery, however, dates back millennia earlier, to Ancient Egypt. Unlike natural gems, paste jewellery was made by grinding clear or coloured glass into a paste. The paste was then pushed into a mould and melted at high heat. 

Unlike rhinestones, paste jewels were opaque and dense, and had a frosted surface. If lead had been added to the glass paste, the final jewel would be faceted in order to better reflect the light. To enhance the sparkle of paste jewellery, metallic leaf or foil was often applied to the back of the stones, even in antiquity. 

A couple of days ago, I bought a bag of plastic rhinestones—possibly one of the most far-removed-from-the-original concepts there could ever be—and a wooden box. This was an investment of less than three dollars, so even if it ended up looking terrible, or terribly stupid, it wasn't a huge waste of money.

The box is almost too nice for plastic glue-on "jewels", but I couldn't think of anything else to use, so it was pressed into service.

The rhinestones came in a bag of 300 in various sizes—hearts, squares, oblongs, ovals, and two sizes of circles. While rooting through the pile, I also found a single small cabuchon shape (probably an errant blob of plastic) that was perfect for the elephant's eye.

There also appeared to be three colours: clear, gold, ochre and brown.

I started by mentally planning what the elephant would look like. I didn't want to draw anything on the box, so I laid out a possible pattern on top before glueing anything down. 

This arrangement looked like it might work, so I glued the eye down first. I then glued two oblongs on either side of the eye. I found it difficult to work with all the rhinestones still on the top, but I didn't think I would be able to reproduce this if I removed them all. Then it occurred to me that I had a photo in my digital camera. Duh.

I quickly discovered that the glue doesn't dry quickly enough to keep the rhinestones from sliding around at the slightest nudge. This meant working in small areas and taking a lot of breaks while each section dried.

The final result isn't exactly like my original layout, but I think it works a little better. Because of the time it took to allow the glue to dry, this took about two hours, but if you were to use a hot-glue gun instead, it's probably a fifteen-minute job.  

It's a silly object, but not as tacky as I thought it would be, so I'm happy with it. Now that I see how easy it is, I may try this kind of thing again sometime—but with nicer rhinestones, more colours, and perhaps a painted or stained box to start with.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Although Carthaginian general Hannibal never crossed the Rhine, he did cross the Rhône in 218 B.C. Travelling from Spain to invade Italy and Rome via southern France, Hannibal is perhaps most famous for crossing the Alps with elephants. 

In addition to about 70,000 soldiers and 12,000 horses, Hannibal's army included 37 elephants. When the army reached the Rhône, the elephants were loaded onto sturdy rafts and floated across. 

Artist's concept of elephants crossing the Rhône River on rafts.


Five months later, Hannibal and his army reached the Alps, in the depths of winter. By this time, only half the army was left, and they still had to cross the Alps in order to reach Rome. Roman historian Polybius described the scene:
"After nine days' climb, Hannibal's army reached the snow-covered summit of the pass over the Alps—all the time being attacked by mountain tribes. However, when the enemy attacked the army, the elephants were of great use to the Carthaginians. The enemy was so terrified of the animals' strange appearance, that they dared not come anywhere near them."
Hannibal and his army eventually entered Italy to fight the Romans. Sadly, all but one of Hannibal's elephants died en route.

Artist's concept of how Hannibal's army with elephants might have looked crossing the Alps.
The site of the actual crossing is still disputed to this day.

To Support Elephant Welfare
World Wildlife Fund
World Society for the Protection of Animals
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information on a number of sanctuaries around the world)
Performing Animal Welfare Society
Bring the Elephant Home
African Wildlife Foundation

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