CRYSTAL CHANDELIERS, as William Morris observed, cast "the most beautiful artificial light in the world." From the most elaborate fixture to the most delicate girandole candlestick, the light-enhancing, fairy-tale splendor of hanging crystals remains a source of endless fascination. The reason: Each crystal is a prism revealing the component colors of light, and each color refracts at a different angle, reflecting the entire light spectrum.
Originally, chandeliers were candleholders. It takes 120 candles to equal the light of a 100-watt bulb, so most antique chandeliers were huge. (At Versailles, Louis XIV burned 25,000 candles per night while his subjects worked to buy one per month.) Chandelier styles have not changed much over the years, even if most modern chandeliers are now electrified, pressed-glass replicas with dimmer switches to adjust candlepower and tapered bulbs to create rainbow effects.
Chandelier making has not changed much either. In Czechoslovakia, Germany and Austria--where Strass crystal is produced with a 30% to 40% ratio of lead to glass, giving it legendary sparkle--prisms, pendants and drops are hand-cut, hand-faceted and hand-polished with jewelers' tools until they shine like diamonds.
European crystal chandeliers and side lights are available at Courant in Los Angeles, Imperial Crystal Lighting in West Los Angeles and at eight Los Angeles-area Castle Chandelier Stores. The vast Crystal Import Co. in Hollywood wholesales everything from Versailles reproductions to beaded bulb covers and also stocks replacement pendants. Estate Sales Unlimited in Santa Monica sells salvaged fixtures, which are also frequently sold at auction by Orrill on Tuesdays and by Abell on Thursdays and occasional Sundays. Both are in Los Angeles.