Today we’re digging into the archives with a hike through the Austrian Alps and the Swarovski Kristallwelten (aka Crystal World). Best known for its glittering crystals, Swarovski bling has adorned Marilyn Monroe’s dresses, the Met’s chandeliers, Olympic swag, and cell phone cases near and far.
In 1892, Daniel Swarovski (1862-1956), a Bohemian jeweler, patented an “electric cutting machine”. Three years later, he moved to Wattens, Austria, and set up shop with his brother-in-law, Franz Weis, and business partner Armand Kosmann. With the help of his cutting-edge machine, the trio began manufacturing and selling a variety of products, including: grinding and polishing tools, optical devices (binoculars, rifle scopes, telescopes), traffic lighting and most notably, costume jewelry. Their business flourished and in 1995, the company built Kristallwelten to commemorate their 100th anniversary. Designed by multimedia artist, André Heller, Kristallwelten is part playground, part avant-garde museum, and part glittering gift store.
A tour through the 16 Chambers of Wonder was a dazzling and sometimes head scratching visual feast. The following is a brief description of my personal favorites.
Giant’s Head – As a child, designer André Heller believed giants prowled Schönbrunn Palace by night, and by day they turned to stone. In honor of this childhood fantasy, Heller designed a massive giant’s head that sits wedged within a manmade hill on the Swarovski grounds. Company lore claims the giant is responsible for collecting and protecting the treasures within the Chambers of Wonder. His massive mouth spouts water and his crystal eyes keep watch over the land and no doubt our little tour group.
Crystal Dome – Based on Sir Richard Buckminister Fuller’s (1895-1983) geodesic dome, this chamber is by far the flashiest. The 595 mirrors are designed to give visitors the feeling of being inside a multi-faceted crystal. Nine “spy mirrors” hide a variety of objet d’art. Our tiny reflections were cast throughout the room, while multi-colored lights flickered on and off. New age music filled the air, but Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds would have been more appropriate. After several minutes in the Crystal Dome, I developed a serious case of kaleidoscope eyes. I and my fellow tourists scrambled onward searching for tangerine trees and marmalade skies only to stumble upon the offbeat, Mechanical Theatre.
Mechanical Theatre – This shadowy chamber felt like a cross between Sid’s bedroom from the movie, Toy Story (1995) and the smoky dance hall in Cabaret (1972). A headless mannequin strutted around a circular catwalk, plastic legs formed a kick line, and crystal beaded shirts whizzed by overhead. My daughter dubbed one of the shirts the Austrian Dangerous Willie, in honor of my bandmate’s vintage sequined shirt that had been manufactured by the Dangerous Willie brand. Dangerous Willie was a glittering addition to many of our gigs and we were thrilled to see a Euro version flying around the room in time with the New Age music and the high-stepping plastic legs. We sashayed our way out the door and eventually wandered into the more sedate chamber of Silent Light.
Silent Light – This wintery chamber of wonder showcased a lone evergreen tree. Constructed of 150,000 Swarovski crystals, this shimmery and slightly droopy tree appeared to be cast in ice. Designed by Tord Boontje and Alexander McQueen, it was originally on display in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, but was eventually moved to Kristallwelten.
If you’d like to feast your eyes on the remaining chambers, as well as the ones I’ve described above (you’ve got to see those mannequins!), check out this delightful virtual tour through Kristallwelten. The grand finale includes, like any cleverly designed amusement park, an exit through the souvenir shop which is loaded with glittery swag.
Fun Figurine Facts: The Swarovski figurines were first created in 1976 when a craftsman at the company glued together crystal pieces from a chandelier to create an adorable mouse. Seizing on this clever idea, Swarovski manufactured and distributed similar mice to the 1976 Winter Olympians who just happened to be competing in nearby Innsbruck. The figurines were a huge hit and Swarovski now manufactures an extensive line of crystal tchotchkes.
Next week, we’ll take a short trip down the road to Innsbruck, and tour Schloss Ambras, a 16th century Renaissance castle. Until then, have a great week!