Crystals have always left me somewhat perplexed. I’m not talking about crystal vases à la Waterford, but jewelry stones that can be found everywhere from dazzling watches to evening gowns. They’re not precious or even semi-precious gems and yet they’re treated as a sort of luxury item; this is not to mention the fact that “not all crystals are created equal” with brands like Swarovski considered more prestigious than others. Apropos I trekked to Innsbruck to check out the Swarovski Kristallwelten to answer two nagging questions: what’s so special about crystals and who exactly are these Swarovski’s?
The founder of the company was Daniel Swarvoski, a Czech from Bohemia and inventor of then-innovative crystal cutting technology. In 1895, Swarovski packed it up and made for Austria. Evidently, the Bohemian lifestyle didn’t mesh well with respect for intellectual property rights and he wanted to make sure competitors weren’t going to rip off his technology. Since then, the company has become an international power house that is to this day family owned and operated, selling to the mass markets as well as producing exclusive crystals for designers and brands worldwide. Their crystals are not only particular for how they are cut, which render them brilliant, but also for the secret formula that they use to create the crystal.
In celebration of its 100 years, Swarovski opened the Kristallwelten (Crystal World) in 1995 alongside the Swarovski factory in Wattens just outside of Innsbruck. The museum is tucked into a hill and watched over by an unmistakable Giant’s-head waterfall. As you walk in, you enter the large entrance hall where there are a number of Swarovski pieces by some of the world’s most important modern artists: Salvador Dali, Niki de Saint Phalle, Keith Haring and Andy Warhol. There is also an impressive crystal tree by designer Alexander McQueen and Tord Bootnje on display.
The remainder of the museum is divided into 14 themed “Chambers of Wonder” (that’s really what they’re called, I swear). One thing I do appreciate about the museum is the fact that it isn’t just a showroom for their products. The theme, Swarovski crystals, is clear, but some rooms display the versatility of Swarovski crystals in set-design and costumes; others have pieces of art inspired by the crystals (such as the current exhibit by artist Arik Levy).
Certain rooms, I must admit, straddle the line between the theatrical and Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion with dim lights, ascending and descending walking ramps, and animatronic display. Rooms, though, like the Crystal Dome have a whimsical feel that are a hit with kids and adults alike.
Once you exit the fun house (literally going through exit turnstiles) there’s a nice surprise waiting for you in the Timeless Swarovski section that hosts temporary exhibitions with jewelry and wardrobes of world-famous stars, historical photos, film sequences and more. I found it impressive to see turn-of-the-century pieces up close with tarnished silver but crystals still as brilliant as ever. There were also a number of binoculars on display at the end, which, as I found out, contain Swarovski crystals, as do most quality binoculars today. Here’s an additional fun fact: a subsidiary of the company is one of the leading producers of traffic lights on the world!
The museum ends at the Crystal Stage, or the museum’s gift shop, which is an embarrassment of Swarovski products aka heaven for you museum shop/jewelry lovers out there. It’s also here that you also appreciate the international appeal of the Swarovski Kristallwelten which has staff from all corners of the world to answer visitors’ questions in their native language.
I would highly recommend going while the weather is nice because the grounds are a surprising touch. There are open green spaces with artwork, a garden and labyrinth maze, lookout platform to the mountains, and plenty of playground equipment scattered throughout for children who need to release some energy after waiting for their parents in the gift shop. Heck, they even have a dog kennel for those who want to stop by with Fido without leaving him in the car.
To get to the Swarovski Kristallwelten there are four buses that leave daily to and from Innsbruck with 3 stops in the city including the central station. The cost of the bus and entrance is 19.50. Perk for any parents traveling in a troupe: kids up to 15 years of age ride and get in for free. Check out the practical details at their website.
About the author
Christina Craver grew up in Silver Spring, MD, where she lived a stone’s throw away from some of the country’s best (and free!) museums. She is, as the Hawaiians would say, “hapa,” and has garnered many confused looks, and some ridiculous guesses, about her background everywhere she goes, from Los Angeles to Riyadh. Christina completed her Masters in EU policy in Florence and, after a stint in the EU parliament, now resides in Trento, Italy. She works in marketing and communication and writes for the satirical blog More Europe! She enjoys watching formulaic t.v. food competition shows, being mediocre at many languages, and confounding people with who she is, where she comes from, and what she’s doing in their part of the world.